Strategic HR Consulting

Asians with PhDs: Managing Perceptions of “Difference” in the Workplace

3 April 2019


Asians with PhDs: Managing Perceptions of “Difference” in the Workplace

Justin Peñafiel, Senior Associate

Have you recently employed any “Asians with PhDs”? Recent political rhetoric suggests it is a new phenomenon to have a diverse workforce, but whether in metropolitan Sydney, or regional Australia with its skilled labour shortages, nothing could be further from the cosmopolitan truth.

However, unlike most political offerings, here are some practical tips for understanding why controversy about equality and diversity never fades away despite years of promoting it, and managing what people feel and think about their personal differences in the workplace, in spite of strategies to support them.

Does discrimination still occur with “equality”?

This article could have easily been another diatribe about anti-discrimination laws and what not to do, but unless they want to Make America Great Again, what manager actively treats anyone differently or unfavourably based on their physical appearance, apparent cultural background, or a whole host of protected attributes under section 351 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and other anti-discrimination laws?

It begs the question, if managers do not actively discriminate against certain employees on an unlawful basis, and HR has been promoting equality and diversity for decades, why the ongoing controversy about “Asians with PhDs” and persistent talk of shattering ceilings of the glass, bamboo and/or pink varieties? The ongoing sensitivity suggests that it is useful to apply two steps from what we call of our four-quadrant model – “Sociology” and “Psychology”, or in other words:

  • considering what people may feel and think about policies and procedures to promote outcomes of equality and diversity (or lack thereof); and;
  • considering how the policies might look internally and externally to different audiences?

Applying the PCS People Management Quadrants: The gap between equal opportunity and hidden differences

There’s no better place to start than the beginning of an employment relationship, the recruitment phase. We could have easily commenced this section with, “statistics show that X percentage of Asians with PhDs change their name when applying for jobs”, but it may be more constructive to ask, “how does it look if people feel the need to change their name to apply for a job at our organisation?”, and “what must they be feeling and thinking about our company if they need to change their names to get a job?”.

Changing one’s name on a resumé is easy, but other differences are too difficult or perhaps impossible to hide – gender, pregnancy, ethnicity, even sexuality. According to the law, these points of difference shouldn’t matter, and managers generally do what they can to convey a sense of equality in the workplace. However, employees may still not see or feel a sense of “equality” despite all that you might have done to promote it. Conversely, employers may not see, know or think to ask about inequality that their employees’ sense or feel because of everything that they have done to promote it. Knowledge is power, and hidden differences can reduce it.

What can we do about differences that we cannot see? Auditing culture, policies and procedures

Asking these questions from the People Management Quadrants could ultimately lead to some uncomfortable home truths for your organisation – what must employees be seeing or thinking (about perceived barriers in the workplace), if they feel that they cannot disclose differences that their managers cannot see, but which might affect their experiences at work, for example, family obligations, domestic violence, cultural differences (e.g.: cultural differences with communicating with management), or their sexual orientation? What can we do about it? Misconception can lead to claims which may have no substance, but which aren’t any less painful to investigate or defend.

Enhancing Employee Engagement and Leadership Development, Coaching and HR Executive Education

People + Culture Strategies can assist you with Strategic HR Consulting in a variety of ways, such as performing a “Culture and Effectiveness” audit which combines a series of staff interviews and collection and review of staff data, or a review of your organisation’s people strategy tailored to your organisation’s needs. We also offer Leadership Development, Coaching and HR Executive, to enhance and improve your skills with engaging and managing your diverse workforce.

If you are interested in ways to engage better with your employees, or any of our traditional services with legal advice, investigations and dispute resolution, please feel free to contact People + Culture Strategies on (02) 8094 3100.

Posted in Strategic HR Consulting.
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