Series Thirteen, Episode Two: Focus on China – Culture, Concepts and Commonality

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As we celebrate Chinese New Year, host Julia Streets is joined by Lin Yue, Senior Executive at Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Rana Mitter OBE, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, and a Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford. Together they discuss the common misconceptions about the Chinese economy and investment habits and choices of Chinese citizens. They look at leadership and the cultural nuances within businesses across China, the dynamic demographics of the Chinese diaspora and the opportunities to change the narrative through looking at intersectionality and commonality.

Lin Yue

Lin is a senior executive at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, responsible for managing and growing key relationships across UK institutional investors. As a senior leader of mainland Chinese origin in London, she helps elevate women and ethnic minorities in the workplace. She is a multi-award winning thought leader, keynote speaker, and an original thinker in delivering the intersection of diversity, culture, leadership and business. Lin was recognised in the HERoes 100 Women Future Leaders by Yahoo Finance for three consecutive years, a finalist for Asian Women of Achievement and Women in Finance Award as an advocate in 2021. She is one of 50 Most Inspirational Women in the City of London by Brummell, a top Ethnic Minority Future Leader by EMpower, and the winner of the “Excellence in Banking” award at the Chinese Business Leaders Awards. A graduate of Experimental Psychology from Oxford University, Lin is also passionate about applying psychology and neuroscience in the workplace and making life skills accessible to all.

Rana Mitter OBE

Rana Mitter OBE FBA is a one of the world’s top 50 thinkers by Prospect. He is a Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, and a Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford. He has commented regularly on China in media and forums around the world, including at the World Economic Forum at Davos. His recent co-authored “What the West Gets Wrong About China” is available on Harvard Business Review and his recent documentary on contemporary Chinese politics "Meanwhile in Beijing" is available on BBC Sounds. He is the author of several books, including China’s War with Japan: The Struggle for Survival, 1937-1945 (Penguin, 2013), which won the 2014 RUSI/Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, and was named a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and Economist. His latest book is China’s Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism (Harvard, 2020). He is co-author, with Sophia Gaston, of the report “Conceptualizing a UK-China Engagement Strategy” (British Foreign Policy Group, 2020). He won the 2020 Medlicott Medal for Service to History, awarded by the Historical Association.

Series Thirteen, Episode Two Transcript

Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equity, inclusion and diversity in the financial services. On the podcast, we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer lots of ideas to help drive change. Before we get started today, I just want to take a moment to thank our friends at City A.M. For their continued support of DiverCity Podcast, with a dedicated page on their website publishing and promoting both our episodes and our supporting blog series so their readers can stay on the very top of the latest diversity in inclusion debate. Now you may want to check out their own podcast called The City View, for all the latest news and opinion from the city, because we at DiverCity Podcast are huge fans.

Today I’m delighted to be joined by Lin Yue and Rana Mitter. Let me introduce both our guests to you. Lin Yue is a Senior Executive at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, responsible for managing and growing key relationships across UK institutional investors. As a senior leader of mainland Chinese origin in London, she helps elevate women and ethnic minorities in the workplace. Lin has won many accolades and awards, most notably recognised in the HERoes 100 Women Future Leaders by Yahoo Finance for three consecutive years. She is the winner of the Excellence in Banking award at the Chinese Business Leaders award. A graduate of experimental psychology from Oxford University, Lin is also passionate about applying psychology and neuroscience in the workplace and making life skills accessible to all. I should point out in my remarks that I mentioned, she works at Goldman Sachs and I want to stress that her views are her own, not representative of those of the bank. Lin, wonderful you could join us. Thanks for being with us.

Lin: Thank you so much for having me. That was a wonderful introduction, thank you.

Julia: It’s a pleasure. Our second guest today is Rana Mitter. Rana Mitter OBE FBA, is a Professor in the History of Politics of Modern China and a Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford. He is a regular commentator on China in the media and forums all around the world, including at the World Economic Forum at Davos. He’s widely published, and his recent article co-authored with Elsbeth Johnson entitled, What the West Gets Wrong about China is available on the Harvard Business Review. His documentary on contemporary Chinese politics, Meanwhile in Beijing, is available on BBC Sounds. That’s just to name a few of his published accomplishments, as he is the author of several books, he was also named one of The World’s Top 50 Thinkers by Prospect. So Rana, it’s a joy to have you on the show. Thanks for being with us.

Rana: Julia, it’s a huge pleasure to be here and thank you so much for your welcome.

Julia: It’s wonderful to have you both on the show and I always love to spend a bit of time with our guests just to really understand what you’re focused on right now. Lin, could I come to you first of all, What is your focus?

Lin: I’m actually on maternity leave at the moment, so it is such an interesting time. I’m really enjoying it with my children, which is so incredibly precious. I think that this also provided distance being away from work and that has given me this time and space to reflect on my experience as a Chinese woman working in the city. You know when they say, when a child is born so is the mother, that can be so true in my case. So for me, for 2022, I see this as a great opportunity to really embrace my different identities as a professional, as a mum, as a carer, as a partner, as a woman, as an ethnic minority, as an advocate, just the name a few but really to bring it together to make an impact.

I thought about what that means in practise, for example. And then just to quickly give you a little bit of context because growing up in mainland China under the one-child policy, our life was just synonymous with this unprecedented changes. Imagine every single day of your life is better than yesterday, that effectively captures the essence of our experience. So when I look at what we do in the city, a large part of it is to navigate future investment opportunities. What are the mega trends that matter in the coming decade? There are many of them but often it comes down to a few themes such as technology, innovation, demographics, such as millennials and ESG, this environmental, social and governance. So as investors, we want to get to the right side of these disruptions as opposed to being disrupted.

But from where I see it, these trends are also very connected to the theme of China, where it’s already leading a lot of the innovation on 5G and AI. It has a huge commitment to the global sustainable future. And there are 450 million Chinese millennials. That’s the number that’s bigger than the US and European millennials combined. So I think being part of this millennials generation provides a tremendous opportunity because the Chinese millennial are a lot similar to the Western counterpart. We’re also value-led, tech savvy, faced with far less constrains and are so different from the previous generation. So part of my focus for this year is really to synergise this intersection of culture and business and to bring us to be part of the diversity dialogue. To join forces to stop Asian hate, make Black Lives Matter, make Me Too count. So I think it’s really exciting for the year.

Julia: Well, there’s so much in that I’m really keen to get into as we go through the conversation for sure. What a wonderful way to frame everything that’s on your mind at the moment. So thank you for walking us through not only what this means for you personally but also the macro consideration as well, how wonderful. Rana, can I ask you the same question, what is your focus right now?

Rana: Absolutely. Well after hearing what Lin’s been up to, I think we’ll beat that really. I’ve been actually concentrating quite a bit on the recent past. I think I confessed at the beginning where you got the confession out of me Julia, that I’m a historian by training, although I think a lot about contemporary China and it’s place in the world and I know we’re going to talk a lot about that in just a few minutes. There’s a particular historical event that this year, 2022, marks, which is 50 years since the really epochal visit of US president, Richard Nixon to China in February, 1972.

The reason this has been on my mind in the last few weeks and months is that I do think it’s a really momentous anniversary because so much of what is going on in the world today, which is about the relationship between the United States and China and in which institutions like the City of London, which of course is not berated, neither but sits very much in a position of mediation, you might say, between the two, have their present roles shaped by a whole variety of seismic changes that came off the back of that moment when Richard Nixon touched down at the airport in Beijing and essentially helped kickstart that new relationship between China and America.

It’s been on my mind in particular for a couple of more selfish reasons. I’ve been doing a bit of writing and also broadcasting asking about the event. A documentary that I’ve made, which has been on BBC Radio 4 and it’s on BBC Sounds, I’m afraid with a not very original title, The Great Wall but I promise you that the content is more original than the title, has talked to some people I was really, really excited to talk to. A lot of the US players who were really central over a half a century in making that relationship work one way or another.

I’m talking about people like Robert Zelek, who was President of the World Bank during the presidency of George W. Bush. I’m talking about a John McMaster who was national security advisor to Donald Trump. And of course in some ways has been shaping that perhaps more confrontational view of China that’s there in the US. And also talking to a think tanker Wang Huiyao, based in Beijing, who of course is of that age, where he was young enough to remember the Nixon visit as a young man when Nixon came to China and is now quite a senior advisor on political affairs in Beijing. This is a conversation that of course started back in the 1970s but in some ways really lies underneath everything that we do in China – America, China – Western relations today. And as an historian, one of the things that always gives me great joy is looking at aspects of the past and trying to link them to the present.

Julia: Well, we’ll certainly put a link to the documentary on the website as well and in all our marketing as well. That sounds really fascinating. I can’t wait to have a list actually but we must proceed with our own podcast. I do want to get into some early thoughts actually in our discussion about maybe some of the misconceptions that exist about China. And I come at it deliberately from that angle because it’s often a great way to frame, bust some myths and also so frame some realities as well. Some of these of course may well be rooted in unconscious bias as well. I wonder what the west does get wrong about China. Rana, can I come to you first?

Rana: Well, this is the subject to an article I co-wrote with an old friend and senior business executive Elsbeth Johnson for the Harvard Business Review, which asked this very central question that we’ve both been asked over and over again by executives in a whole variety of areas, manufacturing services and elsewhere. Why is it when we go into China and try and work with the culture, work out how the business environment works, we keep on running up against things that don’t really seem to make sense to us. It came from that background, bringing together history and some very much involved with business to ask that question and I would say summarised very simply, there are three points that we wanted to make and I’m sure that You, Lin and I will discuss a bit further, where the detail of misunderstandings often come from.

The first one, I think is an assumption that existed for a very long time, particularly in the era in which I think we’ve all been growing up and have been professionals in a quite globalised world. The idea that the world shaped by the liberal world since the end of the cold war, the 1990s, 2000s in which economics, democratisation and all of these historical forces are inevitable that any country that doesn’t accord to those particular norms is in some ways an outlier. Now this isn’t about whether those systems are good or bad, we can and should discuss those issues. This is just meant to be an analytical statement, that the assumption that economic change and democratisation went hand in hand and that was the normal path, was one that an awful lot of people from an awful lot of parts of the world have shared for a couple of decades.

The second point that flows from that is an assumption. This is one that frankly is more difficult for many Westerners that governments that are authoritarian and I have no hesitation in saying that I think China pretty clearly fulfils the definition of authoritarian government and society is one that can’t be legitimate to its own people and in its own right, it’s assumed that there’s a democracy waiting to burst out from under the surface if you just let it. That isn’t the way in which either the leading elites naturally but also actually many, many wider people who are emerging in the Chinese middle class think about their own society. Now, again, you may say that’s right or wrong, that’s a moral question but as an analytical question, I think it’s really important to understand that difference of view, at least the final element, which is much more directly involved with where businesses often, I think, get it wrong, which is an assumption that the investment habits, the work habits, the choices in economic and social terms of ordinary Chinese.

I’m thinking mainly of middle class Chinese but also of the huge population of rural China as well, is in some ways going to be very similar to those in almost any other of the top 10 economies in the world. And actually and again, we’ll talk about this in more detail later, I think but to get the top line on that, I would say that as a historian, understanding the history of China over that period, I mentioned at the beginning, the last half century or so one of the most turbulent roller coaster, back and forth, histories of any country in the world. And certainly the most turbulent amongst any of the top 10 economies in the world makes you realise that actually people who’ve lived through that and eventually got to stage, which Lin mentioned that for many people each day is perhaps better than the last, not something that everyone would say in every society necessarily and not true for all Chinese but true for the many, that’s an important background point in terms of understanding the choices that you as an outside business person may choose to make.

Julia: That’s enormously helpful. I wonder if I could bring you in here, Lin because when we think about the context of diversity and inclusion and particularly picking up on the last point that Rana was making, I’d love to get your thoughts about when we think about cultural nuances, what must leaders pay attention to internationally about working with Chinese nationals in their organisations? I think, take that in any direction you like, whether that is local, regional, international, global.

Lin: Maybe I could share with you in an example first because this is one of the most striking experience that I have come to realise, which was this different construct of leadership. Because I think in China, the construct is we have very big leaders and the power distance between some of the ordinary and the leader is very, very large but as I learned in the west, especially the US firms and there is this common belief that the squeaky wheels get the grease. Whereas in China, we believe in the direct opposite. That means the loudest duck gets shocked. So what does it mean for the Chinese professionals working in that environment? I certainly remember when I first started out about six months into the role, I was called into a room by a senior person who said, “Lin, I’ve noticed something, you seem to have some good ideas, one on one but how come you never speak up in team meetings?”

I was genuinely so shocked by that question because to me it was very natural to pay respect to more senior members of the team but he said, “Look, it doesn’t work like this here, you have to speak up.” So I tried it. The first time, I remember my heart was just pounding so badly because it went against everything I believed in. I was this duck that was about to get shot. But nevertheless, I think I persisted, and then about six months later, I was called into the same room by person who said, “Lin, I’ve noticed something, you spoke up and you showed me absolutely no respect now, and that was great”. I’m not suggesting anyone to disrespect a senior person, it’s a career strategy that can be dangerous but I think it highlighted something that is quite fundamental to psychology and diversity because when I didn’t speak up in meetings, the three things are happening in my head.

One is I’m waiting for my cue to speak because we were told not to talk over each other. Two I’m paying my respect is that we don’t want to be the largest duck and three is, I don’t want to give half baked comments because we were told to only speak up when answers are perfect. It took me a long time to understand how others think of me when I didn’t speak. Because they also have three thoughts. One is I don’t have views. Two is I’m not confident. Three is I have poor communication skills and those are pretty damaging perceptions. And then I think that can be more wrong in terms of the underlying abilities. I think for the organisations to be inclusive, this awareness or understanding of different points of view is really critical. So we don’t jump to the conclusions to their abilities and then also very quickly to touch on the psychology piece.

Because I think behaviour science is going to be hugely helpful here because Julia, you mentioned diversity as is very core, this is about change. We are asking people to have a different response to other people, but the reality is we are hardwired to react to people who are different to us. Because that was evolution, people who are different often represent danger, which could kerb our survival. Any changes we want to make, we wanted to almost learn to rewire our automatic responses, and the key is really to create the space between the stimulus and your existing response.

In the context of diversity, this awareness understanding of other people that can really help you to pause, to think and react differently. The other part of making changes work, as we know from behaviour science is to make it into habits. Some of the small incremental changes that have to be easy, accessible and desirable because otherwise we will fail. In terms of the diversity, I think everyone can really start just cultivating small behaviour changes and that will ripple through your entire conduct and in turn that will influence your environment.

Julia: We talk a lot on the show about enlightened leaders and the fact that this is a generation of enlightened leaders and rising stars as well as also of clearly more seasoned leaders as well. It’s very interesting listening to your remarks there about recognising what’s going through the mind of an employee of Chinese heritage when they are contributing in the workplace. There’s one thing that does bother me quite a lot, which is this moniker That we have put on. Well, it’s the word BAME B-A-M-E. And I’m wondering if I could just very quickly, if I may just get your thoughts and your remarks here because we have to recognise that within the Chinese community, of course there is great diversity and I think they’re also about China but also Hong Kong-Chinese and also other Chinese groups. Lin, are there any ethnic minority communities that have told you, they’re not particularly comfortable with BAME as a moniker and I wonder, does that encompass the fullness of the community in your mind?

Lin: It’s such an excellent point because growing up in China, we thought we were Asian. So it was a huge surprise to find out that we are at least not the default Asian in the UK. I think in terms of just within the Chinese communities, you mentioned some of this already that the huge difference in background is quite significant because the British born Chinese, for example, their parents are from Hong Kong and their identity is mostly British. Then you have a Hong Kong Chinese and their experience very much linked to being part of the UK colony. Then you have Taiwan that is a relatively new democracy. You have Singapore and then to a less extend Malaysia, that is really a multicultural society with the Chinese representation. Then you have this mainland Chinese people like ourselves and then not so long ago, that was communism.

We look the same but environment we grew up, couldn’t be more different. And if you add the other Asian communities, I think there are at least 20 different cultures originating from East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. In terms of background that consists of refugees, children of immigrants, individuals who are first generations. This is the group that has really great income disparity, wealth distribution and educational attainment. I guess this term Asian that does not really capture the richness of the underlying cultures, the people and these communities.

Julia: Thank you for painting the spectrum, if you like. And you say that adds up to 20 plus different cultures. Rana, could I bring you in here? Just your thoughts about does the word BAME, I mean it’s designed to increase inclusion in financial services but does that work, do you believe it achieves that end?

Rana: I think it may have served a purpose for a while but I think things are moving on a bit and I have to say many of the people I know who have to engage with the term do find it somewhat discomforting because it does seem to squash together an awful lot of things that don’t necessarily always have a shared experience. I mean, I should explain for the benefit of those who are listening that I am of would be called, I guess the majority Asian heritage in the UK in that I’m of Indian slash South Asian background. I guess I’m slightly unusual in that I work on China on a regular basis but I think that’s the kind of intersection of diversity that I’m sure we should be encouraging more of. I suspect there will be quite a few like me coming along in future as China continues to be of more importance.

I think that the really important thing is not just to try and get the terms right as if incantating the correct phraseology is the important thing but understanding some of the important narratives that lie behind them, as we’ve said more than once and I know that your podcast does a wonderful job in stressing stories about exclusion, not I think to the victimological stories that I know particularly the Chinese community is really in some ways rather allergic to. They want to talk about stories of success, I generally find not stories of being cut out, having difficulties and their overcoming but at the same time a recognition, I think this is the key thing and it’s the good intent behind terms like that. The starting point for so many communities has not been the same. And of course remembering many of the other elements.

I mean, people have brought up recently and I’m sure this has come up quite often on your podcasts as well, Julia questions have class as well as questions of race and gender. And it is one of the areas where sometimes it’s as if these are separated but we should remember that coming from working class backgrounds of people of colour or BAME whatever you wanted to term, also have differences of engagement compared to say the more impeccably middle class members of the black ethnic minority communities who of course have their own stories of overcoming difficulties but they won’t necessarily be the same ones as those who come from class backgrounds that may be quite different. So it’s a complex story as you know, very well.

Julia: Absolutely. I wonder if this is just an important moment to just flag to the audience that we are wise and aware to the reality about Asian hate crime that is going on at the moment. In fact, we had a particular episode last year and I would encourage listeners to go back and find that on our website because I think we have to recognise that actually it’s come up lightly in this conversation but it’s an aspect that we take very, very seriously. Thank you of your thoughts on that, Rana because I do, as you say, it comes from a good place but actually the reality of the world has shifted and it is multi-layered and has many nuances to it.

Lin, we’ve talked about the intersectionality a little in the discussion so far. I would love to think about, inclusion, intersectionality and also progression as well. I mentioned in the opening about your incredible, not surprising accolades in your career. I just wondered when you think about supporting the ascension of women in the workplace, also the background of having this experience of the great resignation, what advice do you give women of colour at different stages of their career within this weird and wonderful world that is financial services?

Lin: I think maybe the first point I will share is this impact of intersectionality. Within the Asians community, for example, there is a term called bamboo ceiling that is really to describe this group has the lowest chance of rising to management. But actually if you look closer is very much about the East Asians that are having the lowest chance of being promoted while as having the highest chance of being hired. Whereas the South Asians are doing much better. When it comes to this bamboo ceiling, for example, for Chinese women, the culture factor is almost four times worse than the gender factor, according to Ascent, which is a US think tank. It’s almost a luxury to be considered as a woman because most of the time, the other factor as many women of intersectionality would face is more dominating when it comes to how we are perceived.

In terms of advice, I think maybe if it helps, I can share some of the pivotal moments that have shaped my thinking, especially in the context of diversity so far. Because firstly, as a woman who ticks both the race and the gender box, I thought that I was just so different from other people but what really helped me was to shift my focus from say this 20% that I might be different from the other people. I started to notice that 80% I’m the same as everyone else. That starting point of looking for commonalities, it was hugely liberating because for women who are often having this intersectionality attached to them, they can be the only person who represent that difference all the time when they walk into a room. So to recognise the commonalities, it was really like a weight to be lifted from my chest, knowing that you don’t have to represent all the time.

The second point was really, as I mentioned earlier, the decoding, the influence of our behaviour. When I didn’t speak up in meetings, that wasn’t me, that was what my culture was telling me to do. I guess now that means I have a choice and there’s nothing wrong with me or my ability. With that, I think that can really help me focus on what really needs to change, which is my style. That is a set of behaviour changes that we can all do, which is a lot easier than what I had in mind, which was this feeling that I need to change who I am to conform to be successful. The last point I really wanted to share this moment of my career is to realise it’s not enough to just lean in. Because if you look at organisations, when they were set up say a hundred years ago, they didn’t have everyone in mind.

They had this ideal worker that is closely linked to a profile of white middle class straight men. The more you fit with this archetype, the easier it is for you to find sponsor, access to networks, be seen as a leader. The opposite is also true. The more you deviate from this, then the harder is for you. For women, for women of colour, we typically internalise this problem. We think we need to be fixed but in fact it was a system that didn’t have everyone in mind. So my last point is really that it’s not enough to just lean in. We wanted to not only adapt ourselves to work but also drive changes to the system that didn’t have us in mind in the first place.

Julia: Well, Rana, let me bring you in here because I would love to hear your response to some Lin’s remarks there and also from your research and from all of your conversations, your interviews and your academic work, is anything you would add or respond to in Lin’s remarks?

Rana: Yes. I’d like to add one word. Well, perhaps a couple of words at the back of the one word but the one word is history because when I hear Lin’s story, I know her as a friend and someone whose personal story I’ve known and found very inspiring but also it’s an occupational hazard for a historian and I’m afraid, I think of her in context as well because she’s the product of a huge number of changes that have affected China very distinctively and also in a way that I think does make it very different from any of the other major economies with which the wider world is having to deal at the moment.

What I mean by that is this, some of the things that Lin was talking about in terms of the way in which society conditions you to act in certain ways. I’m going to put some propositions down, I’d love to hear if Lin agrees with me or not, she completely disagree and have no respect whatsoever, which will be great of course but here’s some thoughts. In the 1950s and 1960s, one of the things that most animated the communist revolution of the era of Chairman Mao, a name that everyone will know, they don’t necessarily have the details.

Was a desire to overturn gender norms in China. Chairman Mao being a man who for his own reasons of philosophical background was dedicated in a way that I find frankly very distressing, very dedicated to a violent overturning society, which is what people mostly associate with the famous culture revolution of the sixties. Part of his aim was to try and shake the entire society out of social norms. One of the things that was done at that time was to take young women. I mean, not Lin, whose far to young but maybe people she would know from her grandparents generations, to put on clothes, baggy green military uniforms that would not be gendered as either male or female but basically as unisex and then to go Tiananmen Square and to be in this huge crowd of our million students in front of the glorious God that was Chairman Mao and start yelling and screaming, very, very unfeminine thing to do in most societies. But certainly in the case of China.

There’s a famous incident, famous in China, anywhere where one of these young red guards as they were called in the culture revolution, was brought out to Chairman Mao and he said, “What’s your name?” And I believe he described her. Her personal name was Bing Bing, which just means refined or nice. And he said, “That’s not a name for a girl. You should be reamed, [Yao. 00:29:07]” Meaning desiring marsiality or wanting to be more military. In other words, saying, look, you can’t have this traditional feminine image. If you want to get with the culture revolution, you’ve got to actually change your name. You’ve got to change your image. You’ve got to change the way you behave. Now, let’s just say for a moment that the methods of the culture revolution of China are rejected today, by almost all Chinese, let alone by anyone else in the rest of the world.

Let’s not make a mistake about that but that wider quest that’s been going on for a century in China in trying to overturn some of those norms that we are talking about. It’s not that China doesn’t know about it, doesn’t think about it. Doesn’t actually have its own debates about exactly these issues. Young professional women in China and the way that they behave at work and at home was the subject Lin will correct me here, I think this is right but the biggest hit TV series in China last year, which you can see whether way free on YouTube with English subtitles, it’s called Nothing But Thirty.

And it’s about the trialss of young Shanghai business women and whether they should get married and whether being married, they should stay married. And this sort of thing, these are lively debates in China too. And what I’m trying to get away from is the idea that there’s some sort of Chinese culture, which shapes women or men or business people or historians, whatever it might be, which the west is then there to influence and change and make more dynamic. It’s actually an interaction between the two and we can both learn from each other but Lin, can I ask you directly, is that how it might seem to you?

Lin: No, I think it’s a very, very interesting point because nothing can compare with the changes that we have experienced from to your point about the experience of my grandparents, to the experience of my parents and then to where we are. In terms of the one child policy, actually I see this as a huge disruption to the gender equality because if you tell the parents who can only have one child, that their daughter is anything less then the boy, then their not going to accept that. So in a way it actually elevates women, not as intentional consequence but actually promoting a lot of the ambition of the Chinese women. I do think a lot of it is not just political. It’s not just economical, it’s much more cultural and it’s much more universal. So on that that point. I do share that view.

Julia: Well. I think this is a great moment to turn to Cynthia Akinsanya for some research to support today’s discussion.

Cynthia: The 2021 Herbert Smith Freehills article in Lexology. Where are the Asian Leaders in Global C-suites looks at how the absence of East Asian leaders in C-suites and boardrooms are of global multinational companies is particularly surprising when taking into account the fact that we are now living in what many are calling the Asian century. The number of Asian professionals seeking opportunities in America and Europe continues to increase. It is estimated that 60 million Chinese born professionals now live and work overseas, making them the largest migrant group in the world. The article looks at dissecting the bamboo ceiling, the future of Asian leadership, adjusting to the Eastern mindset and the importance of the case for greater diversity.

Julia: Thank you as always Cynthia Akinsanya. So let me just take a few moments to remind everybody how to find that research, it is available on the website, diversecitypodcast.com. Don’t forget that’s DiverCity with a C, not with an S and that’s where you can find all our episodes and sign up for early notifications or future recordings. And also our newsletter DE and I, That’s Caught Our Eye, which has a collection of the latest in the press and the industry to keep you on your toes and when informed, please do follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn and DiverCity Podcast is available on Brights Talk and all good podcast channels.

Of course we’d love a rating because it does all help to promote the show. Now I mentioned before we came into the break about the very important topic around Asian hate crime. I wonder Lin, we were talking separately in preparation for this podcast about your thoughts about the reality of what COVID has meant and how this has felt and impacted employees in the workforce. Particularly starting with some remarks about, essentially you are the first generation, if you like, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Lin: Absolutely. I think that the first generation translates into, this is very much a learning curve for us but it’s also a learning curve for organisations who have recruited us. But I think generally speaking, the Chinese professionals also face a different layer of complexity, which is say, when we talk about black professionals, that is very much a race concept but when it comes to Chinese, often in that direct association, it’s not race, it comes back to the country. And then you mentioned the COVID 19, there is a lot of negativity towards the country.

I think the key macro aggressions, many of the Chinese and sadly, East Asians themselves, East Asian professionals face is this negativity towards the country, and then the associated hostility towards these people at work. And we all know career advancement is a series of advantages and disadvantages. This negative association is not helpful for anyone who wants to progress in their career. Also just being exposed to a lot of negative crime or negative news that has a lot of psychological stress to this Asian or Southeast and East Asian employees, which I think we can do a lot about.

Julia: I think it’s really important for leaders to be on high alert that this is absolutely going on in their organisations as well. Rana, I’d love your thoughts on that if you would.

Rana: I’d like to echo very much what Lin says. I’m thinking of one particular friend who I think, I know in fact she’ll call us a British Chinese or Chinese British, depending how she’s feeling that morning but very much someone who was born and brought up in mainland China in the way that Lin was as well. Not just of Chinese heritage but actually from China in some meaningful sense and certainly bilingual and one of her great complaints, said with great, good humour. She’s not in finance, she’s in another professional area, is that she’s often too often approached as if she should be the house representative for the Chinese Communist Party and all of its activities and she would point out, there’s no reason that anyone who has met her for five seconds should have either any idea only right to know what she thinks of the Chinese Communist Party or any particular thing that goes on in China or elsewhere without actually having to got to know her first.

In other words, the sense that she ought to be a representative for an entire system, just because of her presence there. It’s actually deeply offensive. In fact, as you can imagine and frankly like pretty much all the Chinese professionals I know in all areas, there’s a range and spectrums of views. The difficulty comes and I think it’s worth, putting this up front again, you know, Lin may agree or disagree with, really interested to hear her views, is that because China itself within the People’s Republic is an authoritarian state, which heavily limits freedom of speech has a lot of censorship, also has been moving in a more authoritarian direction as most analysts would say in the last 5-10 years.

There’s an assumption that therefore anyone who comes out of China must have one set of views and one set of views only. And in fact, that is a point of view that can be dispelled simply by having a chat with any group of Chinese professionals on almost any subject you can think of but it is in a sense, a burden that’s being placed that any one representative in a professional environment is having to take on the role of speaking for the entirety of a country and a system in the same way but it’s not quite the same but perhaps a parallel that I think of is that I work professionally and have done on China for more than 30 years as a historian analyst of its contemporary politics.

And I hope it’s evident to anyone who wants to go online and read the work that I have, that there are many aspects of contemporary China that I think are impressive and should be better understood and many aspects of China’s current behaviour, which should be called out very strongly because I think it’s entirely wrong. These things are perfectly capable of being held in the same mind at the same time and discussed as part of a wider, rational and informed discourse about what we will think that we can talk about and areas where we think we have red lines.

Julia: Ron, thank you for your thoughts on that. Lin, I would love to get your response, but unfortunately we are out of time. So I just want to ask you both of you would just very quickly for your final remarks to close out the show. It’s a question I ask all our guests, which is, being slightly concerned about the pathway ahead in terms of our economic priorities and our commercial priorities. I am worried that the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation may well fall down the corporate agenda. To see us out, I would love to get your closing remarks about why it’s a must remain high. Rana, I’m going to come to you first of all, if you would.

Rana: I’m going to give a parallel for my own world, which is higher education in the university sector. I would say that almost as a matter of basic good practise, if you don’t have a range of diverse viewpoints and experiences and bodies of knowledge within your educational institution, you are self-limiting what you can teach and what you can learn. In the case of the area that I specialise on, clearly having people who are Chinese or who know China, who have engaged with it is very important but I think actually it can be expanded to almost any aspect of study. It is notable that some of the most successful laboratories in the world are those that draw on a whole variety or people from whatever country, whatever background who are very, very good at whatever the subject is. And I think that translates across all sorts of professional environments.

Julia: Absolutely. Lin, see us out on the show with your compelling reasons why it must remain high.

Lin: Think about the future of the board. This is no longer just about profitability but also inclusivity and if you think about what’s driving innovation, very rarely, it’s about a brand new idea anymore. Because more often than not, it’s a combination of ideas. It’s not about new information but a new perspective. Coupled with the rise of China, which is fundamentally a very different kind of system, diversity couldn’t be more relevant. And I think that’s what’s really going to drive the performance, innovation and growth for business.

Julia: What a great way to end the show. Rana Mitter, thank you so much for being on the show, for all your thoughts.

Rana: Thanks very much indeed. Julia, it’s been a huge pleasure.

Julia: And Lin, you are on maternity leave. You’ve taken time to join us. We are most grateful. Thank you.

Lin: That was a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Julia: So to all our listeners as always thank you for tuning in, thank you for joining us. I hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion as much as I have. I’ve been Julius Streets and we look forward to bringing you a new episode very soon.

Kieron: This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights. You can find out more about the guests on this weeks show on our website, divercitypodcast.com and that’s DiverCity with a C, not an S. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. All our episodes are available in Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. If you enjoy DiverCity Podcast, remember to share on social media and give us a rating or review, it really helps promote the show to a wider audience. Finally, our Twitter handle is @divercitypod. Thanks for listening.