Keys to building a more inclusive workplace

Davinia Simon
Davinia Simon3/4/2022 08:00 AM GMT+08  • 6 min read
Keys to building a more inclusive workplace
The diversity of the talent pool is increasing, but there is still much to do to attract more minority groups to the STEM fields.
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Would you be you willing to join a company where you feel that you are the only one representing your gender or culture in the room?

What if the company’s leadership lacks diversity? Is that something you could tolerate? Should you have to tolerate it? What is the company doing to improve diversity, equity and inclusion? These are some of the questions employees now ask when considering a new role or searching for a workplace where they can feel comfortable and excel as their true self.

The technology industry has long struggled with these questions. Research from Unesco’s Asia and Pacific regional bureau reveals that only 16% of countries across Asia have an equal or above-equal proportion of women working in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields. The study also confirms that gender differences in education and learning achievement continue to contribute to the low number of women represented in STEM-based careers in Asia.

Slowly, the diversity of the talent pool is increasing. This is helped by education initiatives encouraging young girls and women to consider STEM careers and a stronger policy focus on improving opportunities for women in these fields.

However, there is still much to do to both attract more minority groups, including women, to STEM careers and accomplish a balance of true diversity. Systemic changes are needed, but companies can also help achieve these goals faster by reshaping their approach to hiring and building more inclusive cultures.

See also: Reshaping the role of the CFO

Defining true flexibility

Across the past two years, the shift to the digital workplace has transformed the way people view agile working. Creating a culture that supports truly flexible work — where employees can start and finish at times that suit them best — is now a great way to attract workers and boost retention.

This is particularly important for employees that have dependants, whether that’s children or older family members. Given that most working women in Asia Pacific are also mothers, allowing women to work flexibly also supports mothers to return to work.

What’s more, the move to remote working throughout the pandemic has given a lot of parents the opportunity to spend more time with their children. It has also made them consider ways to divide the work-week between them to ensure this continues. While working from home with children is not easy, we have seen an increase in men requesting more flexible work options in our company to better divide caring and home labour tasks with their partner.

See also: How to avoid being 'ghosted' by Gen Z talents

Policies are just as important as practices when it comes to an inclusive workforce. For instance, we have recently renamed our “paid maternity leave” to “paid primary carers leave”. Broadening the policy gives our employees the opportunity to share parental roles equally. New mothers and fathers now can stay in the workforce and segment their 12 weeks of paid leave into chunks that best suit them, taking time off at any point in the first 12 months of the child’s life. All businesses should be looking at their internal strategies with a lens of inclusivity to ensure they are consistently providing needed support for their employees.

Outcomes not hours

As the workforce continues to evolve, we are witnessing a shift in what it means for companies to be flexible, particularly around asynchronous schedules. With these new ways of working, it is critical for organisations to re-evaluate how success is assessed and practise an employee performance model that focuses on results, as opposed to the hours spent.

The time spent at the desk is often misunderstood to be equivalent to success, and too many companies believe their employees are more productive working from the office. The pandemic has dispelled this myth, especially across the technology sector, with many companies now offering permanent or semi-permanent work-from-home arrangements.

Building an inclusive culture in the present-day workplace environment calls for trust, flexibility, and an outlook of work based on results and not desk time. Rather than hours, employers should look at how their staff are matching up to the expectations and key performance indicators set for their role.

If you require staff to come back to the office a certain number of days a week, or a few times a quarter, entice them with opportunities for authentic collaboration and engaging training sessions — the components of their role or the company culture that can be harder to deliver when working remotely.

Use data to eliminate unconscious bias

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One advantage the technology sector has in achieving more diverse and inclusive workplaces is that most of these companies are ahead in their technical modernisation efforts. This means they can collect and incorporate data at every step to drive lasting change.

As one of the most objective measurement methods, data provides organisations with the opportunity to remove unconscious bias and foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

For those still modernising — or whose data has revealed systemic cultural challenges affecting unconscious bias — it is also important to educate your employees on the value of women in tech roles, using statistical research to support this argument.

Celebrate cultural differences

Ultimately, building an inclusive workforce calls for a culture where employees feel valued and represented. By attracting and retaining culturally diverse employees, organisations can reduce the likelihood of “group think”, which is often an antithesis of creativity.

Look to extend that thinking further, beyond gender and the skills “required” for a role. Consider employees that bring a diversity of abilities, skills and thoughts, as collectively, this will make the team stronger.

Organisations that prioritise a culturally diverse workforce can also motivate prospective candidates. Celebrate your diverse teams, engage them in public-facing events, and if they show passion about changing the status quo, work with them to create a platform where they can share their perspectives.

However, this needs to be sincere and authentic. If an employee is giving time above and beyond their day-to-day role and regular working hours, find ways to compensate them for their involvement and recognise the value they are bringing to your team.

Over the years, organisations have employed inclusion as an active management strategy to address barriers for employees with different backgrounds, skills, experience and work-styles — ensuring they can fully contribute to the workplace. It is as, if not more, important than ever before. Organisations that actively support diversity and inclusion will reap the rewards, standing above competitors as good places to work, with employee satisfaction and a positive balance sheet to match.

Davinia Simon is the head of sales and growth markets at Stax

Photo: Unsplash

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