By Thomas Laboulle
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace have become imperatives for many organisations. Besides fostering better employee relationships and creating an overall happier work environment, a comprehensive programme dedicated to empowering staff develops a deeper sense of loyalty to the company, and boosts morale. While not a new issue, the pandemic has pushed the need to continue these initiatives digitally.
Employees today expect more from their employers, and that includes wanting them to speak up about diversity and inclusion. In Southeast Asia, a BCG survey showed that 58% of companies have some form of D&I programme in place, compared with a global average of 96%. For such a diverse region with so many cultures and languages, we still have a lot of catching up to do.
As organisations build out their D&I strategies to ensure a more equitable work environment for all, they need to keep these factors in mind:
Bridging the gap in gender equality
The gender gap in the technology sector is an ongoing issue. In Southeast Asia, while women comprised 32% of employees in the tech workforce as compared to the global average of 28%, the disparity between genders still lags in comparison to other industries. In addition, data has shown that women make up less than 15% of CEO and board-level positions.
Diversity is critical for businesses to create innovative products and improve their financial outcomes. Companies where women account for 20% of the management team have reportedly had 10% higher innovation revenues, as compared to companies with a male-dominated teams. Building a company with a focus on diversity and empowering women will take time. This is something that technology companies, including startups like ours, have to work towards.
There are measures that organisations can start rolling out more easily as they continue to look at sustainable organisational change. This includes providing flexible working arrangements, creating opportunities for learning, and having clear roadmaps for career progression. Companies can also consider creating targeted policies that support women throughout their career cycle, and open dialogue sessions to get women’s opinions on making the workplace inclusive.
Employee experience is key
During the onset of the pandemic, leaders were presented with the complex challenge of transitioning their entire organisation to remote work. While it has accelerated technology innovations by leaps and bounds, they are now grappling with managing employee expectations in a new, largely virtual environment. With a growing remote workforce that is feeling increasingly disconnected, employees are missing out on the social aspect of office life. For a new team member, the challenge of bonding with the rest of the team can be difficult without the space for informal interactions, and is a challenge to create initiatives to encourage team building.
Businesses have to consider new avenues in dealing with interactions digitally. A company’s ability to nurture team spirit and cultivate a sense of belonging while having a hybrid-work environment will become a metric for talent to differentiate future employers. One way to start would be to shift the mentality to be people-focused. Organisations can consider bringing in diversity and inclusion elements by ensuring employee benefits for all staff are fair and consistent across roles. For leaders, they can also make their employees feel included by advocating for transparency through town halls, workshops and brainstorming sessions.
Driving success in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion don’t work independently. Being inclusive does not just refer to hiring across multiple geographies and from different backgrounds. More often than not, it is through leveraging on the diversity of employees, and giving them a voice within the organisation that companies will improve creativity, innovation and production. Tech leaders should think of long-term strategies, and work on deploying policies effectively around inclusivity and diversity.
Businesses can consider setting up a roadmap to outline steps on including D&I across the organisation. For a start, recruiters could relook hiring policies to include overseas talents since remote work has become the norm for many. Employers can also consider having flexible work arrangements to allow prospective hires to fit work around their lives and enable them to work productively. Finally, leaders can consider launching workshops that allow employees to develop their skills and work towards an attainable career goal.
One interesting thing we have started to see is an influx in technology development around diversity and inclusion tools. Businesses are increasingly tapping on AI-driven tools that can help with job outreach, or even conduct sentiment analysis to minimise hiring bias when recruiting. These tools are a start to not only improve applicant screenings, but also improve the overall hiring process and give organisations potential hires that are more likely to be a better fit to the organisation. Business leaders can also consider diversifying the recruiting platforms across different spaces, and relook the profiles of internal and external recruiters. Understanding how recruitment is done on these channels will allow the company to fix any missing gaps, as well as reduce any limitations that could be potentially set to limit applications considered during a job opening.
Overall, we need to understand that having diverse and inclusive practices in a company cannot simply be done overnight. For smaller businesses, the resources that they have may not be enough to roll out full-fledged programs, but having the mindset to change the internal values is the first step to improving the business. That said, the tech sector is moving towards an increasingly open mindset, and perceptions around hiring and talents are slowly changing. Through open and continued conversations on pushing for diversity, we’re looking at revolutionising the way we work.
Thomas Laboulle is the Founder & CEO of Toku