Representation in Leadership – Why what you see matters.

One of the most talked about points you’ll often hear about today is the power of representation. Whether that be from what you read in the news, watch on TV, or stumble upon scrolling on your Instagram feed – it defines the approach in government and policies, the businesses we are able to buy from, to the companies we work in. It’s arguably one of the most important notions that defines our society, having a hand in how we view and treat each other – both positively and negatively. 

And this matters even more for those who are in senior or executive leadership positions.

So what does representation really mean? And why is it important for businesses and leadership?

Representation Matters

“If businesses are already lacking in racially diverse leader and diverse role models (which most are) it can be even more difficult for [underrepresented etheric minority] employees to progress in their careers”

CIPD, 2017. Report: Addressing the barriers to BAME employee career progression to the top

The above quote reinforces the idea that representation is essential to enable our communities to have a fair reflection of the society that we all exist in and contribute towards. Having the opinions, voices, and, physical appearance of the communities which embody the values we believe is paramount to personal and societal development. This is the idea of having a mix of opinions, experiences, and voices that exist in one space can both help to define and celebrate different identities but also adding to acceptance and progress as a whole. 

Representation shapes perceptions and is a powerful tool which can have positive and negative outcomes. This is why it is crucial to have diversity and a wide range of perspectives; ensuring that all stories are told from those who have experienced them.

East and South East Asian Leadership: we have a representation problem

Fair and representative East and South East Asian (ESEA) leadership representation in large UK businesses is virtually none existent. The lack of focused data and research on ESEA communities, the lumping together of minority groups into BAME categories all contributes in creating a skewed snapshot of how our society and businesses are made up. A most recent example is that Black and BAME Ethnic Groups are part of the diversity and inclusion initiatives for Standard Chartered Bank: with 12.7% BAME current senior leadership compared to the 1.3% of Black senior leadership, with 2025 targets of 20% and 5% respectively. The BAME category has a danger of misrepresenting and consolidating the diversity of the East and South East Asian community, and it’s need to be represented as a standalone group.

The true and definitive figures are difficult to obtain for the ESEA community, however industry reports can act as guidance and highlight where we can do better.

Although the FTSE 100 seems to fairing better on ethnic representation at Board level, the FSTE 250 and 350 have some work to do.

“150 [out of] 256 companies out of companies (59%) did not meet the target of having at least one director of colour on their Boards, with less ethnic diversity observed on the Boards of FTSE 250 companies.”

“FTSE 100 31 of 83 companies (37%) did not meet the target”
“FTSE 250 119 of 173 companies (69%) did not meet the target”

The Parker Review, 2020. Report: Ethnic Diversity Enriching Business Leadership. An update report from The Parker Review

So what do you do when you don’t “see” the representation you want to be? 

Representing yourself

You can step into that leadership role; at work, on social media, voting with your voice and opinion. You don’t need to already be in a leadership role to begin your journey in leading. Allies of the ESEA community and those who champion diversity and inclusion, you can engage with and encourage those in your circles to be part of the conversation. 

There is never a “right time” or “right moment” and you may be asking yourself “Am I ready for this?”. But it’s simple. Leadership is about taking action, with an open mindset. It’s about upholding the values you stand for and going on a journey with the ability to keep learning and adapting.

Asian Leadership Collective (ALC) is here to empower that leadership journey and increase the visibility of the next generation of ESEA leaders in the UK. No matter your industry, craft, or background, ALC champions authentic leadership and provides a space for collaboration, learning, and celebration of our communities achievements. 

Be part of the UK ESEA leadership movement.

Follow us on Instagram for the latest ALC activities and be the first the get the news on taking part in our community leadership conversations via our email newsletter!

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