Fostering inclusiveness in the workforce (Asia perspective)
The world of work is changing, influenced by the dynamism in business, technology, socio-economic, cultural and demographic factors. The success factors of tomorrow shall differ greatly from those of yesterday and today, and leaders must take notice proactively and adapt soon. Already, the once-peripheral organizational capabilities of speed, agility, adaptability, innovation, collaboration, etc. , are taking center-stage. These organizational foundational blocks differ significantly by geography, thanks to the differently ingrained cultural tenets across the world. Diversity and inclusion is one such agenda. If managed well, inclusiveness can turn out to be a core competency for organizations’ success. If not, it can create a disenchanted and unproductive workforce- a death knell for any contemporary organization.
Inclusion: An organizational perspective
Much has been said about the business case for diversity- it brings together fresh perspectives and varied viewpoints, it represents the wholesome customer-base, and it spurs innovation of thought and ideas. Yet, imagine a workforce which is diverse, yet disconnected with one another, and discontent with the organization. Such a workforce eroded of trust is sure to hamper high performance. Therefore, for diversity to bring its true value to the table, inclusion must be embraced first and foremost.
Diversity and inclusion: The APAC Lens
Organizations must assimilate the diverse workgroups, by understanding their various nuances- each group has its own set of working ways, aspirations, drivers, and challenges. In APAC, we see a very distinct landscape when it comes to particular employee groups.
Second-inning workers: With the increasing life expectancy and wish of near-retirees to actively keep contributing, we are seeing the rise of second-inning careers. Organizations can derive from the accumulated experience, knowledge, loyalty and mentoring skills of such talent. However they must actively enable these veterans to be change-friendly, and provide the right supporting infrastructure (for example, for overcoming physical challenges).
Special-needs workers: Disability or special-needs workforce is a huge chunk of the talent pool. Not only from a diversity standpoint but from a social standpoint too, they must be included as productive, sound working members. It is no surprise that many APAC governments are providing an impetus for organizations to hire such talent. They can make a positive difference by handling difficult situations better, being more responsible, reliable and loyal. The HR fraternity seems to believe that special needs people are more loyal to the company- 40% HR APAC professional versus 31% overall APAC professionals agreed to this.
Returning mothers: Organizations remain slow at accepting mothers returning to work, mainly due to their perceived lack of availability, focus, flexibility, productivity, and commitment. 76% of hiring managers and employees expressed these concerns.
The fact remains, that these talent segments constitute a significant chunk of the available talent pool. If utilized and managed properly, they can solve much of the talent shortage concerns for organizations. This is possible only when the top leadership acknowledges this opportunity, and is willing to take action. HR must take the first step to building the case for inclusion.
Role of HR in fostering inclusion
Minority employees may feel unwanted and unmotivated due to a lack of understanding and lack of empathy on the part of leaders and managers.
Only 16% of companies offer diversity and inclusion training
-2019 APAC Workforce Insights, PersolKelly
HR must take the lead in educating and training the existing workforce on the benefits of inclusiveness. But mere diversity training is not enough, successfully including and integrating minority employee populations in the mainstream demands much more:
Cultivate a culture of inclusiveness: Building the right organizational values which respect differences, is the first and foremost foundation for inclusion. Encourage all employees to express their views and concerns about inclusion, and quell those concerns through upfront dialogue and support.
Formulate supportive policy: Mere discussion cannot resolve the real issues faced by these employee groups. HR must use the above discussion outcomes to formulate employee-friendly policies which help them perform well. For example, flexible and family-friendly work arrangements such as part-time working, remote-working, contractual working, flexi-working, special-needs infrastructure and resources, etc. can provide the much needed support.
Impart holistic training: Apart from diversity and inclusion training, L&D must train employees on soft skills through personal skill development, leadership development, and coaching and mentoring. L&D must design employee-friendly training modules with the right content, design, and delivery mechanisms.
Devise customized benefits: Total Rewards is becoming more personalized so as to meet the unique needs of different employee groups. For example, second-career professionals can be trained on change management and digital skills. Regular health check-ups can mean a lot to the elderly workers. Special-needs employees can benefit from regular discussions on performance and expectations. Supporting infrastructure and tools can help them navigate the physical, intellectual or social conundrums. Women-mentoring, creche arrangements, and new work-models can help returning mothers gain confidence and contribute as before.
Open communication lines: Most importantly, have a check-mechanism in place to see if the initiatives are actually helping the cause. Design open and continuous feedback mechanisms so that all employees feel a sense of trust and engagement. Check and recheck what is working and what is not. Measure the impact of inclusiveness on business. Putting a hardcore ROI-value to the inclusiveness-agenda is perhaps the most important step to elicit business buy-in, and sustain the inclusion-agenda.
HR and business leaders must first understand and outline the reason for adopting inclusiveness as a talent strategy. They must delve into the employee psyche, to understand the repercussions and outcomes. Most importantly, they must listen and learn. Inclusiveness is one of the softer areas of talent management and may demand a dynamic approach and outlook. D&I may initially seem to diminish productivity on the face of it, but the benefits are for the long term. It is, therefore, in the interest of the leadership team to stay invested in inclusiveness, for future growth and success.