Workplace diversity in Asia and why it is important
What is diversity?
Workplace diversity is becoming more important in the business world as it is viewed as the foundation for innovation and creativity that can provide organisations with a competitive advantage. But what is diversity? It is co-existence of people from different gender, race / ethnicity, age group, cultural background and personal viewpoints, at the workplace.
Why is it important?
It is easy to miss its importance; since organisations often focus on operations and productivity, employing talents who are able to fulfil these 2 criteria is simply enough. But the importance of diversity goes beyond that. Its intangible value can only be seen via a confluence of differing ideas, personalities and experiences that are derived from the variety in backgrounds.
A study by Forbes revealed that diversity drives innovation and is a crucial component of success on a global platform. Meanwhile, having a multicultural network promotes creativity, according to the findings of Harvard Business School.
Some of the benefits of having a diversified workforce include:
i) Increased adaptability – supplies a multitude of solutions to issues of the business, increasing an organisation’s adaptability in various economic landscapes and markets
ii) Extended service coverage – diversified skills allow different approaches in providing your organisation’s services; this is especially true when it comes to breaking down language and cultural barriers in areas such as marketing, product placement, engaging local talents
iii) Varied views / opinions – provides a hotpot of ideas that, when correctly mixed and match, promotes innovation and creativity
iv) Multiple skills / talents – having more than one type of skill / talent available for a single job junction allows the ease of workforce redeployment, improves resource allocation and encourages cross-skill trainings
The Asia perspective
According to Michael Page 2017 Asia Salary and Employment Outlook, only 44% of companies surveyed in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan are supportive of diversity efforts. But the figures were encouraging in several notable countries. About 97% of Singapore companies support diversity initiatives, followed by 96% in Indonesia. Meanwhile, diversity efforts get the buy-in from 94% of Malaysian companies surveyed. This figure slips to 86% in Hong Kong.
The major focus of Singapore in diversity initiatives include minority ethnic groups (64% of companies that support diversity efforts), gender (59%) and age (44%). In Indonesia, gender (55%) is the priority, followed by religion (38%) and minority ethnic groups (30%). These contrasted in Malaysia, as companies prioritise diversity in gender (47%), followed by age (40%) then minority ethnic groups (25%). Similarly, gender (47%) takes top spot in Hong Kong, followed by minority ethnic groups (23%) and finally sexual orientation (19%).
How HR can encourage diversity?
As with any policy in an organisation, HR department has to take lead but not without the support of top management. Some of the steps to improve diversity in the workplace that have been successful in top organisations include:
i) Assess, develop and implement workplace diversity plan – successful organisations assess and evaluate their diversity process. Then, develop a plan that is achievable and measurable, which includes what needs to be changed and the timeline to achieve it. Implement it, with active support from top management
ii) Creating awareness and policies – constantly update the organisation on the successes of top organisations that leverage on their diversity. Create awareness within the organisation as to why diversity is important, and put it into practice by implementing policies that ensure diversity, such as:
equal opportunity employment of people with different abilities, talents, background, ethnicity, and gender
blind recruitment, where the gender, race / ethnicity, and perhaps even age of candidates are obscure to HR during first round interview
iii) Company ambassadors – placement of employees from different backgrounds at job fairs, company advertisements, annual reports and social media are ways to increase the visibility of an organisation’s diversity. By having employees serve as ambassadors say a lot about the seriousness of an organisation to promote diversity.
Diversity is a complex and difficult subject to grasp as every individual has a certain subconscious bias that are manifested through speech, action and opinion. It is therefore important to be constantly reminded, and better yet through company policies, that diversity is strength, not weakness. It is not a slogan; many international organisations have successfully demonstrated this fact, further backed by researches. Is your organisation going to join the ranks of the successes?