Friday, October 19, 2012

How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia - Endemic Racism


Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about -  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.


3. A Tilted Playing Field - Endemic Racism


Foreign Policy looks at South Africa for an example of extreme racism, especially one which stipulates what kind of work someone may do based on their race. It meant that black South Africans "were condemned to work as unskilled laborers" and meant that South Africa "failed to improve the living standards of 80 percent of its population for almost a century. For 15 years before the collapse of apartheid, the South African economy contracted." 

In Asia, there is not such an overt display of racism that a colour bar is placed, but there is a startling amount of racism not immediately evident to a newcomer. Skin whitening products overflow the cosmetic aisles, and fairness is almost universally accepted as the beauty standard. Beyond shades of skin, races within Asia have tense relations with one another, something that was demonstrated by a recent debacle in Singapore. Although it is emphasised in the media as a one-off overt racist remark, which it is, Asia is in a covert racism epidemic.

This is especially reinforced in business by who gets hired for what, and who is making that hiring decision. In my own observations, the human resources departments of Singapore are mostly populated by one gender, in one age bracket, of one race. It means they tend all tend to hold a certain bias. This is a really difficult subject for me to write on as a foreigner in a country that actively enforces censorship - I'm not quite sure what I can say. However, I will say that my partner is Malay/Indonesian heritage, and from our very own first hand experience, we have felt the heartache of systematic racism in Asia. It affects not only your self esteem and your mood, but it affects your life plans, your economic position, your financial stability, your whole family's outlook and attitude. It perverts and distorts your view of opportunity, and makes a group of able-bodied intelligent people become riddled with a doubt and perception of themselves which comes entirely from someone else's repulsive projection.

I believe a society that is the most successful  is the most inclusive. I do not believe that meritocracy means inclusivity. I believe inclusivity means making a concerted effort to incorporate those who have been disadvantaged in some way, and that means acknowledging the disadvantage and not just saying 'everyone is seen based on their merit'. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by enforcing inclusive hiring practices, including supervising people who make the final judgement on candidates for their own bias. Human Resources departments should be just as diverse as the society it is trying to hire and manage. Just these two simple acts would change so much of the employment landscape in Asia - it would start individual's careers, change their lives and their family's lives as their income increases, it would expand the local talent pool for future ventures, and it would change the employment landscape as opportunities become evident for future generations. 

Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience - and perhaps on this topic in particular, I am a little over passionate and muddled for objective writing. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject - I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia - Cheap Labour


Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about -  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.

2. Forced Labour - Cheap Labour


Foreign Policy talks about the fact that most economies were based on the concept of forced labour, and yet "forced labour is also responsible for the lack of innovation and technological progress in most of these societies". Now, forced labour isn't really an option any more, but cheap labour sure as hell is! Isn't that the reason for most Western businesses to venture into Asia? The lure of the cheap labour costs, right?

It's a wonderful prospect when the cost of labour is so low that it doesn't really matter how many labourers are required, or how long they are required to work for, in order to get the job done. It must seem like a utopia to Western businesses. And with that knowledge, one or two or five employees without a lot of work to do isn't that bad. The labour economics just get completely out of whack.

And with this excessive amount of labour, there is no need to bring in technology or push for smarter decision making from managers. Just put in more cheap labourers to make it happen! The labourers however, have next to no skills apart from sheer brute force. They are not offered real training opportunities, since they are dime a dozen. The labourers are forever kept at the lowest possible wage, with the minimum amount of skills required. Even the managers are stripped of development opportunities, with little need or incentive to implement efficiencies.

I believe a society advances most when the poorest of society is not exploited just because it is vulnerable. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by advancing technology and working towards efficiencies in their labour. To be honest, it's tricky to know if it's better to provide a tiny amount of income to multiple families, than a reasonable income to a few families. But I do 100% believe it is better for the whole of society if business is run efficiently with better technology, because it especially means lesser impact on the environment. 

Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject - I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.



Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia - Decision Making Authority

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, looking at some of the reasons economies and governments fail. "Most countries that fall apart, however, do so not with a bang but with a whimper. They fail not in an explosion of war and violence but by being utterly unable to take advantage of their society's huge potential for growth, condemning their citizens to a lifetime of poverty." It made me think about the ways Western businesses, not with a bang but with a whimper, keep Asian employees in poverty despite injecting huge amounts of money and opportunity into the economy.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about -  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. I've lived and worked in Singapore for 2 years (some would argue, it's Asia for dummies) and have a wonderful Singaporean partner and family in law. So, please take this all as a bit of an essay - in the truest sense of the word, which came from the French word 'essayer' which means to try. I'm just trying out a few viewpoints to see what I come up with.

Asia is developing, but still has living standards far below those of the West. Western businesses are a great way to bring money and job opportunities to a new market. It's a place ripe for profit making, with cheap labour and emerging middle classes. However, there are Western businesses that come in and make a quick buck, and there are Western businesses that transform the working landscape of the country for the better. 

1. Lack of Property Rights - Lack of Decision Making Authority 

Foreign Policy writes that "North Korea's economic institutions make it almost impossible for people to own property; the state owns everything, including nearly all land and capital." As a consequence, this "destroys their incentive to succeed."

A parallel I have observed with Western businesses in Asia, is operations that place all decision making power with the home country operation - or only allow home country expatriate employees in Asia to make the decisions. This strips the decision making authority from local employees who may have the competency, and even the position in the organisation, to make these decisions. Their skill and expertise, no matter how excellent, eventuates to reporting and recommendations. The opportunity to become a decision maker is simply not available, and it's completely demotivating.

Just as "in 1998, [when] a U.N. mission found that many of the country's tractors, trucks, and other farm machinery were simply unused or not maintained," in these kinds of organisations, I often find disempowered employees simply don't use their higher skills or choose not to maintain them. When there is no opportunity to be promoted for using these skills, what is the point?

Now of course, unlike the unfortunate North Korean population that is unable to move, employees are able to change employers. But positions with no decision making power tend to become résumé deadwood. The employee comes out of the organisation in a daze. Their decision making muscles have not been flexed, they have not learnt and developed from their own mistakes. They are not able to go into that interview and wow future employers with their professional growth. In order to change employers, they are generally required to make a sideways move, rather than an advancement.

I believe a society advances most when positions of power are held by the people of that society. Colonialism sucked - its modern descendent of Western businesses in Asia sucks too. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by entrusting decision making authority to Asian employees. This act would develop individual's careers, change their lives and their family's lives as their income increases, it would expand the local talent pool for future ventures, and it would change the employment landscape as opportunities become evident for future generations. The transfer of skills, so that the transfer of power can be made, results in a great transfer of prosperity.

Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject - I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Your Ambition as a Young Professional Does Not Make You the 20-Something Villain of the Business World


We're inexperienced, energetic, and keen to prove our worth. The perfect mix of optimism and professional aspiration to make poor judgements that go in favour of our employer. We often find ourselves acting as the gear stick of the business - happy to do the grunt work by making things happen inside the machine, but completely manipulated by a higher power actually operating the machine. 

So of course it's us doing the hands on work when shit goes down, and we get portrayed as the villain for it.

The 20-Something Villain rears its evil head when:
  • They are a new supervisor brought in to 'shake things up' - often according to higher power's vision; or
  • They are a sales executive for some harmful product - often under the direction of someone who made the decision to sell the faulty product: or
  • They are in a position to make decisions with complete authority - often given by someone who has complete authority over the entire section.

Are you getting the picture of the evil, ruthless 20-something professional, with no experience, expertise or morals guiding their path of destruction?

Cool.

Now picture them again as a puppet with long strings going all the way up to the person who put them in that place.

Because what I see in most of the stories I read, is managerial laziness hand-balling responsibility to a 20-something employee - eager to please, desperate to keep their job and with little bargaining power other than to follow directions. It's a win-win situation for the manager, and a win-lose situation for the young employee.

We are the perfect scapegoat for crappy tasks, and determined enough to weather the disgruntlement from more experienced employees' who wouldn't touch the task with a 10 foot pole. It's great that we're getting experience - it sucks that we're getting it in such a compromising way.

But we are not the true villain if we are under direction. The villain makes the evil plan, the side kick helps them carry it out. And side kicks aren't really any age, they're generally just assholes with a weird secret crush on their villainous master. So unless you are choosing to participate in the evil plan with full knowledge, don't buy into the evil 20-something plot.

Your ambition, enthusiasm and eagerness will mean you are taken advantage of at times. But it does not make you the bad person in this whole murky world of business.


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Crushing Guilt of Being an Expat


It will happen if you choose to be overseas because you want to be with someone, rather than being sent there by a company. Or if you were sent by a company, and choose to stay on with other companies. Whatever the path to getting there is, as soon as the adventure is over and people at home don't know when you'll be back because you now live overseas - the guilt will be a crushing force. 

  • People will die and you won't be there. 
  • Your family-at-home's everyday practicalities will melt from your awareness. 
  • You won't be able to look after unwell/grieving parents properly. 
  • Babies will grow up and you'll miss big chunks of their journey. 
  • Sisters and brothers will have emergencies requiring wine, long chats and a backyard deck - but a text message is the best you can do. 
  • Budgets for daily life will minimise budgets for flights back home. 
  • Days of annual leave will be spent exploring your new locale, not on holidays back home. 


Shit will change, and you will feel like a terrible daughter/son/sister/brother/aunty/uncle/friend because you chose it to be that way. 

If you get the opportunity to work overseas, it can be pretty awesome, so don't hold back. But when you choose to live overseas, expect it all to be a little different to a high flying career. Yes, there is a distinction between working overseas and living overseas. Because living overseas is a new way of life that people will see as shiny and exciting and wonderful (which it can be) but will never really understand the exquisite pains that accompany it. 


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Movers, Shakers & Monday Game Changers - Leong Lau, 70s Funk & Multiculturalism

Monday is about remembering the movers, shakers and game changers, of things that look incredibly trivial now, but challenged many on arrival.


Scaremongers like to write a lot about the insane changes the next generation will bring. Here's some changes already brought, against all odds and discouragement, and it all turned out alright.


Some perspective for your back-pocket, to think about when the times are getting tough as a change maker.


On a late night wander around the interwebs, I was having a whale of a time discovering old Australian funk groups. And then I stumbled upon Leong Lau, an Indonesian man who speaks with the most ocker accent you could possibly expect of a man from the Aussie outback, and has some incredibly tasty tunes.



Unfortunately, like most of this old music, there isn't much information about this man available. Google it, and you'll see one fantastic DJ's effort to document Australian funk, and that's about it. If you root around, you'll be able to download the album in the Youtube video above. (I wouldn't feel guilty about the download, since the only other way you can hear the music is by buying a $300 vinyl that is available very rarely.)

So why does this guy get to be my Monday mover, shaker and game changer?

Because he obviously was outside the square to the enth degree. He made music that is ageless - it could be played when he made it in the 70s, it could be played on Gilles Peterson's show today. It's great stuff. It's also out there. He doesn't really sing - he tunefully talks, I don't think you could even call it rap. I don't know. It's awesome and oh.so.ocker. Which is even cooler, seeing as he is an Indonesian man.

And from his name, I surmise he is a Chinese Indonesian, which in the 70s would have been a pretty rough deal under Suharto's 'Basic Policy for the Solution of the Chinese Problem' - yeah ouch.

Yet his album is intertwined with Indonesian references. It's named 'That Rongeng (sic) Sound', ronggeng being a type of dance and music. A track is called Naga Rock Music, naga being dragon in Indonesian.  It's made in Australia, in English, but is so obviously Indonesian influenced. It's the perfect example of multiculturalism.

And Australia wasn't all sunny fields of multiculturalism in the 70s either. The 'White Australia Policy' was only legally ended as of 1973 or thereabouts. What an intensely racist hotbed to go from and come into.

But he made this album to reflect him, and it's the truest act of artistry, because you really feel a sense of this man through his music. This ain't no cookie cutter album.

He really inspires me to be true to myself, all the cultures I come from, have joined through my partner, and live in - and to express myself to reflect that and me. And if it comes out as cool and funky as his work, I'd be damn happy with that!

Do you have multiple cultures in your life that you would like to enjoy and express more?


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What's It All About Al-friday - Charles Van Doren & the 1950s Game Show Scandal




You know - what's it all about Alfie?

Why do we do what we do? Why do we go to work? Why do we practice HR?

Lots of important questions to answer on Fridays, as a reminder at the end of the traditional work week of why we are working, and what our life is really all about, before entering the weekend.


All the Answers is a wonderful article written by Charles Van Doren, the famous cheater on a 1950s gameshow "Twenty-One". It's really stuck with me since reading it, because it embodies that human spirit I wrote about last week of survival and rebuilding.

Obviously I wasn't around when the scandal went down, so I never felt the betrayal of a loyal follower who was emotionally invested in the spectacle. I could understand the bitter disillusion when your favourite television personality has lied to you the whole time. What an innocent age it was in the 50s when a nation was shocked by TV execs doing dodgy things... what a cynical age we're in now, where it's just expected.

Anyway, here is a man who made a terrible mistake in his early life (and for that, I take pity on him). He lost his job. He faced public humiliation and popular opinion of anger.

And yet, he continued to live life. He had a family. He was in love with his wife. He worked hard at what he was good at.

He survived, kept his head down, and rebuilt.

His eloquent writing makes it an enjoyable read, but really, this is happening to people all around us. Perhaps it's happening to you. Perhaps it has already happened to you. 

Whatever, however, whenever - have a good weekend with the people you love.


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Interview Tip: Tuck Away the Family Jewels


"Mmm shiny things - I want! Lucky bitch! I hate you!" 
The thoughts going through my mind as I try to listen to someone talking about themselves while a huge sparkly diamond winks at me from their finger.

My rings are a safety blanket, so taking them off before an interview would unnerve me. So no, my tip isn't to take off your big shinies.



My tip: twist around the ring, so the jewels are tucked into your palm and the plain (or plainer band in the case of those lucky gals with a diamond encrusted band) is shown to the interviewer. The interviewer might notice it, but probably not if you're hands are kept still.

Interviews are about likability. Don't make the HR lady who couldn't get a proposal from her long time partner if she paid him (ahem) to stare at your beautiful jewelry - you got an interview with your written word, now wow her with your spoken word!



Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Male Managers Learn Gender Equality From Their Wives - Not a HR Policy

Society really likes a scapegoat don't it? I have noticed that when most things go wrong, it's either blamed on the government or businesses. As a collective group of people, capable of really great actions, society has a hopelessly pathetic external locus of control! One of the latest issues that's pissing me off, is this gender-equality-in-the-workplace debate, and the tendency to blame it on businesses.

Apparently it is up to a business to teach employees about gender equality, to monitor and police it, and to identify it as a unique cultural component of that business alone. I see it being just like schools that are required to teach children behaviour, respect and manners. Yes, there is an element of this in business and schools, but the real groundwork and reinforcement comes from the employee and child's home.

As a woman, my responsibility is to teach my partner about us having a real partnership today - not some outdated 1950s model. These are tangible tools for him to use as a supervisor and employer, and it's far more effective than some HR chick whining at him about meeting diversity quotas.

The best male bosses I've ever had are devoted to their wives. They appreciate her role in the family, are grateful for her sacrifices for his career, and are supportive of her endeavours, even if they impact on his career. He understands the path in front of me as a young woman, and works to make it better. He is sympathetic because he has real experience of being an equal partner to a human being who happens to have different genitalia to him. He gets what a whole life requires, and not just a life of work and having the other 50% maintained by someone else.

Equality starts at home when:

  • both partners parent - they aren't a mother and a babysitter
  • both partners cook, clean, wash, iron, shop, and pick up
  • both partners are responsible for sick family members
  • both partners manage the family diary, and equally negotiate engagements
  • both partners understand the input to run the house and to finance the lifestyle
  • both partners buy presents and write cards
  • both partners support each other's pursuits outside of home life

Equality starts at home, and very quickly transfers into an attitude at work.

Do you think we idolise the 1950s family archetype to our society's detriment? Is it the fault of businesses we suck at gender equality in the workplace?


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Movers, Shakers & Monday Game Changers - Marvin Gaye, Angry Bosses, and Serious Funk


Monday is about remembering the movers, shakers and game changers, of things that look incredibly trivial now, but challenged many on arrival.


Scaremongers like to write a lot about the insane changes the next generation will bring. Here's some changes already brought, against all odds and discouragement, and it all turned out alright.


Some perspective for your back-pocket, to think about when the times are getting tough as a change maker.


I repeated Marvin Gaye's album What's Going On five times when I first heard it. I love the music, I love the funk, I love the lyrics - I love the feel of it all.

And you guessed it right... the record company hated it.





Gaye was determined to shatter Motown's pop formula and address pressing social issues. Motown founder Berry Gordy was not pleased. He claimed that "What's Going On" was the worst song he had ever heard. As for "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," Gordy asserted that he didn't even know what the word "ecology" meant. Gaye responded that he would never record for Motown again unless "What's Going On" was released as a single.


Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/500-greatest-albums-of-all-time-20120531/marvin-gaye-whats-going-on-19691231#ixzz27qPKNE6D


Thank the Music Gods that it got released, because now we have this incredible album for our own enjoyment. An album ranked as 6th Greatest Album of All Tome by Rolling Stone magazine. Not a bad result for someone having a crack at breaking the mould.

What's a convention in your industry that you dreaming of breaking? What's stopping you? 


Cheers,
Sarah

Btw, if you're wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR - here's my explanation.
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