Changing Perspectives - On being Asian in Australia

13 February 2024
Katy Eng.

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see an industry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experiences to inspire us all to change for the better.

This contribution, from Katy Eng, is timed to coincide with the beginning of Lunar New Year. Happy Year of the Dragon!

“Gong hay fat choy!” I’m 12 years old and have just walked into my grandparents’ house in Stamford, Connecticut, 45 minutes outside of New York City.

The second I walk in I can smell rice cooking. I hear food sizzling in my grandma’s wok and the shuffling of mahjong tiles as I take off my shoes at the door, tripping over the already-abandoned pairs of my aunties, uncles and cousins who arrived earlier.

My grandpa meets us at the top of the stairs, his smile masking painful memories from the past. He was always smiling and laughing when he didn’t understand something or after a little joke which he would often make. Always trying to keep things light.

Katy Eng

Me and Grandpa Eng circa 1988


My mum would prompt me to say “Gong hay fat choy!”, our Cantonese greeting at New Year and I would force out the words as quickly as I could to earn my red envelopes filled with money. It was the only Cantonese I had ever really been taught and I was so embarrassed of my terrible pronunciation.

Now that I look back, I wish I had lifted my chin and said those words more proudly. But I am only half Chinese and therefore straddled two cultures in a predominantly westernised American town in the 1990s.

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With my dad, Grandpa and Grandma Eng at their house in 1996.

30 years later, I feel like I’m making up for lost time and lost opportunity. Every year, I love organising Lunar New Year at Omnicom Media Group and bringing us all together for food and learning. It’s a time of family, friends and feasting that I want to recognise that with my OMG family.

The best part of my job is educating people on others’ lived experiences. Watching folks experience the music and lion dancers of Lunar New Year for the first time is one of my all-time favourite things.

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An OMD co-worker enjoying the Lion dancers, 2021

But beyond just enjoying the decorations, food and entertainment, I want non-Asians in Australia and our industry to see the Asian community more wholly.

In the media industry, I want to see more Asian CEOs, MDs, CIOs and GMs.

I want non-Asians to listen to their Asian counterparts more. To treat them with more respect and dignity. As equals. To ask for their opinion and for their voice when they notice it is being silent or reserved.

I want our industry to recognise Asian talent more. To understand that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not. It isn’t easy to come to Australia as a student, sometimes entirely alone, or as a very young person and to have the same opportunities as someone who was born here with a generational network to launch them.

We need to start recognising the unique individuals of this community and their intersectionality better. Asians Australians deserve to be better represented in our research and segmentation studies. In our brand uplifts and brand trust scores.

There are 1.4 million Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese speakers) in this country, yet many brands continue to not recognise them in creative, language and media.

So if you want the same things I do, what can you do?

1) Make an effort to get to know your Asian colleagues. Ask about their families, hobbies, interests. Consider it an amazing learning opportunity about someone else’s world.

2) When an Asian person is speaking or presenting, provide them with the same active attention you would give your CEO. Presenting is scary. Presenting in another language is even scarier, so please respect that with your attention.

3) Ensure opportunities like mentorships, leadership training and promotions are fairly distributed across your team. If an award scheme is self-nominated, you may need to give a little extra encouragement, time and help to teammates who aren’t as culturally used to promoting themselves above others.

4) Push for more representation in research. Ask Roy Morgan and Nielsen what we can do to better survey the 22% of Australians who speak a language other than English at home. Ask your clients to start segmenting their research by English and non-English speaking consumers to understand the discrepancies.

5) Use Census data when planning your next campaign to get a true idea of the makeup of your core audience. Commit to seeing the range of experiences in Australia.

I didn’t have the voice to speak up in Chinese when I was 12 but now at 40, I’ve found the joy of, and reward in, listening. Listening to stories, barriers, feedback and insights.

Gong hay fat choy.

Katy Eng is a Chinese-American-Aussie and the National Head of Diverse Media at Omnicom Media Group. Her mission is to help minorities in Australia be better seen, heard and understood by marketers and media.

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