British CEOs make their mark Down Under

British CEOs make their mark Down Under

If your dream is to abandon Britain for a life of sun, sea, sand and success in Australia, the path could be clearer than you think, writes Eamonn Duff

Aspiring business leaders have a better chance of becoming a CEO in Australia if they originate from the UK, new research has revealed.

A ground-breaking study of nearly 50,000 senior executives across Australia shows individuals are more likely to reach the top ‘Down Under’ if born in an English-speaking country such as England, the US and Canada – bettering even the locals.  Professor Nick Parr, from Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics in Sydney, said he was surprised by the findings. “Some English-speaking migrant groups were more highly represented amongst CEOs and MDs than were the Australia-born, relative to numbers of employed as a whole. I expected the local born to be more highly represented in these positions.”  By 2011, more than a quarter of Australia’s population was born overseas. Together with student Sheruni De Alwis, Professor Parr utilised Australian Bureau of Statistics data from that year to examine the birthplace, language, gender and age profile of everyone who held the title of CEO or MD. The search found 47,294 people mostly aged between 40-60. The nation’s diverse workforce was not reflected in its upper ranks, only 19.3 percent were female and people from British ancestry formed a higher percentage of senior executives than the broader workforce. Professor Parr said British born CEOs had settled permanently in Australia via several passages; some secured visas as a result of being nominated by an employer under Australia’s skilled migration scheme, others were nominated by a State or Territory Government, or as the partner of an Australian citizen.

He identified “high levels of education” as one key reason behind British, American and Canadian born migrants doing so well. However, he pointed to an additional “pattern” involving people who speak “English only” being “more likely” to reach the summit. “The UK, USA, and Canada are wealthy countries and it may be that those who migrate from these countries to Australia are a select group who have the prospect of better, more highly paid jobs.”  While similar studies have previously been conducted internationally, Professor Parr benefited from the availability of Australia’s national Census, which collects key characteristic data on each individual, every five years.
“The large size of the data set allowed us to examine patterns at a previously unconsidered fine level of detail,” said Parr. “We considered migrant, ethnic, language and religious groups individually, as opposed to lumping them together. Our being able to identify patterns by ancestry and religion is, as far as I am aware, unique.”

Professor Parr speculated that cultural priorities, hidden ceilings and conscious or covert discrimination against people from certain backgrounds might lie behind some trends.

Ratios of CEOs and MDs, compared to non-executives, were very low for people born in Asian countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, India and China. However, those born in South Korea and those who speak Japanese were exceptions. The study also produced interesting data surrounding Lebanese Australians who were more highly represented among CEOs and MDs than in the national workforce. Historically, migrants from Lebanon had suffered relatively high unemployment rates and few gained university qualifications. “The rise to senior executive positions of the 2nd (and higher order) generations has been despite such disadvantages,” noted Parr. It is hoped the study will help other scholars to better understand patterns of leadership style and organisational culture in Australia.

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