Equality is one of the defining issues of the 21st century, but what does it take to have a diverse workplace in 2019?
More than just a balance of genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, many would agree that diversity is about stripping away bias to give equal access across the company funnel.
And yet, the path to achieving that isn’t always so clear-cut.
With companies across Asia seeking to develop greater diversity in their workforces, thought leaders in the business and agency world came together to discuss how they can work towards that goal at a roundtable hosted by Salesforce and Campaign Asia called the “Championing Change in the Age of Equality.”
Equal, but not yet inclusive
A startling statistic that framed the discussion came from The World Economic Forum’s latest research into pay parity. The Global Gender Report found that it will take 127 years to achieve pay parity.
This statistic resonated with Salesforce, one of the companies around the table aiming to close that gap. Cecily Ng, vice president of enterprise sales at Salesforce detailed how the company has taken active measures to ensure equality stays top of mind. For example, the CEO of Salesforce has supported an annual, company-wide study using data to fix issues with pay parity. ‘’When we find unexplained differences, we actually equalize it.’
Lucy Eadle, associate director of marketing at GSK, says her company has seen thinning out of gender equality at the senior level. To combat that, GSK puts women leaders into year-long workshops and coaching programmes “to make sure we can push that next level through the funnel,” she said. “Promotions are happening, we’re starting to equalise on a global level.”
So has Rebecca Ang Lee, chief marketing officer at MSIG. “We can definitely do a lot better, but we are quite equal in the sense that we really look at what the individual has done, not just their accolades or degrees,” she said.
Simply putting women in VP or C-suite positions doesn’t equal a diverse workforce, however. “How do you create inclusiveness irrespective of diversity?” wondered Leigh Terry, CEO APAC of IPG Mediabrands. “We’ve got phenomenal female leadership in Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. The devil is in the details, though. Equality to me is about balance and fairness.”
Amit Dasgupta, Adidas’ vice president of brand for Southeast Asia and Pacific, thinks transparent data can help adjust corporate decision-making. More important, he added, is taking progressive action to develop a kind of inclusivity that doesn’t feel empty. “We decided that we are going to pay women’s [football and rugby] teams the same as the men’s for winning the World Cup,” he noted, remarking that the measure was both overdue and lauded by men and women company-wide.
Reframing the way we hire and communicate
Diversity, of course, is not just a matter of gender. Lynn Huang, regional CMO at Honeywell, said that her company has emphasised the importance of nurturing a global mindset. “We realised it’s more important to have different opinions, employees that can represent many groups of customers and bring those insights into the meeting room,” she said. “We want a more inclusive, collaborative decision-making process that takes in different opinions not just because you’re a man or woman.”
Kevin Zhang, chief human resources officer in APAC for Havas Group, agreed. “It’s about the quality and qualification of the person. It’s not about their gender or ethnic background,” he said. “We have a lot of training programmes for our managers and women's leadership programmes so that women can say, ‘hey, I’m ready for the next role.’”
Jacqui Barratt, CEO of Salt, expanded on the idea, suggesting that blind CVs might remove hiring bias. “We’re not focused on the real competencies. You can come across someone with 10 years of experience, and all they’ve done is repeated one year ten times. We have to change the way we look at someone, because this is where the gender gap will never get closed from a pay perspective.”
According to Vivian Pan, vice president and head of marketing for Southeast Asia at Visa, companies like hers have started to make those changes. “We’re really willing to listen to what our current employees think about the company and where they see gaps in opportunities.” That information then influences the way the company hires for the future.
“It’s a constant challenge to have situational awareness and be open to different opinions. There are always stronger performers, but even lesser performing staff can have great ideas,” added Zhang. “It’s how you walk the talk. That’s not easy.”
Avoiding tokenisms and inclusive marketing
Valuing diversity can ripple down the funnel, too. In media, a diversity of thoughts doesn’t just create balance in the news you report, said Elsie Chueng, COO of the South China Morning Post (SCMP). “Our vision is to elevate thought [through diversity]. If you have that purpose in mind, it affects everything you do, including hiring, training, and the way you collaborate,” she said. And the brand’s workforce offers proof of that statement: SCMP has 50 percent gender equality, even at the executive level, while the seven editors in the newsroom represent seven different nationalities.
The same could said about the power of diversity in sports. “It might take 20 years to filter through,” said Terry, “but you need symbols,” like paying women World Cup winners the same as men. But symbols can’t be shallow gestures toward diversity, either.
“It goes back to how communication is created. Advertising should be a reflection of what the world is about, not a matter of tokenism,” added Dasgupta. He referenced celebratory days like International Women’s Day, for example, wondering, “what happens during the other 364 days?”
That tokenism occurs when clients box themselves in creatively, said Wendy Walker, senior director of marketing in APAC for Salesforce. “Sometimes agencies are the ones pushing for diversity in their creative process but the client resists. They don’t want to be too brave or take risks for fear of how it might look.”
Salesforce has tackled this issue head on with a set of guiding principles that support their content creators and marketers on creating equal content -- inclusive marketing. It’s a serious undertaking for the company, with every single marketer having undertaken mandatory training in inclusive marketing principles. The goal is that everyone, from junior marketers to C-suites, will have the confidence in speaking up and challenging something that does not embrace the values the company wants to live by.
Companies like SCMP are also working to break the mould, by making sure that the panels the company host at events can’t be men-only. Cheung’s comment wrapped things up nicely. “If you don’t start the movement, it will not happen.”