Australia's self-mage as a successful multicultural society is under revision after the latest research, released Monday, has again exposed a "bamboo ceiling", where Asian Australians are vastly underrepresented in key leadership positions across both public and private sectors.
While people from Asian backgrounds are surging through entry level to mid-level jobs in the Australian business sector, they remain notably absent in leadership roles, according to Diversity Council Australia's latest research.
The research, Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century, shows "the bamboo ceiling" is alive and stretching its canopy across key parts of Australia's diverse society.
According to the council, while 9.3 percent of the Australian labour force is Asian born, only 4.9 percent have pushed through to the senior executive level.
In ASX 200 companies, only 1.9 percent of executives have Asian cultural origins, compared to 9.6 percent of the Australian community.
DCA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Annese said "the bamboo ceiling" is draining Australia of its viable talent.
"It is inconceivable that in a country where nearly 10 percent of the population is born in Asia or identify as having an Asian background that they should have such a low rate of representation in Australian corporate leadership," Annese said.
It's an issue close to the heart of the nation's Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane.
Dr Soutphommasane noted that the chasm is even more damning, considering that children of Australians of migrant backgrounds were identifiably stronger in the classroom and the office, compared to children of Australian-born parents.
"While Australia does extremely well in social mobility for immigrants, including those from Asia, equality of opportunity isn 't enjoyed in all spheres. We may boast about education and employment, but our efforts in opening the doors of power to all who knock are more questionable."
According to Dr Soutphommasane, there are only four members of parliament here that can boast Asian cultural origins: Senators Penny Wong, Lisa Singh and Dio Wang, and Ian Goodenough (the Member for Moore).
In percentage terms, only 1.7 percent of those who sit in the federal parliament bear an Asian cultural background.
It is similar when it comes to the federal government bureaucracy; only one of 17 federal departmental heads who comes from an Asian cultural background. Of the 64 deputy secretaries, only two have Asian origins.
So, of the 81 departmental secretaries and deputy secretaries, there is a total of three (3.8 percent).
Dr Soutphommasane said Australia's academia was similarly impeded. Of the 49 senior executives there were two who were of Asian cultural background (3 percent).
The private sector doesn't fare much better. Compared to 9.6 percent of the Australian community with an Asian background -- based on a methodology using names -- only 1.9 percent of executive managers and 4.2 percent of directors have Asian cultural origins.
IBM Australia and New Zealand's Managing director, Andrew Stevens, whose company operates in more than 160 countries, said diversity was a key innovating factor.
"Cultural diversity is one of our greatest strength. A culturally diverse workforce, at all levels from graduate hires through to executives, fosters creativity and innovation, which is essential to any company's ongoing success."
While William Chen, CEO of HireChinese said the failure of Australian organisations to take advantage of Asian talent was a black mark for corporate intelligence.
"It's no coincidence Asian graduates are considered dedicated, motivated and committed."
The Diversity Council agrees. According to the report released here Monday, Asian talent in Australia is ambitious, motivated and capable: 84 percent plan to advance to a very senior role, 91 percent say challenging work is very important in their next career move, and 97 percent have Asia capabilities.
Australia has been at pains to present itself as perfectly positioned to take advantage of the "Asian Century," geographically, philosophically and historically.
There has been a significant presence of Asian people -- primarily Chinese -- in Australian history, says Soutphommasane.
"We can trace this to the goldrushes of the 19th century, although some contend that the fleet of the legendary Chinese eunuch admiral Zheng He may have in fact arrived in Australia in 1422."
Yet history counts for little in the boardroom, and the path to getting there appears littered with obstacles that not only hinder individuals, but also inhibits Australia's claim to an effective, diverse workplace.
Only 17 percent of those surveyed by the Diversity Council " strongly agree" that their organization uses their Asia capabilities very well; one in five are very satisfied with career progress and opportunities, and 22 percent strongly agree that they have worked in organizations that value cultural diversity. 30 percent say they are likely to leave their employer in the next year.
The race discrimination commissioner says there is a wider disconnect here that needs addressing.
He says the gulf between the "reality of Australian society and the image of Australian society presented in the Australian media" reflects a wider bias.
"In our major cities and suburbs the Asian presence is, by now, familiar. In our media, Asians still assume a distinctly exoticized character or at least one that is quarantined to carefully designated realms.
"There is one thing that we must avoid. We must avoid the creation of a new class: a class of professional Asian-Australian coolies in the twenty-first century.
"A class of well-educated, ostensibly over-achieving Asian- Australians, who may nonetheless be permanently locked out from the ranks of their society's leadership."