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Tips to make real progress in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace (Part 1)

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 7 min read
Tips to make real progress in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace (Part 1)
How to build a culture where employees feel they belong, that their unique talents matter and that they are cared for? Photo: Pexels
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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are integral to fostering innovation, retaining employees, attracting new talent and sustaining business growth. A McKinsey study found that companies with gender, ethnically and culturally diverse executive teams are more likely to outperform their peers in terms of financial performance.

Increasing diversity by itself, however, does not yield full benefits. Organisations must also build an equitable and inclusive culture to cultivate the tremendous value from their people’s differences and earn more commitment from employees. Here’s what leaders from tech companies believe is needed to do so.

Kumar Bhaya, vice-president for client solutions Apac at Cielo

Today, it has become imperative for organisations to relook at their existing DEI strategies. Building a thoughtful DEI programme that aligns with a broader talent strategy, encouraging internal mobility, and engaging early talent with business-critical skills is key.

To succeed, organisations need to intentionally evaluate their existing DEI strategy through a critical lens and actively consider inclusion in the programmes, policies, and overall systems they create.

Organisations can have a different business focus, internal transition, and new technologies, but having an inclusive culture helps to build a sustainable and productive workforce that can meet the business goals. Organisations need to be intentional about monitoring inclusivity, such as having visibility on the end-to-end hiring process for applicants or internal mobility for current employees. Ultimately, the DEI initiatives need to be more than just front-end marketing to attract or retain talent.

See also: Achieving true digital transformation: It’s not the tools, it’s the people

Jimmy Yam, vice-president of Eaton Electrical Singapore

Leadership commitment and alignment are essential for the success of any workplace initiatives, including DEI programmes. Equally important, but perhaps less talked about, is team involvement and engagement.

For DEI initiatives to truly be representative and effective, commitment needs to go beyond the leadership team and across the organisation’s workforce. Involving employees in establishing and maintaining DEI initiatives can also bring new perspectives to the table and lead to more well-rounded programmes.

See also: How tech companies are retaining female talent in Asia Pacific (Part 2)

To this point, organisations should encourage majority voices to join the conversation around driving talent diversity at the workplace and equip them to become better advocates, on top of recognising leaders who have done their part to support members from underrepresented groups.

At Eaton, we do this through formal training programmes and Inclusion Resource Groups such as Women Adding Value at Eaton. These serve as platforms to encourage employees to exchange ideas and provide or receive mentoring and professional development.

Parvinder Walia, president of Apac and Japan at ESET

Creating a successful DEI programme requires a holistic approach that catalyses meaningful change. To that end, leaders should foster a culture of empowerment to deliver an inclusive employee experience that respects and advocates diversity within the workforce. For instance, businesses can build a supportive community for women through initiatives such as scholarships and mentorships for industries where women are severely underrepresented.

That said, sustaining a successful DEI programme is an ongoing commitment. Organisations should cultivate a positive and supportive work environment that places the well-being of employees as a top priority and also ensure that all employees have equal opportunities to advance their careers regardless of their background. This enables employees to achieve their full potential and become the best version of themselves.

In the future of work, organisations that can champion DEI in the workplace and stay true to their people-first culture will stay top-of-mind for potential talents.

Tanya Suna, director for people and culture Apac at impact.com

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Organisations should recognise the importance of a holistic, long-term approach to DEI. A key component to a successful DEI programme is to define the goal and intention behind the programme. Aligning it to your company’s mission and getting commitment from leadership teams is critical to the programme’s success.

Sustaining a DEI programme that continues to serve the well-being of employees requires it to involve both top-down and bottom-up efforts. This means listening to and engaging feedback from employees, providing education and training across the board, updating policies and practices to ensure they are inclusive and equitable, and collecting and utilising DEI-related data for a better overview of what needs to be changed.

Listening to feedback and taking action upon given data is key to a safe and inclusive environment, where there are no ramifications for honesty but support and empathy for our people.

Clar Rosso, CEO of (ISC)2

A workplace culture committed to diversity, equity and inclusion starts with a commitment from leadership and overhauling—and sustaining—recruitment, pay and advancement processes to create equity.

We also must nurture inclusive workplaces by stopping gatekeeping and lifting all voices. This happens when we seek diverse opinions from throughout our organisations. Inclusion happens when everyone on our team feels heard — and that they belong.

Change won’t happen overnight. It’s a journey that requires introspection and addressing bias— conscious and unconscious. Research shows that individuals who share a passion for problem-solving, protecting the public and working with others are most successful in cybersecurity/ Employers need to seek out this talent from various backgrounds to start shrinking Asia-Pacific’s almost 2.2 million workforce gap. Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce is key to creating a safe and secure cyber world.

Carly Stoneman, HR director Apac at Mimecast

As DEI takes centre stage, organisations need to ensure they are facilitating inclusive communities within their employee base and beyond. It’s crucial to take a proactive stance and ensure that all levels of the organisation are aligned and recognise their part in bringing about change. To create meaningful change and infuse DEI into the company’s DNA, change has to occur at multiple levels through top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out strategies.

Organisations should look to implement systems where senior leaders undergo leadership training and have conversations surrounding allyship and DEI fundamentals with all employees. It’s also important to provide employees with a platform to come together, have honest conversations and voice their opinions. Continual advocacy and building accountability will go a long way in maintaining the momentum of DEI initiatives to bring out the necessary transformation and positively impact organisations.

June Chui, senior human resources director for Apac and Japan at Pure Storage

A DEI programme that fosters engagement and inspires action needs two ingredients to succeed: authenticity and consistency. DEI should mesh with the organisation’s vision and be embedded into day-to-day business practices across teams, from engineering and HR to marketing.

There should be an emphasis on open communication in the organisation; eradicating communication barriers to create a safe space where all employees regardless of background can speak up and be heard.

At Pure, we have employee resource groups (ERGs) that instil the right attitude and mindset to propel the vision of an equal workplace typified by diverse representation, equitable policies and processes, and an inclusive culture. These ERGs – including Women@Pure and early-in-career professionals – help propagate awareness of unconscious biases and enable employees to truly connect and inspire each other. By showing authentic support for all employees, organisations can create an empowering environment where everyone has ample opportunities to grow.

Michele Nyrop, senior vice-president of Employee Success for Apac and LATAM at Salesforce

A successful DEI programme moves beyond focusing on just parity in numbers and demonstrates real action through quality measures that empower everyone – regardless of their differences — to excel and feel safe in the workplace. This entails increasing representation at all levels through investing in training and development opportunities for all, as well as having inclusive promotion processes to bring more diversity to the decision-making table.

To cultivate an open and inclusive workplace, businesses can also encourage allyship by building employee resource groups, bringing together employees who are allies of equality in sexual orientation and gender identity, practising empathetic listening and celebrating differences through events and awareness days.

Finally, committing to equal pay for equal work creates more balance, increased productivity, and deeper equality. By implementing inclusive business practices and processes to tackle bias and open doors to others, businesses can be powerful platforms for social change and further equality for all.

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