HR and business leaders from Telstra, Linklaters, Zuellig Pharma, and more, affirm their commitment to build diverse, yet inclusive workforces, in this compilation by Wani Azahar and Jerene Ang.
With progressive organisations across Asia acknowledging the value of having diversity in its myriad forms such as gender, generations, experience, and more, the workplace has never shown as much promise for building inclusivity as now.
However, across Asia, just over half of companies (51%) have formal diversity policies in place as of 2016 – worryingly, 30% don’t have any diversity policies at all. Among the firms that do have such policies, 54% say they are “fairly well” to “well” adhered to, while the remaining 46% aren’t quite sure or convinced about their implementation yet.
The findings from Hays’ 2016 Asia salary guide also pointed to a leaky gender diversity pipeline. Less than one-third of management positions in Asia are currently taken up by women (29%), with that number dropping to 27% in Singapore.
Asked about the biggest diversity and inclusion (D&I) challenge in the APAC region, Marjet Andriesse, country managing director for Singapore and Malaysia at Telstra, says: “In APAC, the diversity discussion is often related to gender. The issue of gender equality is an important one, particularly at the leadership level across industries and across the board in some industries such as technology.”
Another challenge, as Daniel Danso, global diversity manager at Linklaters, points out, is including other aspects of D&I in the conversation such as race, age, LGBTQ+, social mobility and mental health, without slowing down momentum on gender. Apart from that, he says: “One of the challenges facing APAC businesses is translating western definitions of diversity into ones that have local relevance.”
With that in mind, Human Resources spoke to various HR and business leaders to understand how organisations can better ensure diversity and inclusion in their workforce.
Telstra: Embracing various differences
While Andriesse earlier mentioned the diversity discussion in APAC is often related to gender, at telecommunications company Telstra, it’s bigger than that.
She elaborates: “It’s only when we embrace all forms of difference that we can truly be open to diversity of thought – this can only be a good thing for business.”
With an international presence spanning over 20 countries, Telstra believes diversity fosters greater innovation, stronger problem-solving capability, greater customer connection, increased morale, motivation, and engagement.
“At Telstra, we have targeted programmes and initiatives to achieve our goals and to attract and retain talented people. We’re committed to being inclusive at all levels of the company – and this is supported through our values, cultural priorities, as well as our diversity and inclusion and discrimination and bullying policies.”
Since 2006, Telstra’s diversity council, chaired by the CEO and full CEO leadership team, has focused on contributing to the achievement of Telstra’s objectives by driving initiatives in three areas – customers, communities, and people.
Today, D&I remains an important priority for Telstra across the organisation.
“Our approach is guided by three key things. Explore by outcomes (customer connections, diverse talent, as well as flexible and inclusive employee experience); explore by initiatives (our events, programmes, and practices); and explore by identified groups (such as, gender, indigenous, cultural diversity, LGBTI, and flexibility).”
Apart from that, the progressive telco has an international diversity and inclusion council led by employees from various business units and functions in all offices.
Telstra also has a local D&I committee for the Singapore office alone that builds a plan each year for all its local D&I efforts. The outcomes and initiatives supported are based on identified priorities, including gender equality, cultural diversity, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and flexible working. Telstra offers many employee networks, including the spectrum network, which is one way LGBTQ+ employees and allies can connect, both inside and outside Telstra, to promote a positive and inclusive workplace.
In 2017, Telstra reviewed its policy to allow domestic partnerships (either same or opposite sex) for medical benefits enrolment on a declaration basis in Singapore.
“Our employees’ domestic partners now get the same medical benefits as employees with legally married spouses would get.”
On the gender front, a new policy was announced in 2017 requiring at least 50% of candidates on recruitment shortlists to be women. Additionally, initiatives such as the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award also provides a forum where female business leaders can support one another and celebrate achievements.
Apart from that, Telstra also offers flexible working via the “all roles flex” policy, while its “brilliant connected women” programme allows networking among colleagues, female leaders and role models.
Noting that more can be done to achieve greater diversity overall, she concludes: “Business leaders should be committed to change, setting targets, and being accountable to meeting those targets. Th is is key in driving behavioural change. There is no silver bullet to achieving greater gender equality in our workforce, but the cumulative effect of various initiatives can make a difference.”
Linklaters: Eliminating unconscious bias
Global law firm Linklaters believes there is a genuine business need for D&I.
Danso, the firm’s global diversity manager, says: “We want to reflect the populations of the countries we operate in and we need the best talent to provide the best solutions for our clients. We need the amazing neurodiversity that having a range of backgrounds offers. As a firm, we ensure there is a strong, ongoing portfolio of D&I work.”
Part of the firm’s ongoing portfolio of D&I work includes company-wide unconscious bias training sessions, launched in 2016, which are tailored to the local context in each country.
To date, Linklaters has localised and tailored up to 25 versions of these training sessions, using pop-culture and references that resonate with its local teams.
Company-wide training and communications was used to help Linklaters deliver the messages it needed to. The unconscious bias training module was delivered in a variety of ways to fit each country’s demographics using locally relevant examples.
“We take a country-by-country approach, as what will speak to one market won’t necessarily do the same for another.”
The initiative was driven from the top and informed by all levels from within the firm. “We’re always trying to do things differently, and diversity is something our leaders are very much spearheading from the top.”
The senior level serves as role models for junior members of staff and are regularly profiled in communications.
“Having our firm-wide managing partner, chairman and board members acting as visible and engaged champions sends a strong message to the rest of the firm that this is extremely important to us,” he says.
“I lead the team in developing and driving the different D&I initiatives, but rely heavily on the locally appointed diversity partners and champions in each local office to influence their own cohort. Th is takes D&I out of the HR space and into the strategy of the firm.”
In Danso’s words, progress has been phenomenal. Linklaters has managed to get the entire firm on the same page with D&I in less than a year.
At the same time, individual locally relevant D&I actions emerged underneath the global strategy. A dramatic increase in public commitments made by Linklaters’ staff to support one another was also seen.
“Today, we’ve seen a marked awareness of our colleagues across the network, who now understand unconscious bias more, along with how it affects how they recruit talent, manage promotions, and pay.”
Zuellig Pharma: Helping staff see the benefits of diverse teams
In the past few years, Zuellig Pharma’s transformation as a total business has brought it a fantastic variety of talent with different capabilities and from very different age groups.
Mohd Fauzi Wahab, VP of HR at Zuellig Pharma, explains: “We know that it takes a wide variety of experts in different fields to solve some of the biggest challenges the healthcare industry is facing. We have talent who have been with us for decades who are experts in logistics and we have talent who are new to the industry and are great at data mining.”
In line with that, the healthcare services provider has been very focused on integrating its multi-generational workforce, as well as integrating the mindsets of its employee base, who come from diverse backgrounds.
One way Zuellig Pharma is doing so is by ensuring a mix of gender, nationality, business units, and functions in its two key development programmes – young talent programme and advanced management programme.
“This helps create opportunities for our young talent and high potentials to experience the benefits of embracing diverse teams.”
Apart from that, to maintain diversity in its workplaces, Zuellig Pharma also constantly reviews its hiring practices, people policies, and talent programmes to ensure it is set up to hire a diverse profile of people.
The healthcare services provider is also continuing its efforts to ensure pay and bonus equity between genders and levels.
“We always aim to create an open and progressive workplace culture. Our leaders champion our values and we keep our teams focused on making healthcare more accessible to all the communities we serve.”
Tips from a doctor on age-inclusiveness
By 2030, one in four people in Singapore will be aged 65 and above. Despite their lower physical capacity, older workers can continue to be assets to companies. Human Resources spoke to Dr Sylvia Teo, senior principal specialist (return to work) at Workplace Safety and Health Council, on site of the Conference for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices organised by Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), held on 27 April.
She says: “Generally, older workers tend to exhibit lower staff turnover. Older workers can also serve as a mentor to guide their younger colleagues.”
Generally, older workers tend to exhibit lower staff turnover. Older workers can also serve as a mentor to guide their younger colleagues.
– Dr Sylvia Teo, senior principal specialist (return to work) at Workplace Safety and Health Council
To maximise the productive potential of older workers, Dr Teo tapped on her medical background to share tips for building an age-inclusive workforce. These include introducing progressive age management practices, the redesigning of workplaces and processes and implementing flexible work arrangements. Companies can receive funding support from the government for these under WorkPro.
Regular health screenings
With a higher incidence of chronic diseases, appropriate screening for chronic diseases becomes more relevant, Dr Teo says.
“Disease screening should follow the guidelines of the Singapore Health Promotion Board. It is also important to screen for disease factors which may have an impact on workplace safety as part of the functional assessment.”
Redesigning of workplaces and processes
To match the functional capacity of the ageing worker, work processes and certain environmental factors in the workplace need to be redesigned.
“Eyesight and hearing could be enhanced with simple measures such as better illumination, minimising glare at work and unnecessary ambient noise to enable close and high precision work to be performed.”
Other accommodations include adjustments of working hours, especially if work is physically or cognitively demanding to allow for sufficient breaks in between. The pace of work should also be comfortable for the worker.