Diversity and inclusion arise from values and are rooted in openness: Developing Global Leaders Asia

Dr. Zsuzsanna Tungli has spent almost 30 years working on ways for organizations to improve their cross-cultural, leadership, diversity, and inclusion performance. In 2010 she set up Developing Global Leaders Asia with the objective of helping companies develop leadership models that incorporate cultural, gender, and generational diversity, and cross-cultural competency, among other capabilities.

People Matters asked Dr. Tungli for her take on how organizations can transform their ideals surrounding diversity into real, concrete change at every level. Here are the highlights of the conversation.

Many organizations today aspire to have greater diversity and inclusion, and even formally write it into their mission and values. But not everyone knows how to actually get started. How can these organizations turn their advocacy into concrete policy?

You have to start by looking at the data for the leadership, at the top level and several levels down after that. You need to know the current situation in the organization: is my leadership team more male, is it more of a certain race? And you need to particularly look at the leadership teams because of the role modelling aspect. If people don’t see enough role models in the leadership teams, that will have an impact on the whole culture.

Ideally, you will also look at the data for the pipeline. A very few, very developed organizations in the Asia Pacific also track their candidates when they hire: what percentage of women and ethnic minorities they have for certain positions, what is the uptake for those positions, what happens with them one year later, how are their salaries and promotions progressing?

The more data you have, the better your argument will be. And that shouldn’t be difficult. HR ought to have the data, or be able to to get it very quickly. Once you have the statistics, you have a starting point. Almost every organization’s data will show that there is room for improvement, and where.

Do many organizations collect data around equality and inclusion?

Unfortunately, people don’t really do it. I find that more often, it’s the organizations in the UK, the US, and Australia that collect the data, because there are regulations and guidelines around things like equal pay, and companies have to show their numbers.

Although there is a business case for inclusion, research has found that for quite a large number of organizations, the business case is only secondary in their motivation for collecting data and creating an equal and inclusive workplace.

The number one motivation is actually whether inclusion is in line with the leaders’ personal values.

They see the business case as only something that is nice to have.

If this is the case, how can organisations and leaders shift their values?

They have to address subconscious bias. There are educational and training programs for that, and I have found that the programs are actually more effective if they are made mandatory. If you have mandatory subconscious bias programs, then you can get everybody in the room, whether or not they think they have subconscious biases, to stand up and participate, and sometimes they will learn surprising things about themselves.

We have seen some very high-level managers who insisted at first that they did not have biases. I asked one of them, after he had gone through the awareness training, “Think about the last time you hired somebody. Can you be very honest with yourself and still say that you do not have a bias?” And you could see his face changing. And I asked again, “Now think about the last time you promoted somebody. Can you say that you do not have a bias?” And again his expression changed. You could see he had suddenly come to a realization about himself.

How can you reach out to those individuals who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in participating in such training?

That’s where the senior management’s commitment is so important. If you leave it to HR, or to the diversity and inclusion team, and they do not feel they have the support of senior management, they probably won’t make the training mandatory, because they don’t want to face negative consequences for pushing something that their leaders are not enthusiastic about.

But when the senior management says “This is important and everybody has to go through it,” then HR or the D&I team is in a much better position to get this commitment from everybody.

One of my favorite sayings is: “People are more ignorant than arrogant.” If I start from this assumption, then I can more easily approach them from an awareness point of view.

Once people have gone through diversity and inclusion training, how do you get them to bring the learning back to their organization?

You train them to be trainers, so that they can go back and teach other people. We had a nice success story with one organization, which sent about 25 APAC leaders for a program eight months ago. Six of them have already gone on to train other people in their own teams the same way. That is how you pave an inclusive culture.

The challenge is that culture change takes time, and it comes with upheaval. It can easily last two years and sometimes there will be pushback, sometimes there will be movement. That’s why the support of senior management is so important.

And there has to be reinforcement. Depending on how advanced a person or organization is, they might need follow-up after four to eight weeks, and then every few months: not in the form of another class or training, but simply a quick communication to ask what they are doing recently to implement the original training.

Are you seeing trends or changes in the kind of diversity organizations are trying to move towards?

In the last few years, gender diversity has become a very big thing. In 2015, when we first set up a Women in Leadership program, there were no others to be found. But now these programs are everywhere: I think that shows a big demand for gender diversity. And while we did a lot of awareness raising at first, today it is more towards the question of what to do, and how, which shows that awareness is heightened. But this is a concern as well, because it’s been talked about so much that I now see some movement away from it. Some people feel that it’s been oversold and are less receptive as a result.

Within the last one year, cross-cultural awareness has also become big. In multinational companies, whether Western or Asian, very often the leadership team is skewed towards the headquarters’ nationality. So they need to bring more diversity into the leadership, because otherwise they are a global organization without a global mindset.

We are also seeing a move towards multi-generational diversity, with organizations wanting to understand more about how to work with the different demographics.

What would you say is the number one factor that helps an individual or organization turn their beliefs in diversity into real, tangible change?

Openness is the number one prerequisite for diversity and inclusion: openness towards all kinds of human diversity and diversity of thought.

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