Can we still call Australia home please?

A new generation of activism

I write this month’s newsletter and message to you on the day that hundreds of thousands of children across our planet take to the streets, and more than 2,000 businesses in Australia give employees leave to attend the Global Climate Strike. The united call is for more and stronger action on climate change ahead of next week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

The collective protesting voices ask our leaders to listen to them, hear the genuine and widespread concern, and take action to prevent further and growing damage to our land. Our young people are unreservedly asking leaders to sincerely commit to address the issue of climate change, so that they and future generations can look forward to a healthy and sustainable future.

From the inspirational actions I have seen and words I have heard spoken from those much younger than me, it's clear that we're living in an age of activism. 

You can argue this isn't unique to our times. But have activists ever been so young? 

As my friend Cj Holden, founder of the amazing  s p a c e event I attended earlier this year commented:

Generation Z is the first truly digital native generation. Growing up with every piece of historic knowledge carried in their pockets, a few swipes away, is it any wonder they are the first generation to form their own opinions beyond their parents' views at such an early age?”  

The activism and conviction I have witnessed, and the global movement of people-led change that is becoming more prevalent, inspires me to speak out on an issue I haven't as yet ‘gone public’ on. I believe it is now time to do so. While I plan to say more in the months to come, I am sharing my initial thoughts, with you, my trusted and valued network here. 

Professional Parochialism- it’s a thing!

When I returned to Australia after 13 years overseas working in humanitarian law, terrorism and war crimes prosecution and international criminal law, I couldn't believe how difficult it was to initially secure a job with an organisation that recognised and welcomed my rich and diverse international experience. Initially, I took career steps backwards just to pay the bills and help my family settle into their new lives in Australia.  What I heard from respective employers time and time again was “your CV is very impressive, but we just can’t see an obvious place for you here”, or “wow, what a career you have had … but we’re concerned that you may be bored here.”

This theme has come up so often in professional and personal conversations I have had with others, and was a topic of discussion at the opening of the University of Western Australia’s Public Policy Institute.

It has led me to conclude that this is ‘A THING’ - and a growing thing at that. 

And, don’t just take my word or the experiences of the many expats and returning Aussies I have spoken to over the last few months and yearsThis growing phenomena of what I have been calling professional parochialism has been the subject of a recent study.

A report, They Still Call Australia Home conducted by Lonergan in partnership with Indeed and Advance into Returned Diaspora Experience explores the attitudes of business and recruitment decision-makers towards Australians who have worked abroad and returned home. In looking at the job seeking experiences of returned expatriate the report shows that highly experienced professionals are being overlooked in favour of job candidates that never took the risk and travelled.   

In looking at the job seeking experiences of returned expatriates, the report acknowledges how Australians are renowned for heading overseas to realise their career ambitions. In fact, out of a population of 25 million, it’s estimated that more than a million Australians are living as expats at any one time.

These Australians view overseas work experience as the other great Australian dream after home ownership. 

And whether they stay for a year or a decade, many eventually return due to family reasons, to be closer to ageing parents or to educate their children back in Australia. 

Armed with enviable new skills and global experience, these career minded people start applying for jobs. 

What they don’t expect is for the process of landing work to be so cumbersome. In fact, returned expatriates often come home expecting to be snapped up by an employer thrilled to secure someone with international experience. 

But the reality is that a lot of the time, businesses favour Australians who have never left our shores. Our experienced returned expats, motivated to achieve greatness in their own country, are being overlooked by businesses time and time again.

The report summarises it’s findings as follows:

Recruiters roadblock talent 

Australian recruiters admit they’re much more likely to prioritise candidates with only Australian work experience, saying that this way they know for sure that their local industry knowledge is up to date (55%). Recruiters also admit that returned expats are ‘inconvenient’ to hire (40%).

The report shows that recruiters value candidates who are familiar with Australian laws and procedures (55%) and who understand Australian corporate culture or local professional codes of behaviour (47%).

Not surprisingly, this ‘professional parochialism’ comes as a shock to returned expats.

Many former expats continue the job search for months. Some suffer psychologically from the constant knock-backs and speak of mental anguish and depression. 

Expats speak of harrowing stories of recruiters telling them point blank that their international experience isn’t relevant, or that their lack of local professional networks is, or will be a problem.

The job hunt 

In many cases, expats return to find themselves out of the job market for months, or even years.

Sadly, two-thirds (67%) of returned expatriates Australians consider packing up their bags and leaving again to secure their desired job. And shockingly, a third (32%) of rebound expatriates actually regret coming home.

The bottom line is that Australian businesses are sending a very clear message to returned expats — you are not valued back at home.  

It’s ironic that, despite recruiters perceiving that expats lack local networks, these returned professionals end up securing work through their own connections. The report shows that half of returned expats (49%) secured new employment upon returning to Australia through a connection in their own network, whether professional or personal.

The problem lies in the recruitment process. Australian businesses and recruiters underestimate the degree to which skills learned overseas can be transferable across countries and industries. Recruiters undervalue the skills and experience Australians have gained in roles overseas.

Being inhospitable to returned expats is a decision that businesses take at their peril.

After all, the talent in your organisation is the ultimate projection of a business and can be transformative.

So there it is!  It is time that Australian businesses and leaders stopped playing it small, stopped being influenced by short term, risk averse and small mindedattitudes and acted and led in a visionary, mature and forward thinking way.

You can play your part in this by committing to use your voice and your influence to promote inclusive, principled and visionary leadership.

Rabia Siddique