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Amit Singh, a Managing Director at Accenture, knows more about influence than most, having advised the likes of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard on Australia’s economic policy during their respective terms in government. Given his pedigree, it’s no surprise that the 37-year-old from Melbourne was recently recognised as one of the country’s most influential Asian-Australians under the age of 40.
Indian Link caught up with Amit recently on diversity, career progression and navigating life during COVID.
Tell me about what it means to you to be named in the 40 Under 40 list of influence.
It’s a window both into how far we’ve come, and how much more progress we can make. It’s an acknowledgement of the sacrifices made by my parents, and the parents and grandparents of everyone else on that list – and looking at the achievements of others on the list across so many domains we can start to see the return on that investment. This list also signifies excitement about the future – that there isn’t the stereotypical narrowness to how Asian Australians have been engaging in Australian economy and society.
Corporate Australia is becoming increasingly diverse, but how do you rate diversity today at the C-suite level?
There’s an old adage that diversity means being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.
When I started my career, you could literally count the number of people of colour in any important meeting. That has definitely changed and the places in which we work and engage with are beginning to reflect the diverse, multidimensional nation we live in.
But where we still need to make progress is normalising people from diverse backgrounds in leadership roles. We’re still at the point in business and government (especially the parliament) where leaders from diverse backgrounds have to be multiple standard deviations of exceptional – think about Shemara Wikramayake or Penny Wong. We’ll know we’ve reached the promised land on diversity when it becomes unremarkable to have leaders from diverse backgrounds.
People from diverse backgrounds are getting invited to the party and some are being asked to dance, but too few are getting the chance to pick the music.
Normalising that success is not far away, but we’re not there yet.
You started off as a solicitor, worked in a range of private and public economic roles, led Uber’s economic policy team in San Francisco and then consulting with AlphaBeta and now Accenture. What do you think was the most important decision you made along the way?
Earlier on, I had a tendency to pick the safe option. But as I’ve made various moves over the years, I’ve become more confident skating to where the puck is going, rather than skating to where the puck is.
I also realised there’s a huge opportunity to go wherever we want; if our capabilities and skills are good enough in Australia, they’re good enough anywhere. Being able to do that – and having a supporting partner and family like I do – gives you the confidence to engage with the world in a different way, and that’s something migrants are good at.
If you were advising today’s government, what would you focus on to secure Australia’s path out of our COVID economy?
Every crisis is different. Unlike the GFC, this crisis has three overlapping phases – responding to the health crisis, supporting the recovering economy, and repositioning for future resilience. We’ve done a lot to deal with the immediate and short term needs but COVID has severely exacerbated problems that already existed in our society – like structural inequality, precarity in work, falling trust in institutions and diminishing social cohesion.
It’s easy to think of this period as a challenging one – and it is – but there is also a great opportunity for policymakers to build a resilient economy for the next generation (who have lost so much in this crisis). This could be by looking at universal early childhood education, flexible learning and micro-credentialling, a social safety net that supports new ways of working and promotes entrepreneurialism, measures to protect and repair our natural environment and a new focus on placemaking, and human-centred design in social services as a rough list.
How challenging have lockdowns been for you personally and professionally? How have you managed to stay balanced and focused?
I have friends who have lost their entire businesses and professions because of COVID, so having a sense of perspective is important. The best way to do that is to talk to as many people as you can and connect.
Do you have any advice for young Asian Australians making their way in the corporate world?
Always think about how you can bring an idea and a view to the table, how you could make it work, what networks and alliances and investments are needed to advance your idea, while always being open to feedback and learning. It’s always much more fun to think of ways to see a problem and have a plan to fix it rather waiting for things to happen!
Who inspires you?
People that work in education, healthcare and social assistance sectors, because of the patience it requires and their commitment to public service in spite of society chronically and perpetually undervaluing their work.
Any book or podcast suggestions for our readers?
Podcast: Good Will Hunters
Book: Values (Mark Carney), The Anarchy (William Dalrymple)
First place you’re going when the world opens up again?
Tokyo (for food) and San Francisco (for friends).
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