7 out of 10 firms in Singapore have yet to establish diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) policies, according to a recent survey conducted by the Singapore National Employers' Federation and Kincentric. The survey gathered responses from 186 Singapore-based firms, most of which acknowledged the benefits of DE&I on company culture (71%) and its influence on employee engagement (55%).
But even as they agreed that DE&I would boost business performance, only 30% have a formal DE&I policy - and most of those are international businesses that draw their DE&I approach from global corporate culture and values.
Interestingly, 62% of the businesses surveyed do attempt to incorporate DE&I into their hiring processes, although the report does not explore when they first started doing so.
It is usually scrutiny of companies' hiring policies that brings DE&I under the spotlight in Singapore. While DE&I is more commonly associated with gender equality, Singapore's particular socioeconomic landscape also brings a strong element of race and nationality to the concept - and the survey did in fact surface that nationality was among the top three challenges in talent attraction and selection, although without further detail. Other common challenges were age, gender, and disabilities.
DE&I has also become somewhat politicised in the city-state, due to recurrent public discontent about the influx of foreign talent - often blamed for depressed local wages and the inability of locals to find jobs in particular sectors or at particular levels. The Singapore government recently announced that workplace anti-discrimination laws would eventually be introduced, although no timeline has yet been confirmed.
In the recent SNEF-Kincentric survey, the challenges that Singapore-based firms face in implementing DE&I policies were most frequently attributed to lack of data (25%), issues with the organisational culture (24%), and lack of managerial training (22%). Smaller organisations also pointed to budget constraints as a main challenge.
According to SNEF, employers do try to avoid discrimination, but are not as intentional about leveraging DE&I as they could be. Sim Gim Guan, Executive Director of SNEF, said: “While the vast majority of Singapore employers are fair, they have yet to harness the full potential of a diverse workforce and how DE&I can help them to cast their net wider to attract talent. By managing DE&I better, employers can strengthen workplace relations, collaboration, and innovation. Building on workplace fairness, employers can develop inclusive workplace policies and practices that will attract and retain the best talent.”
And Andrew How, Managing Partner at Kincentric, suggested that firms should simply start by taking an honest look at where they stand. "Many firms struggle in making employees feel emotionally safe, understood, and empowered. Therefore, the first step to remedying the situation is to conduct an honest, internal assessment of the organisation’s current situation using a holistic, evidence-based approach," he said. "It is a much-needed reality check to assess where the gaps are. Following which, they need to enact new ways of leading which involves creating active, intentional efforts with coaching, developmental journeys, tools and resources to improve one’s ability to identify and mitigate any unconscious bias.”