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.

Designing For Racial Inclusion

Designing For Racial Inclusion

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

In the 1950s, Kodak revolutionised photography by making colour photography affordable for the mass market. However there was one significant flaw in Kodak’s early technology for processing colour film: their process routinely produced photographs that rendered dark-skinned people poorly compared to the vividness of lighter-skinned people. An investigation years later found that Kodak’s processes were biased to favour white skin tones. Kodak subsequently corrected its process in the 1980s after complaints from the advertising industry.

While the popularity of film photography has waned due to the emergence of digital photography, unconscious racial bias in product design persists. Sensor-controlled soap dispensers, image recognition technologies and heart rate sensors are among the recent technologies denounced for being biased against Africans, South Asians and other racial groups where dark skin pigmentation is the norm.

Racial bias in design most commonly occurs when designers, engineers and other persons involved in the development process fail to consider the needs of diverse users. A homogeneity of perspectives among the design team results in undetected blind spots. If usability tests fail to encompass a diversity of users, a product or service is released to the market with blind spots unresolved.

Designing products and services with racially inclusive principles reduces the risk of product failure, reputation loss, liability and improves potential for customer satisfaction. 

History almost repeated itself when software engineers at Google found early iterations of their camera app produced poor quality pictures of dark-skinned people. After acknowledging the unconscious bias within the product team more robust and diverse usability testing was undertaken eventually leading to a solution.

Racial inclusion in design can also unlock market opportunities previously hidden to your competitors. For example: 99.co is a digital platform for buying and renting homes in Singapore that offers homeseekers the power to search for landlords based on inclusiveness. The inclusion feature was inspired by the personal experience of 99.co founder, Darius Cheung. When looking to rent a new home for his family Cheung experienced racial discrimination. Cheung has spoken publicly about real estate agents who would often reject rental applications with the excuse: “Sorry your wife is Indian, landlord won’t rent to you”. According to Cheung the number of rental listings using the ‘all races welcome’ tag has risen to 20-percent since launch creating significant benefits for his customers and propelled his company to win 50-percent market share.


Some critics of racially inclusive design may argue that minority groups represent a small niche compared to the mass market and believe the expense of designing inclusively far outweighs potential financial returns. However, critics often fail to acknowledge that when executed well inclusive design benefits all users. For example, icon-based signs help to communicate directions or instructions to people who are unable to read English. In practice, icon-based signs are useful to people with mental disabilities, children and more instantly comprehensible to readers of any language.

If you want to ensure your company’s products or services are racially inclusive, here is what you can do:

  • Ensure your product team reflects the diversity of your customers: Diverse product development teams have better problem solving capabilities; deeper customer knowledge; and, enjoy higher rates of productivity.
  • Recruit more diverse participants for your usability tests: Identify blind spots in your design before you launch by engaging testers with diverse abilities and cultural backgrounds.
  • Ensure you have a diverse pipeline of talent at your company: Removing names from job applications and training hiring managers on unconscious bias improves equity in your recruitment process.
  • Support career development of underrepresented groups: Support talented employees from minority groups to become your future corporate leaders through trainee-ships and mentoring.
  • Consider setting up a diversity council: Periodically review your company’s plans with experts from diverse communities who can provide feedback, identify blind spots and open market 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.

Building The Workforce Of The Future Through Intergenerational Learning

Building The Workforce Of The Future Through Intergenerational Learning

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

July 15th 2019 is World Youth Skills Day.

Several extraordinary headwinds are brewing against the workforce of the future. Markets that were once stable will become more volatile due to shifts in supply chains and emergent competitors. Advances in machine learning will compel companies to automate or augment business processes and stoke job insecurity among workers. People will live longer in a world where socio-economic inequality intensifies. 

Solve today’s problem with the future in mind: PWC

To prepare for the many obstacles that lie ahead astute business leaders are taking steps to transform their companies in unconventional ways. Leadership mindsets are gradually shifting beyond the mere pursuit of output at the lowest cost with the highest return. There is growing appreciation of organisations who excel through continual learning, adaptation and accentuation of human qualities that are the bedrock of a company’s value.

In a world where technology is changing, jobs and people are living longer lives with more diverse careers; organizations have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to reinvent learning so that it integrates into the flow of work and life.” 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte.

You have an opportunity to start building your workforce of the future now. Enhance learning at your company by cultivating knowledge exchange across the various generations of talent who co-exist within the same workplace.

According to Pew Research Foundation the various generations are commonly defined by birth year: born before 1946 (Silent Generation); between 1946 and 1964 (Baby Boomers); 1965 and 1980 (Generation X), 1981 and 1996 (Millennials) and 1996 onward (Generation Z). Increased life expectancy and rising age of retirement make it commonplace these days for four to five generations of talent to be working side by side.

Source: Pew Research Centre

Intergenerational workplaces are not without their challenges. Social norms in Asian cultures make it difficult for young people to challenge the authority of seniors. Popular movies and TV shows that capitalise on the drama of sparing generations at work only add fuel to unconscious bias.

Creating a common language of respect in a workplace enables voices of all ages to be heard in a workplace. By looking past stereotypes we see that employees across all generations need acknowledgment as valued members of an organisation. Intergenerational learning can help address these needs.

For example, young professionals described their struggles with in-person corporate communication skills in a survey conducted by Bridgeworks. Corporate veterans could transfer their collaboration, feedback, empathy and entrepreneurial skills honed from life-long careers downstream to the younger generation through mentorship.

Conversely, digital transformation is high on the agenda for many senior business leaders, yet keeping up with fast-changing technologies is a struggle. Younger digital natives could transfer market insights and productivity hacks upstream to senior leaders through reverse mentorship.

Employers who fail to create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected risk breeding contempt within the workforce. Corporate cultures that address the diverse needs of employees at every stage in their career will reap significant benefits: better employee engagement and loyalty, enhanced productivity and a reduced risk of organisational memory loss when personnel transition out of the company.

Here’s what you can do to prepare your workforce of the future:

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.

A Business Case For Inclusion In Asia

A Business Case For Inclusion In Asia

Many companies in Asia are on the path towards rapid expansion across the region’s highly fragmented market. Unprecedented technological disruption and a shortage of people with skills in creativity and innovation are common headwinds that fast-growing companies face.

According to research from PWC in 2018, over 90% of Singapore business leaders believe a solution lies in talent diversity and inclusion. Yet, Asian norms present a challenge for business leaders and diversity advocates.

While American, Australian and European ideals generally celebrate difference, individuality and heterogeneity; a majority of Asian cultures emphasise the primacy of social harmony and the value of collective action. Diversity & Inclusion: An Asia Perspective, Mercer 2012

The Asian legislative landscape for inclusion does little to help the situation. The region is home to a patchwork of policies and practices:

  • Most Asian countries have policies promoting greater workforce participation of people with disabilities
  • Gender equality and support for working parents are increasingly on the agenda
  • Promotion of multi-generational talent has become an economic necessity in Japan, Singapore and other aging markets.

Yet, policies are often poorly understood and enforcement is generally weak. Furthermore prevailing social stigma often results in LGBT, ethnic minorities and people from other marginalised groups being excluded from the talent pool. Thus inclusion in Asia, or lack thereof, has largely been driven by business imperatives.

When companies in Asia are considering the adoption of inclusive hiring practices, business leaders must be prepared to address three common misconceptions among hiring managers:

  • assumptions that accommodating the needs of women, persons with disabilities and people from other underrepresented groups will yield low return on investment
  • concern that diverse perspectives will negatively disrupt established workplace cultures
  • diversifying talent pools requires employment standards to be lowered.

If you need to convince your hiring managers to make their recruitment processes more inclusive, here are five benefits that companies gain when they are inclusive:

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 Keys For Making Modern Campuses Safer and More Inclusive

The Keys For Making Modern Campuses Safer and More Inclusive

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

In times of crisis, it is expected that Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) express their duty of care in a manner and tone that is in sync with prevailing cultural norms.

Given that our interconnected age is dominated by a 24-hour news cycle, instant messaging and social media, IHLs cannot afford a slow and protracted response to a crisis. Nor is it acceptable to exclude the voices of students – unintentionally or intentionally – in significant decisions affecting campus life.

There is a greater chance that stakeholders will view processes as fair and inclusive when duty bearers include students, staff, academics and the broader community in a consultative, transparent and time bound approach. Mutual agreement between all parties may not be possible all the time. However cynicism decreases when leaders listen to the concerns and needs of all stakeholders with sincerity.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is an excellent example of how higher learning institutions can create a safer, empathetic and productive environment for campus members through an expeditious review process that gives weight to the voices of all stakeholders. Leaders of other academic institutions can take their cue from the speed and manner in which NUS acted in a time of crisis.

By improving the portionality of policies, enhancing support procedures for victims, and empowering employees, NUS is in a better position to manage sexual misconduct more effectively.

Here are three lessons that leaders of higher institutions should consider for their own organisations:

1. NUS improved the proportionality of its sexual misconduct policies through a swift, yet consultative internal review 

Why is this important?

The recommended changes were tabled swiftly after all university stakeholders – including students, staff and faculty – were invited to contribute to a consultative and transparent process. By way of introducing discretionary jurisdiction, the new policy raised the benchmark on sanctions that struck a delicate balance between: a) addressing stakeholders’ concern that sanctions are too lenient; and, b) ensuring equitable proportionality of sanctions.

Catalyse Consulting hopes to see the spirit of proportionality, inclusivity and equity “come alive” in the execution of the policies.

2. NUS enhanced its on-campus support network by training approximately 400 employees to become first responders to sexual misconduct through customised instruction delivered by Catalyse Consulting. 

Why is this important? 

As the first point of contact for a survivor of sexual misconduct, the quality of a first responder conversation with the survivor is significant in three ways.

Firstly, according to research from AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), good first responder conversations contribute to survivor knowing what options for justice are available and feeling in control of the situation. Bad first responder conversations can re-traumatise the survivor and prolong the healing process. 

Secondly, first responders have influence on whether a victim files a formal complaint or report. Whilst seeking a report to be filed should never come at the expense of a victim’s right to choose, what is critical is that a first responder has the necessary skills to support the survivor’s autonomy of choice.. 

Finally, a poorly handled first responder conversation may be construed as a university being dismissive of the victim’s experiences. Therefore a university’s reputation is at significant risk while student-facing staff lack quality first responder training.

Catalyse Consulting hopes that first responder training will be cascaded down to student leaders because fellow students are often the first point of contact for victims.

3. NUS invested in setting up a dedicated Victim Care Unit (VCU) on campus and a separate unit to support offenders.

Why is this important?

In the wake of sexual misconduct victims, offenders and the public have unique and diverse needs. By working with AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, NUS is demonstrating its commitment to providing holistic care and support to survivors throughout their journey of healing. This level of commitment is equally demonstrated for offenders with the establishment of a separate and independent  rehabilitation unit. 

The creation of a VCU at NUS demonstrates an enlightened and progressive approach. Catalyse Consulting hopes to see more universities and other institutes of higher learning in Asia follow NUS’ leadership with dedicated and holistic care and support for victims and offenders.

Upon reflecting on NUS’ journey, Catalyse Consulting urges all leaders of higher learning institutions to consider the following five recommendations:

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.

Managing Professional Boundaries in the Workplace

Managing Professional Boundaries in the Workplace

How do we set healthy boundaries at work?

While we’ve made tremendous progress around gender bias and equality, harassment in the workplace remains a delicate topic in Singapore.

Workplace harassment is any unwelcome conduct that arises from work, which causes harassment, alarm or distress to another person. It can violate a person’s dignity or create an unfavourable work environment for him/her.

In the case of sexual harassment, there is also the taboo associated with talking about sexual assault and victims are often afraid of losing their jobs and a steady source of income.

In more recent years, the statistics from AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, who have been tracking complaints about workplace sexual harassment, confirm that sexual harassment continues to be a problem. It may also be a sign that people are becoming better educated about avenues to report such incidents.

Workplace harassment negatively impacts workplace culture as well. Research shows that it undermines employee morale and can cause productivity to decline.

Managing Professional Boundaries is a sharing session devoted to real conversations about the different forms of harassment at work. In this session participants will learn:

– How to recognize workplace harassment

– How to handle harassment situations and to do so in an assertive yet tactful manner

– How to draw boundaries diplomatically

– Techniques and tips for being an active by-stander.

– What support services are available

It is never too late to start meaningful transformations to your workplace. Come, join us on 19th June!

Speaker: Roslina Chai, Managing Director of Catalyse Consulting