Growing importance of localisation in Asia

4 min

When discussing diversity in Asia, more often than not “locals” in roles takes the lead over gender diversity.

Whilst many multinational corporations have a clear gender diversity policy, progress is considerably harder to achieve in Asia due to a number of reasons. These include conservative mind-sets regarding women in the workplace and the challenges indigenous females face in advancing their careers.

There is also the issue of attracting women to certain industry sectors such as engineering, automotive, IT where family culturally dissuade women to study in these areas.

China is a good example. While only 32 per cent of management roles are occupied by women – a drop from 36 per cent the year before according to the Hays’ Guide – China is also the country with the lowest level of foreign nationals in its workface, at less than 10 per cent.

Across the whole of Asia, barely half of companies say they have formal diversity strategies in place – and a staggering 30 per cent admit to having no policies in place at all.

While localisation has its advantages in helping to ensure that the best local talent is able to rise through the ranks and reach senior management roles, there is a downside in that such a policy can create skills shortages as well as the ability to learn from expats relocating to the region.

Companies are also having to deal with much stricter quotas that are being put in place by governments in employing expats into roles.

This means that Westerners now face more limited opportunities in places such as Hong Kong, China and Singapore as a concerted drive towards localisation freezes them out of the job market.

Many long-term expats are now in career limbo, deciding whether to return home, or face a potentially insecure future by remaining in Asia. One consequence is the increasing number now choosing to apply for permanent residency status. Many expats, particularly those with young families, are rightly looking to create as much stability as possible.

Some of the issues facing expats were highlighted in the recent ‘Wellbeing Survey: Globally Mobile Individuals’, conducted by global health insurance company Cigna.

Overall, the survey’s ‘wellbeing’ index score for expats was 61.5 points, 1.8 points lower than their domestic counterparts.

While international exposure, better career prospects and the ability to accumulate wealth continue to be key factors for those considering an expat life, the Cigna report also revealed that “lack of time spent with family and their children’s education are concerns, exacerbated by not having a support network around them”.

Another interesting trend is the growing demand among organisations for expats from Asia rather than Western countries.

Global mobility experts, ECA International, note in its most recent Managing Mobility Survey that “the demographics of the typical expatriate employee has changed. Asia is just as likely to be a source of expatriates as Western Europe or North America.

ECA’s regional director of Asia, Lee Quane, commented: “A Western company will probably send a handful of managers and recruit locally. Asian companies tend to send more staff, even at junior level. China is an obvious example, but also Japan and Korea.”

It is all part of the localisation strategy to ensure Asia’s best talent has all the opportunity it needs to gain the training and experience necessary to progress to senior roles within their organisations.

• Armstrong Craven is a global talent mapping and pipelining specialist with offices in the UK and Singapore.
• Follow Heather @singaporeAC

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