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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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