The COVID-19 crisis in particular exposed how some companies view D&I as nice to have rather than a core value. Though LinkedIn data has revealed there has been a 71 percent increase worldwide in all D&I roles over the last five years, but the COVID-19 crisis resulted in a sudden plunge followed by an even sharper spike.
It is no secret that companies with diverse boards outperform their peers; diverse teams are more innovative and creative and diversity is essential for businesses to remain competitive. But it especially becomes more important with the currently fragmented workplace structure in which most staff is working from home. Emerging from the shadows of the pandemic, how can organizations once again reset the D&I equation and leverage diversity and inclusion practices as a sustainable competitive advantage for business?
In an exclusive interaction with us, Meiyea Neo, HR Director APAC, Zendesk shares her thoughts on how can leaders tap into the value of inclusivity in these times to build stronger businesses.
What do you feel, are D&I plans slipping down companies’ agendas, or is it actually popping up, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Inequity and prejudice have unfortunately always existed in the corporate sector across many cultures. Because of the scale at which the pandemic has unfolded across the world, these disparities have been brought to the fore and there is an even greater urgency to address them.
And it is not just businesses who want a more diverse working environment, but customers too are prioritizing it and expecting it from the brands they interact with. Our latest Customer Experience Trends Report 2021 showed that more than half of customers in the Asia Pacific prioritize D&I with nearly two-thirds wanting to buy from businesses that are socially responsible.
The good news is that many companies and governments are now listening and ready to act on the fight for equity and inclusion. There’s much to be gained by having a culture of inclusivity within a business that benefits not just the organization, but also the economy and society at large. Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but it actually pays off. When employees like going to work and doing the work, then businesses are far more likely to thrive, in decision-making, problem-solving, and in the areas of creativity and innovation.
What steps can ensure that your organization has representation from multiple points of view, and can leverage diversity and inclusion practices as a sustainable competitive advantage for your company?
Building gender equity in any organization needs to be done across all fronts and all levels - from the hiring process and compulsory interview bias training, to talent management and development practices.
It is also crucial to provide employees with communities and safe spaces within the workplace to support each other and, ultimately, build a truly inclusive product and customer experiences in the business.
The first step is to identify and acknowledge the gaps. The reality is every industry struggles with representation, including Zendesk. Though we’ve made some great strides, we recognize there’s more work to be done. Gathering data, beyond anecdotal evidence, from every level of the organization will help establish a baseline and guide us to make a step-change improvement in our diversity representation and employee experience globally to be more equitable and inclusive.
The next obvious step is to act on the information. Employees want to see words put into action, so the business needs to have long-term KPIs to be held accountable to. This responsibility to act doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of senior leadership. Practicing gender equity has to happen at every level and in everything you do. And we don’t need to overthink it. It can be as simple as ensuring inclusive language is used on individual and company-wide internal communications, to more complex efforts like auditing your hiring and career development practices to ensure better equity.
How can leaders tap the value of inclusivity, especially with the current fragmented workplace in which more staff work from home?
Creating psychological safety is the cornerstone to creating an inclusive work culture.
In today’s reality where most, if not all, interactions with colleagues are virtual, communication has never been more important in staying connected. It’s one thing to have communication channels for employees to voice feedback and opinions with their leaders and peers, but ensuring they feel safe and heard is equally important.
We take inclusion very seriously at Zendesk, which is why we launched a key initiative called ‘Empathy Circles’. The aim was to provide a safe space for our employees to come together to share their diverse experiences, learn and support each other through this global pandemic and beyond. Senior leaders are invited as ‘active listeners’ into these conversations and we aim to break echo-chambers and build bridges of empathy across our global and diverse employee bases.
Our very first series of empathy circles attracted over 800 employees across the globe. It was an extremely powerful and moving experience for everyone who participated in it, especially in times of crisis, where existing societal prejudices were heightened. Looking back, it reinforces one thing: such conversations were undoubtedly needed, even if employees are sitting far apart from one another.
How can organizations approach the public conversation around inclusion and diversity?
The demand for equity and inclusion in the workforce has been a long-standing topic of discussion across the globe. Yet, many sectors remain male-dominated, including the tech industry, and the opportunities for members of the LGBTQ+ community are severely limited due to discrimination. Organizations need to pay close attention to public discourse around inclusivity and diversity because it speaks volumes about what people want in all aspects of their lives, be it their career, companies they work at, and even the products and services they use. They then need to internalize the insights gleaned from listening through the effective implementation of policies and programs that champion people first. Otherwise, we’re just paying lip service to diversity and inclusion.
At Zendesk, we believe that equal access, opportunity, and belonging are necessary to cultivate a sustainable and meaningful culture. We do this through programmatic initiatives, both corporate and employee-led, such as mentorship programs among women and people of color, our Employee Communities made up of employee volunteers with shared identity, experience, values, and beliefs coming together to lend their voice to specific causes, and a communication channel through Slack for people to celebrate their intersectionalities and mental health experiences.
Companies simply cannot afford to remain silent on this matter - they must play an active role in examining gaps, dismantling biases, and building an inclusive future.
What is one idea/step that you would #ChooseToChallenge to empower your employees at work in 2021 as far as the diversity front is concerned?
I’d like to encourage my colleagues and peers to challenge the old notion of having the right ''culture fit'', which many organizations base their hiring decisions on. The problem with that is it breeds a spirit of divisiveness and the idea of inner and outer circles, however unintended.
This can be detrimental to employees and candidates feeling excluded and undervalued. Instead, we should shift our perspectives to one that seeks out candidates that have the potential to ‘culture add’. That way, we celebrate the differences each candidate can bring to the organization that build on the existing culture to make it better and richer.