Are you ready to bring diversity to your workplace?

Are you ready to bring diversity to your workplace?

by Roslina Chai, Managing Director, Catalyse Consulting and Ranjana Sabu, Content Creator

It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. Bringing diversity of thought, shaped by dissimilar perspectives – be it culture, education, gender, or age – to the workplace is critical to be relevant in today’s world.

Reports indicate there is progress, though there is much to be achieved.  As companies set in place policies and processes to expand perspectives and enrich their identities, let’s take a look at some of the challenges they encounter, and how to navigate it.

Rachel W. has been working with a technology firm as an assistant project lead for three years. She is one of the 12 women recruited as part of the firm’s commitment to increasing diversity within the organization. While she has never faced any overt discrimination, Rachel feels she is never fully included in the team. Her male reportees often reach out to other male project leads for input, bypassing her. “I often feel I’ve walked in halfway through a conversation,” she says. “It’s like they’re continuing a discussion they started elsewhere.” Rachel is reluctant to bring it up with her manager, “I don’t want him to think I’m telling tales or sound like I’m in the school yard, not allowed to play.”

Experiences such as Rachel’s are legion across companies where the initiative stops with merely changing the demographic profile of employees. Mere representation of different ethnicities or religions or gender is never enough. To fully unlock the potential of diversity, there needs to be a deep commitment on the part of the organization to ensure that those who are brought in for their voice find the organization willing to listen.

Implementing a successful diversity strategy is a complex endeavour and one that each organization needs to calibrate for itself based on its own identity and priorities.    

Evaluate: The concept of a truly diverse work environment may mean different things to different organizations. Understanding where you are as an organization on the spectrum and what perspectives you need to welcome would help you craft more targeted and meaningful interventions. Set clear objectives of what this program is meant to yield and co-create a roadmap to get there. Leadership needs to position the program as the organization’s priority and not metrics for HR to achieve.  More importantly, it needs to demonstrate the authenticity of the commitment, by leveraging company communication channels to consistently report milestones and keep the principles underpinning the program visibly at the forefront.

Empower your people: There needs to be a recognition of the fact that this journey is not necessarily a smooth one. When instituting changes that significantly alter the way people are used to thinking and interacting, disagreements and discontent are bound to surface. It’s important to make available systems to equip your people with the conversational, behavioural and mindset skills to manage conflict. Explore mechanisms you can set in place for employees to feel confident about speaking up without fear of reprisals or being marginalised. Additionally, there needs to be protocol in place to ensure that there is responsible use of these platforms, visible acknowledgement of issues raised short process cycles for resolution.

Exemplify: In the context of a newly diverse team, seeing company leadership tangibly making time and effort to engage can often prove the fastest and most effective method to validate the program. It is not enough to bring diversity to the table – you need to share the mike. Cascading this, encourage mid management and team leaders to demonstrate how critical it is to draw in and involve newer members in group environments. It can be as simple as listening often, making sure people who are not fluent in the language business is conducted and/or have an accent, are heard and acknowledged or calling on silent participants to share their opinion thereby giving them visibility and voice.

People are multidimensional. They are more than the sum of their gender, race or ethnicity and age. To truly channel the energy and wealth of their experience, organizations need to facilitate an open working environment where every employee feels a sense of belonging and knows that their voice is truly valued. Diversity at the workplace cannot be a one-time campaign – it necessitates an ongoing commitment to continually self-examine and adjust the organizational climate to be effective.  

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

Challenging Business-As-Usual With Cognitive Diversity

Challenging Business-As-Usual With Cognitive Diversity

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

It’s a typical day in the office for Melissa – a senior executive of a family-owned manufacturing business in the health sector grappling with a rapidly changing business climate in Singapore. Melissa’s economic forecast is looking stormy. Increasing trade protectionism and political unrest is creating upheaval in her supply chains across the region. The profile and needs of export customers that Melissa’s executive team serviced five or ten years ago, are completely different from who she must sell to now. Learning how to chart a new course away from the strong current of her company’s tried and tested strategies and processes is a struggle. 

In the good old days, Melissa succeeded by aligning all team members to work in concert, applying long hours and pure grit. Everyone under her command followed her marching orders  – penalties were heavy when team members stepped out of line. Nowadays, productivity from the old way of doing things is yielding increasingly diminishing returns, anxiety is rising among her board of directors who call for new ideas from her loyal team – but none are forthcoming.

In a search of answers, Melissa sees how diversity has become the poster child of business media; a cure-all solution that magically delivers high performing teams with better problem solving capabilities than non-diverse teams. But in the discerning eyes of Melissa, diversity in Singapore is nothing new. Her home city is one of the most diverse in the region, where all ages, races and genders have been welcome to work side by side for generations. She views her rise to the top as an example of diversity in action in Singapore.

Things changed when Melissa came across research from Harvard Business Review that revealed the problem solving business potential of diversity as more than skin deep. The research found diversity of thought and perspective – also known as cognitive diversity – to be the secret sauce that drives teams towards high performance and innovation. Put simply, by bringing together different ways of processing and explaining the world into a team, novel approaches for solving complex problems have a better chance of arising.

For a leader who is accustomed to team culture where everyone tows the line, the prospect of inviting conflicting and opposing views makes her feel uneasy. Melissa worries how work will get done in a team without order where people are constantly arguing and no one sees eye to eye. Moreover, she doubts that her team members will rise to the challenge. It is uncustomary for her employees to challenge the authority of their boss for fear of being sacked.

However, unprecedented disruptions in the market and mounting pressure from her bosses compels Melissa to try something new; because conducting business as usual will only yield more of the same dwindling results.

Armed with further research, she prepares to make three changes in the way her team operates:

  • Create safe space for constructive disagreement and innovation: Inviting constructive debate in meetings and encouraging different modes of thinking are key ingredients that will help Melissa make team members feel psychologically safe to take risks in the face of complex problems. By establishing a culture where thinking and doing things differently is founded on mutual respect Melissa believes her team will feel more confident when working outside of their comfort zone.
  • Seek out creative and strategic partnerships: Melissa believes that seeking out partnerships with organisations from industries outside of her own will augment the perspectives and capabilities of her team. For example by forging an alliance between her company, experts in building retail experiences, machine learning and communities of patients Melissa will gain knowledge and open previously untapped opportunities. 
  • Recruit for diversity of thought: Hiring talent from the same alma-mater or pedigree of professional experience may feel like a safe bet. But doing so risks producing more of the status quo at her company and further entrenches prevailing bias in the organisation’s processes. By carefully curating pipelines of talent from diverse backgrounds who are aligned on core values Melissa will ensure that different capabilities, experiences and ways of thinking are brought to the table. Her company will thereafter be in a better position to solve for the blind spots in complex problems. 

To be sure, Melissa is keenly aware that speed and efficiency are often traded off when encouraging diverging perspectives – discussions and debate costs time. That said, by taking a long view, Melissa recognises that unchecked bias and blind spots pose a greater risks to company downstream. Thus time for robust, critical analysis is ultimately time spent wisely. 

In closing, business researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis waxed that “when everyone agrees on what to do, find someone who disagrees and cherish them.” Such elegant wisdom galvanised Melissa’s confidence to navigate through turbulent and uncharted waters in search of new and un-imagined opportunities. 

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Diversity Through Your Employees

Celebrate Diversity Through Your Employees

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

Celebrating diversity in the workplace is nothing new in Singapore and other parts of Asia.

An example lies in a tradition that many Singapore companies observe during lunar new year festivities. Imagine hordes of company employees crowding around a round dining table reciting chinese proverbs in loud chorus calling for prosperity for the company. As the chorus continues each participant wield chopsticks in unison to toss a delicious salad of shredded fish and assorted vegetables through the air. Each colourful ingredient in the salad is symbolic of luck in Chinese culture.

The scene is that of a yusheng or lo hei – an annual tradition for family and friends that Singapore companies have also borrowed. As with Lunar New Year, Singapore offices are also abuzz with festivities during Christmas, Hari Raya and Deepavali in acknowledgment of the diversity that thrives within the country. Everyone is invited to participate, regardless of differences in cultural background. 

Human history and our personal experiences have taught us that celebrating together deepens engagement between peers, builds a sense of belonging and raises awareness about the variety of cultures from which people hail. 

In recent years shifts in culture and the proliferation of personal stories shared on social media, business leaders are awakening to the true breadth of diversity that exists in the modern workplace. Consequently, people managers in Asia are increasingly faced with uncomfortable questions from staff about why certain groups are celebrated while other groups are ignored. 

To solve this problem some larger companies encourage employees to form affinity groups as a means to build trust, forge stronger ties and nurture a sense of belonging. The formation of such groups are particularly helpful for women, seniors, people with disabilities, LGBTQ and other traditionally underrepresented segments in the workplace. 

Celebrating diversity of underrepresented groups sometimes makes business leaders in Asia feel nervous. The risk of upsetting workplace harmony is reportedly one concern that prevents many business managers from fully embracing diversity. 

That said, the workforce of the future is forecast to be the most diverse in history. Learning how to tap into the value of increased workforce diversification is the key to success for any 21st century company and according to research from the World Economic Forum, companies must embrace diversity NOW.

How can the modern corporate leader in Asia do more to celebrate diversity while delivering direct business outcomes for the company? There are three opportunities for business leaders to consider:

  • Nurture employee groups to become pipelines of leadership: Employee groups or networks are often formed around special affinities like hobbies, shared life experiences or cultural backgrounds. These groups help build a sense of belonging, especially for new recruits adjusting to the workplace culture. But employee groups have the potential to be more than mere platforms for employees to socialise.

For example, DELL, the computer manufacturer has shown how a structured approach to employee groups can create a pipeline for emerging leaders in the company by providing members with professional development outcomes. Participation in employee groups is known to be one key factor that guides Dell’s leaders when they anoint rising stars in the company. 

Well structured employee groups ultimately deliver business value by deepening employee engagement, increasing talent retention and reducing costs associated with staff attrition.

  • Refresh your niche marketing campaigns to reflect the modern consumer: Astute business leaders ensure that their workforce reflects the diversity of their customers and opens new market opportunities. Consider how leveraging insights among your diverse workforce can help to deepen customer success stories and increase the reach of your brand.

For example, to mark its 70th anniversary, Poh Heng the Singapore jewelry company revealed a public photography exhibition in the Orchard Road shopping district. The exhibition presented a diverse array of couples across ages, ethnicity, sexual orientation as a celebration of “journey of trust” that the brand has come to epitomise. Poh Heng’s campaign resulted in significant organic social media engagement – that would otherwise cost a fortune in terms of marketing spend – while reinforcing the company’s core values.

Engaging your diverse workforce to reflect the true diversity of your customers helps your company build loyalty, address unmet consumer demand and leverage word of mouth.

  • Tapping the power of allyship through corporate giving: Giving back to the community is a core tenet of good corporate citizenship. Corporate giving efforts have historically been decided by the interests of founders and directors. Nowadays some companies are inviting greater participation of employees in corporate giving decisions that encompass donations of cash and time. Some corporate giving programs are designed to encourage allyship between employees and disadvantaged groups in the community. 

For example, companies are increasingly implementing gift matching programs where employee donations are matched by the company and employees can nominate non-profit to be part of the program. Allyship programs are powerful channels that help bridge the divide between different groups. For example male employees mobilised to support emerging female business leaders or straight allies mobilised to help LGBT organisations.

Employee driven corporate giving plus allyship initiatives unite a company behind a strong sense of purpose that brings more meaning to daily work. Nurturing allyship among team members is essential for diverse teams to build empathy, find common ground and ultimately leads to productivity gains for the team.

To be sure, some executives say that the workplace is not a place to celebrate diversity and argue that conformity and homogeneity in teams is more efficient, while celebrating diversity leads to chaos. While it is true that diverse teams must grapple more with instances of conflict than homogenous team. But if constructive conflict is managed effectively, business research shows that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams in terms of innovation and problem-solving

In closing, celebrating diversity is part of the recipe for successful teams in Asia. Business leaders who create workplaces that enable diverse perspectives to be celebrated while uniting teams behind a common purpose stand the best chance of delivering winning outcomes for their company.

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

The #FutureOfWork Is Here

The #FutureOfWork Is Here

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

The future of work has been a catchphrase for people managers in Asia over the past couple of years. In fact, the future has already arrived at many companies where automation and augmentation of business processes is already in full swing. Meanwhile other companies are at their beginning of their journey to improve productivity through the latest technologies.

But if you think that the future of work is merely about gearing up with robots and artificial intelligence then you are missing another significant trend that has emerged from the conversation: the urgency of diversity and inclusion in business.

On one hand, the rise of new and emerging markets across Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America means that companies face increasing expectations to reflect their diverse customers and suppliers in order to secure business. On the other hand employees and job seekers in Asia increasingly expect employers to lead with inclusive values, offer flexible work arrangements, provide on-the-job training and imbue a strong sense of corporate purpose that is in sync with a socially-conscious world. 

If your company has yet to embrace a future of work that is more diverse and inclusive here are five quick wins to help start your journey:

Ensure everyone is on the same page: When thinking about introducing something new at your company consider how your workplace culture has reacted to change in the past. 

For example, reflect on past situations where new tool, a new supplier or other organisational change was introduced. In the process of introducing change what worked and what did not work? How would you describe your company’s appetite for curiosity and risk? How does appetite change from team to team? Guided by insight from past experiences communicate the business case for inclusion in Asia at your organisation. 

Start small: Make the first steps on your inclusive business journey small and achievable. Invite participation from your team to help you build momentum through a small project.

For example, plan for a workplace seminar, a recruitment drive for diverse talent, a fact finding mission on new markets or other small initiatives to get started. Ensure that your small initiatives are designed with clear time-frames that aligned with direct business outcomes. Illustrate your vision for translating your pilot into a full scale program that adds value to the company. Be explicit about limitations, potential risk-factors, positive and negative outcomes. 

Encourage diversity of participation: Every initiative has a variety of actors who help to conceptualise, build, execute and evaluate the test. Consider how a diversity of perspectives can add value to your project idea.

For example, are your project teams typically dominated by men? Consider how are other genders, ages, personality types, cultural backgrounds and other positions in your company’s structure could be better represented in new initiatives. 

Blind spots and unconscious bias are commonplace in any project. Having a diversity of perspectives on your team will improve your ability to identify blind spots and interpret valuable results that your company can capitalise upon. Be cognizant that diverse teams are most effective if a common ground of mutual respect is established among all members.

Listen, improve and repeat: Things rarely go according to plan. Rather than solving everything through a top down approach consider how feedback from across your organisation can add greater value to future improvements to your business. 

Imagine a scenario where a new deal renders favourable results for the company, but implementing the deal came at a high personal cost for your employees. Would you pursue gains for your company at any cost? How empowered are your employees to give feedback in this situation?

Failure to invite and listen to constructive feedback means that problems get swept under the rug and risk hurting the company down the track. When inviting feedback remember that power dynamics in your company may lead women, people with disabilities or other underrepresented groups to feel that their opinions will not be valued. Employees have more faith in providing feedback when multiple channels for providing constructive input are established. Moreover leadership must commit to listen feedback shared. Garnering feedback from diverse perspectives gives you the best chance of identifying a replicable and sustainable solutions.

Form a diversity council: Augment your business strategy with input from experts with diverse perspectives.

For example, establish a council of customers of diverse ages, genders, abilities, races and cultural backgrounds to perform an advisory role for your team’s business strategies and product or service design. Having regular input from structured diversity council in an invaluable asset that helps your company identify blind spots, new market opportunities and new sales channels.

To be sure, some people say that the future of work means that technology will render many jobs obsolete. While this argument may be true, it fails to consider the jobs created through diversification of customers and markets. 

In summary, continual learning and improvement, underpinned by an inclusive workplace culture where diverse perspectives are valued, are the key components for any team wanting to build resilience for the future.

While we wait for the future to unfold, implementing inclusive business practices today is a small but significant step towards future proofing your company.

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

How Your Startup Can Promote Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership

How Your Startup Can Promote Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership

Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership Is How Startups Thrive

The biggest challenge for any startup founder is to achieve high productivity from a lean team with a tight budget. Shortages in local talent and stiff competition from larger employers are major obstacles that startups in Singapore must overcome in order to succeed. Many local startup founders already hire diverse talent only to struggle with integrating teams of different capabilities, genders, ages and cultural backgrounds.

Come, join Roslina Chai and Laurindo Garcia from Catalyse Consulting for a panel discussion with Beverly Dolor from WeWork on 20th August, 2019. At this discussion, founders and hiring managers will be able to:

  • Learn how inclusive recruitment practices can help startups gain the competitive edge in the Singapore talent market.
  • Gain tips on nurturing an inclusive workplace culture that enables diverse teams to become high performing teams.
  • Hear case studies of Singapore startups who have led successfully through inclusion.

Roslina and Laurindo are both serial entrepreneurs with a background in tech startups in Asia. Catalyse Consulting is a proud member of the WeWork Community.

Sign you here:

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

Leading Inclusively In Asia

Leading Inclusively In Asia

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

As a people manager in Asia you may be accustomed to hierarchical cultures at work. A top-down, ‘command and control’ style of leadership has been the playbook of choice for business leaders in Asia for generations. Leading with a caring yet autocratic approach has certainly yielded results for many Asian corporate leaders in the past. These days however, dramatic changes in the modern business environment might give you pause to rethink traditional leadership strategies. 

The way companies make money today is starkly different from how businesses operated ten to twenty years ago. A growing middle class; exponential advances in mobile technology and machine learning; and, globalisation of supply chains are driving the diversification of customers, talent, markets and ideas to unprecedented levels. Business leaders in Asia must learn to be agile in today’s fast-paced environment. 

When processes, customers and supply chains are in flux, blind spots in business strategy abound. Leaders who cling to long-held hierarchical norms risk limiting the flow of ideas that would otherwise address blindspots. In contrast intuitive leaders invite more diverse perspectives from across the team to inform decisions – regardless of hierarchy – thus illustrating the value of inclusion.

Business leaders in Asia often say they are inclusive. In reality most companies in Asia have a mixed bag of diversity initiatives where quality is uneven, leadership behaviors are often inconsistent and inclusive practices are selective. On one hand there are local companies who encourage workplace diversity by reskilling older professionals and promoting racial harmony within the workforce. But workforce diversity without inclusive leadership is a recipe for disaster.

Increasing reports of workplace harassment and work-related anxiety illustrate the toxicity of workplace cultures in the region. Underemployment of working mothers and people with disabilities amidst marketwide talent shortages highlights how unconscious bias creates barriers for diverse talent to contribute to the economy. 

Failure to be inclusive could spell disaster for any employer. In a survey from Deloitte 39 percent of all respondents reported that they would leave their current organization for a more inclusive one, and 23 percent of respondents indicated that they have already left an organization for a more inclusive one. Given the tight labor market and high cost of attrition employers need to take heed of the signals.

Competition for talent and the need to avert reputation loss due to reports of harassment have compelled an increasing number of business leaders in Asia change their ways. To be sure, there are several strengths associated with the leadership mindset traditionally associated with Asian business leaders. Focusing on harmony, investing in relationships and competency in volatile and complex environments are beneficial Asian leadership traits, according to a report from the Centre of Creative Leadership. 

However research from the consultancy firm Korn Ferry found that Asian business leaders need to do better at inviting and listening to diverse views within the team as a means to anticipate the future. Leading with purpose and helping team members manage stress was identified as another area of improvement for leaders in Asia. And finally local leaders must deepen trust by welcoming different types of people and perspectives within teams. 

Leaders who embrace inclusive practices will help their company win productivity gains and bring out the best of diverse team members. With inclusive practices business leaders are better positioned to attract talent with less effort. Over 60 percent of Singapore employees who want their employer to be more inclusive, according to Workday.

If you want to help your team win in an increasingly diverse and uncertain market how can you do so inclusively? Here are three leadership goals that will help put inclusion into daily practice:

Treat people fairly and transparently: Be cognizant of prevailing stereotypes and unconscious bias that may affect decisions. Be courageous and transparent in all your actions.

For example, raise your self awareness by assessing your unconscious biases. Many reputable online tests are available. Thereafter be candid about your biases, invite your team test themselves and work together to address biases in future decision making.

Acknowledge and value the individual: Create a work environment that nurtures a sense of belonging where an individual’s unique characteristics are acknowledged and everyone feels welcome. Doing so will make it easier for people to share their views.

For example, take time to get to know the individuals in your team, encourage team members who share similar interests to engage and encourage employee groups to exchange ideas and insights.

Be culturally intelligent, curious and invite diverse perspectives: Reduce the risk of blind spots and unlock hidden potential by incorporating perspectives from people with different capabilities and backgrounds in business processes.

For example, track the diversity of genders, ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds on your team and actively curate for diverse perspective in projects. Ensure that you cultivate a culture of mutual respect where team members feel safe even when constructive criticism and creative tension arises.

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.