4 Keys To Successfully Improving Workplace Diversity & Inclusion

Data doesn’t lie. Singapore has an international reputation as a bastion of multiculturalism and inclusiveness at work and in the larger society. In spite of this, though, when it comes to diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices, it seems that companies here largely pay lip service to the cause. 

According to the Hays Asia Salary Guide 2019, while 57% of Singaporean companies have D&I policies, only 18% of employers reported that these policies are well-adhered to. 

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This implies that companies here are failing to fully tap on the extensive business benefits that a comprehensive D&I strategy can provide. From employee retention to innovation and a higher bottom line, diverse and inclusive workforces are crucial in helping employees thrive. As such, here are four keys to successfully improving workplace diversity. 

P.S. Make diversity your team’s superpower; sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on managing cross-functional and culturally diverse teams!

 

1. Identify the main problems 

Diversity is such a broad umbrella, but most people tend to associate it with hiring practices immediately. Having a workforce that looks diverse is an easy way of proving that you’ve done your part for workplace diversity.

This, however, is only one small aspect of a superficial view of the problem. It’s essential to have great representation at work, but this in and of itself won’t solve anything. As discussed previously, diversity doesn’t always come with inclusivity. 

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Hence, as a manager, when considering how you’re going to expand and improve diversity initiatives, be focused about the specific problems you’re targeting. Is it a highly visible issue like ethnic homogeneity in particular departments? Or is it a more abstract (yet equally powerful) issue like exclusionary office cultures that alienate women and minorities?

Different problems require different solutions, particularly when it comes to diversity; everyone has different needs depending on their situations. 

 

2. Encourage openness in discussing diversity-related issues

Singaporeans tend to share a general aversion to openly discussing diversity-related issues. This, however, does not mean that local workforces don’t face workplace diversity problems.

For instance, a 2013 IPS survey on race relations found that at least in 6 in 10 Malays and Indians have faced discrimination while job-hunting. In contrast, 60% of Chinese Singaporeans reported that they’d never faced racial discrimination at work. 

In spite of this, topics like race and religion are still considered taboo here. This is counterproductive to building truly inclusive working environments. You can’t expect to deal effectively with any problem if you won’t even look at it in the eye and talk openly about it in the first place.

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To this end, harnessing the power of data can be a particularly potent measure. People might be resistant to addressing workplace diversity issues because they probably don’t see it as a problem. Numbers, however, don’t lie. Another way to do this is by helping people recognise their unconscious biases against women and minorities at work. 

 

3. Choose inclusive leaders

Picking empathetic leaders is critical to scaling an inclusive company culture. In his bestselling book Good To Great, Jim Collins writes that the single most crucial factor determining a company’s long-term success is who was in charge.

Leaders who were egotistical and refused to listen to anyone else’s opinions other than their own were far likelier to be ineffective.

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Conversely, those who prioritised their people’s needs and welcomed feedback did much better. 

In the context of workplace diversity, empathetic leadership is a dealbreaker. These are the people who set the tone for the rest of the team. They define what company culture really looks like daily. Attempting to provide greater inclusivity at work while keeping self-serving and oblivious leaders in place is like running in circles. In the end, you just end up wasting valuable time, energy, and resources. 

 

4. Promote psychological safety

The whole point of having a diverse workforce is to bring as many varied perspectives to the table. Ideation, innovation, and the bottom line all thrive as a result of this. For this to occur, though, people need to feel comfortable expressing their honest opinions at work, regardless of what the majority thinks. 

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For that matter, it won’t be possible to encourage open communication on diversity-related issues at work if your employees feel like they’re going to be alienated for it. Psychological safety is the most critical component of performance, and it’s also absolutely essential in ensuring inclusivity. 

People don’t just need to know that they have a seat at the table. They need to know that when they voice dissenting opinions, their co-workers aren’t going to ridicule them or judged them as incompetent. 

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