Persistent gap in Asian leadership representation on global stage

Photo by Christina Morillo

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a top-ranked, global provider of executive education has released a report, “Global Asian Leader: From Asia, For The World” –  an extension of its 2018 study, “The Global Asian Leader: From Local Star to Global CXO”.

Through interviews with 75 leaders, the report unpacks factors that have stalled the growth of Asian leaders over the past five years.

Additionally, it evaluates the impact of megatrends like the pandemic and rising nationalism.

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Bamboo ceiling endures even as Asia becomes the ‘center of the world’

Developing Asia economies are projected to grow 5.2% in 2023 despite global uncertainties and a sluggish economic outlook. Increasingly, global organizations will have to ‘look East’ to sustain business growth, calling upon local leaders with a nuanced understanding of social and cultural norms to drive regional expansion.

Yet, even with the strong business case to develop Asian leaders, Asian representation in top leadership has fallen from 2017. Among the top 200 organizations, Asians comprised only 4% of executive teams in US-headquartered companies in 2022, declining from 8% in 2017.

“Talent in Asia has developed tremendously across multiple leadership attributes over the last decade – however our latest research reveals an alarming trend over the last few years of decreasing representation of Asian leaders in top multi-national teams,” said Elisa Mallis, Managing Director and Vice President of APAC, CCL.

“There has never been a more important time to break the bamboo ceiling and enable Global Asian Leadership in order to better equip organizations to overcome the massive regional and global challenges we face.”

Setting Asian leaders up for success in global roles

To override cultural hardwiring and succeed in global roles, CCL identified five must-have traits that Asian leaders must demonstrate – courage, curiosity, trust, an ability to influence decisions, and strategic thinking.

Asian leaders have made significant progress in all these areas over the past five years. Strategic thinking, for instance, was one area that Asian leaders showed notable improvement in, scoring 3.82 – up from 3.74 in 2017.

However, while there are several success stories of Asian leaders successfully stepping into regional or global roles, organizations need to step up initiatives to scale up Asian leader development in a structured manner.

The report outlines a five-step action plan for aspiring global Asian leaders, along with organizational shifts needed to build a diverse leadership pipeline.

“Business in Asia is dynamic, fast and intense. Leaders need to keep working on decision making under pressure and be ready to adjust, setting the organisation’s path forward with the right balance of strategic thinking, courage, confidence, and risk awareness,” said Paul Murray, Regional President and CEO Reinsurance Asia, Swiss Re.