We all know there is a lot going on in reimagining the workplaces of the future. There are so many important questions we have yet to answer, among them: What will collaboration look like? Will physical offices continue to serve a purpose? How can we set up a successful hybrid-work arrangement?
Within the entirety of this work, it’s important to repeatedly ask, “Where does diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) fit in?”
What we have seen in working with hundreds of organizations over the past year is that the call to action on DIBs—globally—has never been louder. Spurred by some of the events that happened in the U.S. that have spread around the world and have required organizations to step into the conversation, we have an opportunity to weave DIBs into the fabric of how we reimagine workplaces of the future, putting people at the center.
Diversity, inclusion, and belonging from an Asia-Pacific perspective
DIBs is a relevant conversation everywhere in the world, especially as it relates to employee experience.
Let’s look at the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region as an example. It has a wide range of geographic, ethnic, and cultural diversity, and there are certainly nuances to DIBs conversations here by country that we need to consider. Yet there are themes that emerge across the region and coincide with DIBs challenges we see around the world.
For instance, if we look at gender, we can see that progress is slow, and we have work to do to improve representation and equity at all levels.
- In India, Only 3% of CEOs and managing directors of National Stock Exchange-listed companies were women in 2019
- In Japan, women earn 23.5% less than their male counterparts.
- In Australia, women make up only 18% of CEOs
DIBs conversations in the region that extend beyond gender are still nascent, as seen in research that shows a gap in programs aimed at ethnic minorities and LGBTQ groups. Colorism is rampant in many parts of Asia, and has implications for exclusion inside and outside the workplace.
“The pandemic has accelerated the journey of DIB initiatives across the board. It has allowed employers to see their employees as a whole - in their homes, with their families, juggling various responsibilities, away from the protection of their glitzy corporate offices. For DIBs to be successful, one size does not fit all, and the approach needs to be iterative and personalized to make the connections deeper and more authentic. Our approach through the pandemic has been ‘people-centric’, and our culture is helmed on being able to translate that culture equitably to allow everyone to bring their whole selves to work,” shares Ruchi Bhalla, Country Head- Delivery Centers, India & VP HR (Asia Pacific) at Pitney Bowes.
Start with the common ‘why’
Some might see DIBs work as benefiting only a few, generally in an underrepresented minority. Other groups, often those who hold positions of power and influence, tend to disengage from the conversation. We need a common language and a common “why” we can rally around. Our research shows that belonging is that reason. As Devyani Dutt, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for LinkedIn Asia Pacific put it, “At LinkedIn, we talk about it this way: Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being invited to dance. Belonging is being able to dance however you like; you are accepted as you are.”
Belonging is a fundamental human need, so much so that we have adapted our behaviours to minimize lack of belonging in much the same way we try to avoid physical pain. And research shows that when we create a more inclusive work environment, it fosters a stronger sense of belonging, which in turn positively impacts engagement and performance. Anchoring on belonging also allows people to build empathy regardless of their stake in the conversation. We can all think of a time where we didn’t feel like we belonged. Ideally, this common experience helps us foster greater understanding for those in underrepresented groups.
Acknowledging the strong need to roll out DIB initiatives, Natalia Navin, Chief Human Resource Officer at Maxis shares, “As Malaysia’s leading converged solutions provider, Inclusion & Diversity is an important driver of our growth and ambitions. We value diversity in our organisation as diverse voices accelerate ideas and innovation. This is essential within the fast-moving tech industry that we compete in. Inclusion, on the other hand, strengthens our collaborative culture and empowers our talents with a sense of belonging. ”
Rina Sarif, Chief Human Capital Officer, Lembaga Tabung Haji rightly highlighted that right DIB efforts can help attract the right candidate to your organization. She shares, “In TH, we bring in talents with various experiences and diverse backgrounds to form a dynamic and innovative team. We believe that diversity brings many advantages as it encourages ideas and a wider range of skills. This will further increase creativity and problem-solving skills. Team members with diverse backgrounds will have their own views and ideas which leads to higher productivity. Inclusion will make employees feel that they are accepted and fit into the organization and this further lead to a productive workforce. When employees feel appreciated and valued, they will perform better, become more resilient and stay with the organization. This will further create a reputation and attracts new talents.”
Change the conversation on the ‘business case’
It’s not uncommon for me to hear from my clients that they are working on a business case for investment in DIBs. I often wonder what business case will be compelling enough to prove it’s the right thing to do if you don’t believe it’s important. But the business case is there.
Research has shown organizations with inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. But the ultimate business case is that people do their best work when they can bring their authentic selves to work and succeed not despite who they are, but because of who they are. Today’s multigenerational workforces want their workplaces and leaders to lead from the front on inclusion and staying out of the conversation, or only having it if it shows up in the bottom line, is simply not an option. So rather than having a “What is the business case?” conversation, reframe it to a “How can this make us a stronger organization?” conversation.
Gavin Baxter, Director, People & Workplace Human Capital, at Astro while explaining why investing in DIBs is business-critical for them, shares, “In Astro, we have always been empowered to creatively champion inclusivity. As a leading media and entertainment group, we have been serving a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural customer base. As we celebrate Astro’s milestone of being 25 years young in 2021, we are excited with the progress of our vision to be Malaysia’s #1 Entertainment destination. By ensuring that we can continue to create compelling content for our diverse customer base, it is important that Team Astro has a diverse employee base with a strong DIBs foundation. With our tagline of #BetterTogether, we want to empower and enable our people to continue delivering great entertainment experience and going beyond for our customers.”
‘Glocalise’ your strategy
It’s not always easy to have a conversation about DIBs across countries with varying political, societal, and cultural nuances. However, having clarity on core tenants and behaviours that underpin the type of inclusive work environment we want to build is still critical.
Hui Hui Chong, reflects, “Collectively, we provide various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to allow like-minded folk to connect with one another. For E.g. Women@Grab is a platform for female Grabbers to connect and share their stories with one another. We also have a full month dedicated to amplifying inclusion in the workplace, called Inclusion@Grab. Examples of key activities include the integration of inclusive languages into our messaging platforms, celebrating the diversity of Grabbers, and launching new L&D programs for managers towards building a safe and respectable workplace, managing biases etc.”
Vidya Munirathnam, Director - Learning & Diversity at Lowe’s India, shares, “At Lowe’s, DIB initiatives are key to fostering open communication, inclusion, and equal employment opportunities for our associates. Growing and developing a diverse and representative workforce aids us to better understand our customers’ needs and how to meet them best. Diversity and Inclusion efforts have enabled us to drive innovation, produce better business results, and nurture deeper connections with associates, customers, and the communities we serve.”
Get your leaders to lead from the front
Leaders’ behaviours matter. Senior leaders set the agenda in organizations; they signal what’s important. But research has shown that only one in three employees report that senior leaders encourage an open conversation on diversity and lead the charge of improving workplace inclusion.
Devyani talks about one of the most important behaviours LinkedIn leaders get coached on: cultural humility—rather than just cultural competence, which is focused on achieving a certain level of expertise. Cultural humility is about a journey of ongoing learning.
Rina highlights, “Leaders emphasize cross-functional teams to interact and collaborate, for example, the composition of steering committees in TH is made up of representatives from respective departments. Leaders also practice empowering culture which values lower management level and makes them feel valued and included, thus they are more motivated and likely to express their own views in the decision-making process. Employees are also empowered” in running programs such as THrivingWomen, THvolunteers, and THMuscles.”
Adding on the leadership support in executing DIBs initiatives, Natalia shares, “Our diversity initiatives have been driven by the full backing from the Management team from the start. They are supportive in advocating programs that we are driving for our focused talents – Young Talents and in developing female talents for leadership and STEM roles. In fact, our CEO recently signed the UN Women Empowerment Principles statement that supports the reinforcement of our company’s commitment to gender equality practices.”
Gavin also shares, “When it comes to gender inclusiveness in Astro’s Senior Leadership Team, we have 54% of women and 46% men in key senior leadership roles with representation from multiple races. Having a diverse team ensures that a range of experiences and perspectives are contributed to help drive innovation and problem-solving. As our ambition is to continue to recruit a diverse team we are redesigning some of the best in class employee benefits to help promote our employer brand to attract potential employees. Career development is a key pillar of our talent program and this year we have rotated several senior leaders.”
Glint’s research also shows that perception of how inclusive leaders are is strongly correlated with confidence in leaders, which, in turn, is often a strong driver of engagement. Bottom line, leadership commitment to inclusion promotes better outcomes for employees and for the organization.
Skill up across the board
Inclusion is systemic and dynamic. It’s not a one-time event or a training program. It can be created (or destroyed) in every interaction in the course of how work gets done. Upskilling across the organization is critical.
Hui Hui Chong reflects, “To ensure diversity in our organisation, it is important that we pay attention to biases throughout our employee lifecycle. In hiring, for example, to empower our recruiters, we constantly bring in training and refresher courses to ensure that they acknowledge their biases. These trainings allow them to be at the forefront of knowing the latest skill sets that candidates have procured, as well as the courses necessary for them to be optimised for candidate conversations.”
Reflecting on creating the right impact of DIB initiatives, Ruchi suggests organizations need to move out from working in silos and work together. She says, Running DIB initiatives in silos doesn’t work anymore. There was a time when one could run bucketed initiatives for Gender, LGBTQI etc. but in this era of globalization, diversity is more than gender, race, and ethnicity. It is about Intersectionality. Intersectionality covers how the different layers of social stratification, like race, sexual orientation, social class, age, disability, and gender, can combine to disadvantage people. By creating awareness about employee stories, through initiatives such as Pitney Bowes ‘I for Intersectionality’ Program, one can raise awareness about employees’ diverse circumstances and journeys and is not limited to one individual or team.
The evolving complexity of businesses like DIB, requires companies to increase their capacity for collaboration, by making long-term investments that build relationships and trust, and smart near-term decisions about how HR teams can execute complex events like a pandemic effortlessly by being One HR.
People Matters and LinkedInTalent Solutions bring to you One HR, a digital initiative aimed at how HR teams together, as ‘One HR’ can respond, recover and reimagine the new world of talent on a foundation of people's success.