More than meets the eye
Employing workers from different races and genders is no longer seen as an option for successful companies. Rather, it is viewed as an essential measure to improve growth and the work experience of staff.
With the fast-changing environment that businesses face today, workplace diversity is proving to be the secret ingredient for organisational success.
In fact, a study by the National University of Singapore and BoardAgender has revealed that listed companies whose boards have greater gender, age and ethnic diversity, outperform their more homogeneous peers by nearly five times.
However, there is still room for organisations to put in conscious efforts to promote greater diversity at all levels.
This was one of the key discussion topics that Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health, Dr Amy Khor, stressed during her speech at the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Fostering Female Talent in the Workforce.
Dr Khor advised companies to look beyond their “social bubbles” and review leadership and talent development pipelines to be gender-neutral, and to prioritise diversity.
“Having more women leaders can help focus management’s attention on HR and talent policies that can attract and groom female talent, adding to the breadth of talent in the workforce,” she said.
Key to move forward
According to the 2015 CEO survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 83% of corporate executives believe that efforts to diversify their workplace help to strengthen their brand.
Jeannie Phun, Senior Manager, Asia-Pacific at Physio-Control Singapore agrees to just that.
“A mix of gender and race at work breaks away from stagnancy and stereotyping, thus promoting idea generation and growth,” Phun says.
Among the firms that practice diversity at large is Grey Group, whose Singapore office comprises of 24 different nationalities and a healthy male to female ratio of 55:45.
Having a range of employees from various backgrounds has proven to help Grey Group’s employees gain knowledge and learn new skills.
“This gives the opportunity to learn and interact with people who may not be like us and who may have experiences vastly different from ours,” says Rumki Fernandes, Regional Director of HR and Talent at Grey Group.
Adding to this, is the fact of globalisation in the world today. Fernandes believes that diversity plays an important part for companies to advance globally.
“Where companies have operations across multiple geographies, cultural diversity becomes even more relevant in forming partnerships,” she says.
“Multicultural teams have higher creativity as people coming from different backgrounds and values contribute to a wide range of perspectives and ideas, which in turn, facilitates team effectiveness and productivity.”
Moreover, a workforce with such an environment helps to enhance employees in their own specific roles.
“The combination of gender, nationality and background can make winning teams and enhance diverse leadership styles,” says Bernard Coulaty, Vice President of HR at Pernod Ricard Asia.
Even though government initiatives and efforts from the private sector have been apparent, local companies still lack significant female representation in top positions.
According to a report by Deloitte Global, Singapore is behind the global average of 12% of female representation on local board seats – as only nine percent of seats here are held by women.
To overcome this problem internally, Physio-Control uses a range of different channels to hire talents.
“We deploy LinkedIn and our Physio job site to recruit,” Phun says.
“Social media is widely-used in all regions and this platform reaches out to the masses, thus, it is all-inclusive.”
At Grey Group, employers make it a point to hire managers who are able to bring more minorities to its workforce.
It means potential candidates can look forward to a non-biased hiring process.
“Our hiring policies are based on merit and qualifications – we hire managers who are sensitive to workplace diversity and show staff that gender, age and ethnic backgrounds have nothing to do with success in the company,” Fernandes explains.
“Managers are taught to be more flexible with the needs of different employees, whether it is to do with religious beliefs, ethnic differences, or anything else.”
At present, Pernod Ricard has several programmes to further support the development of diverse talents.
Among these is the Senior Mentoring Programme which targets middle to top management. They are trained and mentored by top executives within the group.
“The objective is to accelerate the mentees’ development and visibility, and prepare them for top jobs while also raising mentors’ awareness, shifting their mindsets and making them convinced ambassadors,” he says.
Coulaty adds that adopting such an approach impacts his company in terms of multi-cultural differences and gender diversity.
“This diversity leads us to have clear monitoring of how international teams are being constituted to make sure local and corporate cultures create alignment and engagement,” he says.
“The more diversified the workplace is, the more the collective engagement allows business performance.”
In her shoes
Since holding a leadership role as a woman herself, Phun says her experience has been a pleasant one where she is treated equally and with respect.
“I have always felt as comfortable as my (male) peers since credibility outweighs gender,” says Phun.
“When you are credible in your job, you command the respect.”
Similarly, Fernandes shares that her position opens doors to better employee engagement in both work and personal matters.
“I am able to mentor staff through issues like work-life balance, conflict resolution or sexism if they exist, and they trust me because they can relate to the things I say. That builds a deeper connection,” she says.
“I am also able to peep into their goals, aspirations and challenges, and I can work with the leadership team to help them overcome some of those.”
Fernandes also highlights that the key to a successfully diversified workplace is about being more sensitive and flexible.
She says policies like providing work-from-home options and mentorship can help to attract talents of different genders and races.
“These efforts will not only aid in talent acquisition, they will also encourage employee to work harder due to the support given by the company,” Fernandes shares.
“A fair organisation that only promotes meritocracy and does not discriminate on the basis of gender can help women break the glass ceiling.”
Phun says Physio-Control produces more innovative ideas when a team with a range of backgrounds is at work.
“Right now, our offices from various countries in the US and Asia-Pacific are working together with headquarters to come up with a corporate video,” says Phun.
“You can expect a unique and different production from Tokyo versus one from the US but eventually, they will amalgamate into one company production – that’s employee engagement from a diversified workplace.”
Ultimately, diversity is at the crossroads of both individual and collective engagement, Coulaty suggests.
“The key paradox between diversity and ‘unicity’ must be addressed to avoid the dispersion of diversity,” he says.
“It helps to keep a healthy diversity workplace aligned with objectives and culture.”
Stepping up diversity efforts
Here are some companies that have initiated steps to improve diversity:
Facebook diversity plateaus
It’s clear that Facebook’s diversity data does not yet match up to its mission of building a diverse workplace.
The social network released its workplace diversity numbers in June but the situation shows no improvement from last year.
Facebook reported its workforce is made up of 68% men and 32% women, only a one percentage point increase from 2014.
The disparity when it comes to techmology is even more pronounced, with 84% of these held by men.
In addition, men represent 77% of senior leadership at the firm, with 23% of women making up the same section.