Businesses in Asia continue to compete fiercely for highly-skilled employees. To try and gain an advantage, organisations are placing greater emphasis on diversity and flexible working, while also increasing efforts to identify and develop the next generation of leaders.

Of course, money talks, but executive teams realise they must be more imaginative. Michael Crompton, General Manager for Asia at Criticaleye, notes that “talent is always one of the major challenges being faced in Asia, whether it’s attraction, retention, engagement or succession planning”. 

For multinational corporations (MNCs) in particular, simply shipping in experienced executives from outside the region is no longer good enough. “Diversity at a senior level is becoming an increasingly prevalent topic in Asia,” adds Michael. “We are also seeing the need within MNCs to include more local talent in executive teams.”

Criticaleye spoke to a number of experts to find out how they’re tackling the big questions on talent, diversity and effective succession planning. 
Vice President of Government Affairs & Policy, Asia Pacific
There is a pool of talent in Asia that is systematically underleveraged by companies, including global MNCs. You have very few women in senior management and leadership positions. That’s a global problem but it’s very acute in some markets in Asia. 
The current percentage of women on boards and within the C-suite in India, Japan and Korea is very low – on average it’s less than five per cent. That is a tiny number in what are some of the biggest economies in the world. So when you’re talking about the war for talent, there is a huge opportunity there with women. 
There are barriers to greater gender diversity in corporate Asia: cultural expectations and the fact that women are expected to carry a substantial workload at home and work. The absence of an enabling infrastructure, such as policies that support parental or paternity leave or flexible working conditions, also hold back change. 
Head of Corporate Banking, Singapore
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ
The first few years of one’s career are equal between male and female colleagues. At the ten or 15-year mark, male counterparts tend to push ahead. A lot of mothers will take a break and don’t get back to work. Even if they do, they will start a few years behind their peers and that’s why we see unevenness at the top of corporates. 

Sometimes gender diversity gets pushed into corporate social responsibility, but for me it’s about talent management. If an organisation can attract good female talent then more will join.

I’m a member of the Diversity Action Committee in Singapore, which aims to build the representation of women on boards. For example, we have reached out to the executive search firms and some have stated that they will make sure there is at least one female candidate for senior level interviews. That’s a start.

In a lot of corporates right now there is ‘group think’, but you need someone who asks different questions. I believe that diversity brings an alternative point of view.
Managing Director
Financial Services Industry Practice, Hong Kong
The demand for talent is high, yet the supply of experience is pretty low. There is less loyalty in the region because, often, money talks. 
I think many Asian countries have more diverse workforces, especially when it comes to women. Hong Kong has great diversity, as does Singapore. If you look at the leadership in retail banks in Hong Kong, there are many women. These places have home help and childcare, which allows women to stay at work on a full-time basis. At a partner level, in our organisation in Hong Kong, we have a 50/50 mix of men and women. 
However at some companies, particularly in Korea and Japan, the hierarchy is still male dominated –although this can happen in other parts of the world as well. In these instances, we need to look at a broader talent pool and make sure we nurture people through the organisation so they’re seen as role models. If you don’t have female leaders in the organisation that junior female staff feel they can relate to, they won’t see a career path to success. 
Managing Director, Asia
A key factor to success in business is having the right people with the right skills, even though sometimes these may be in short supply. 

We see gender diversity on most corporate agendas. It’s important, but the key point is always ensuring that we have the best person for the role. To do this, you have to look for talent beyond your doorstep as well, and that often brings diversity with it. Naturally, we are seeing more variety throughout business globally, including in Asia. 

Succession planning and constantly reviewing the talent programme are crucial, as each individual’s plans and circumstances change regularly. Frequent dialogue on capabilities, aspirations and performance is vital throughout the year. So too is managing the expectations of both the individual and the company.

What’s important is that we’re in the right roles, playing the part that we do best and that we’re constantly developing and growing.

Find out more about Criticaleye's Asia Leadership Retreat 2015, held in association with Accenture, Cisco and CEIBS. 

By Dawn Murden, Features Editor – Advisory

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