HR Conference 2016 - A DIVERSE WORKFORCE

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From left: Mac Ling, Wijnand van Hoeven, Ada Lee, Julian Groves and Paul Choi

By Jennifer Khoo


Championing diversity in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do; it often makes good business sense. Wijnand van Hoeven, Head of Talent Development at Prudential Corp Asia, believes diversity should be viewed as a crucial part of company strategy.

While more women are hired to meet operational needs, they are still severely underrepresented at the board level. At Prudential, for example, nearly 70 percent of the company’s workforce and product salesforce is female, yet there is only 28 percent female representation on the board,” says van Hoeven.

“This is where it goes wrong. Decisions around marketing and branding, strategy, product development, operations etc are made by men, while our customers, our salesforce, and the majority of our staff are female,” he adds.

Implementation

Ada Lee, HR Business Partner at Google Hong Kong, says that unless a company has a diverse workforce, it will be unable to truly meet the needs of a diverse client base. Hence, her organization strives “to create the happiest and healthiest workforce where everyone can be themselves at work every day.”

This includes being aware of unconscious biases that exist in every workplace, and the resulting expectations of employees regarding success. Lee highlights personality differences and suggests a problem-solving approach which incorporates perspectives from a diverse group of people.

This ensures that the values of diversity and openness are instilled throughout the firm, at all levels of the organization, and don’t remain trapped among a small number of people who care.

Practical challenges

Paul Choi, Executive Director, Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, says the issue of workplace diversity in North East Asia, especially in China, will only be taken seriously once it is viewed as a necessity.

“If a hundred percent of a company’s workforce consists of locals, they probably won’t realize the importance of diversity until their client base becomes more international, or at least until part of their workforce becomes more international,” he says.

While it can be difficult to quantify the results of investing in diversity, Choi advises us to think about the long-term benefits, such as better employee retention and a stronger brand, which can also help the company’s recruitment drive, particularly with millennials.

Beyond the workplace

Beyond the workplace, ethnic and cultural diversity also remains a challenge, especially in Hong Kong. Julian Groves, Associate Professor of Social Science Education at HKUST Division of Social Sciences, says that local South Asian children and those from poorer families are starkly underrepresented in local universities.

These children experience considerable difficulties in the local education system compared to their native Chinese-speaking classmates from wealthier backgrounds, and are less likely to finish high school as a result – the basic requirement for admission into university.

Alongside the ethnic and cultural considerations, Groves feels that Hong Kong’s education system should be diverse in many more ways, starting with the acknowledgment that academia isn’t for everyone.

“Academics undertaking study are much more privileged in Hong Kong. In the UK by contrast, vocational courses are given more funding, and privileges are given to kids who don’t make it onto the academic tracks of the national school system,” he explains.

Where it matters

However, van Hoeven advises a degree of caution where discussions about ethnic and cultural diversity are concerned, and to only push for it “where it matters.”

In a corporation with a global presence, people who benefit most from cross cultural opportunities such as international training or temporary overseas postings, are those working in global or regional head offices, where they are required to interact with people from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis.

In a local subsidiary on the other hand, the subject of workplace diversity is somewhat redundant. “There’s nothing wrong with a local running a local company who understands their market best,” he concludes.