Staff Writer
Jul 22, 2021

Diversity Talks 2021: moving beyond awareness to action

Hosted by Campaign and Essence as part of Women to Watch, Diversity Talks 2021 dives into ‘how do you deal with unconscious bias in the boardroom?’, ‘how should brands avoid tokenism?’ and ‘what makes for a good ally?’

Diversity Talks 2021: moving beyond awareness to action

Once a nice-to-have, diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) has become a must-have in the workplace. 

DEI allows for diverse viewpoints, enabling more creative solutions to problems. It also drives up employment engagement and retention rate, which are vital for business continuity and growth. 

Many would agree that brands, company leaders and employees have a lot to navigate before achieving real DEI. 

It is with the above in mind that Campaign Asia-Pacific teamed up with Essence for Diversity Talks 2021, a 3-panel breakfast event diving into such questions as ‘how do you deal with unconscious bias in the boardroom?’, ‘how should brands avoid tokenism?’ and ‘what makes for a good ally?’


Here are some highlights from the sessions:

Lifting women up the leadership ladder 

In this candid fireside chat, Kyoko Matsushita (Essence), Danielle Jin (Visa), Sze Hunn Yap (Japan Airlines) and Maheen Jatoi (APAC tech leader) dive into challenges female leaders face in the workplace, whether it is balancing roles as a business leader and mother, or battling unconscious bias around how women should behave in the workplace. 

Jin emphasises that leaders need to listen and show their vulnerability. “Don’t portray yourself as an ‘iron woman’. When you are willing to share your own dilemmas and anxieties, [the other party would also want to share theirs].”

Yap finds power in speaking up whenever you feel certain things could be done differently. Meanwhile, Jatoi notes that Covid-19 has exacerbated some of the challenges around women in the workplace. One lesson she has learnt is knowing when to take a step back and ask, ‘how is this affecting my mental health?’ and ‘how is it affecting my priorities?’

Matsushita, speaking from personal experience, encourages women to reach out to their allies, whether it is a colleague or family member, as DEI is never just about one person. 

Allyship: the power of speaking up

In the fight for DEI, allyship is as important as ever - but there are also those who want to take a stance or align with a cause, but are afraid of saying the wrong thing. 

Essence’s T. Gangadhar (Gangs) advises, “as long as the intention is right, that’s all that matters.” 

Sapna Chadha (Google) chimes in, “If you are an ally, it can be as simple as going to someone, [and asking], ‘is this the right way to say it?’”

The rise of ‘cancel culture’ in the past year might also cause overanalysis paralysis, which leads to silence. 

Noting that social media might have played a part in fuelling the damaging aspect of ‘cancel culture’, Chadha advises those who genuinely want to advance inclusivity to “practise it in real life instead of social media”. 

Both Chadha and Gangadhar agree that inclusive thinking needs to be embedded within every stage of the business - not only at marketing. “We need to get to a place where it doesn’t feel like some things are being done to address a particular issue,” says Gangadhar.

Allyship also needs to be an ever-evolving journey, Chadha notes, “When you start becoming an active ally, and you show that [your efforts are] ongoing, you can become an ally to different groups. People need to ask, ‘why do I want to become an ally?’ It shouldn’t be a checkbox exercise. It needs to be based on humility and authenticity.” 

Why intersectionality is key to diversity in the workplace 

Given APAC’s diversity, the region offers fertile ground when it comes to discussions around intersectionality. 

Companies operating in the region need to consider various local complexities and nuances. These could be the language, the vernacular, but also the different challenges facing female employees, for example, in Japan versus Vietnam, says Monica Bhatia (Essence). What does that awareness mean in real life? She shares a personal example. “I remember having a conversation with a business head in Korea, and we were discussing a colleague. He said, ‘I feel he is ready to progress to the next level.’ And I said, ‘When I see him in regional meetings, his ability to bring his point across isn’t very strong.’ At that point, he paused, then said, ‘If you saw him in a meeting in Korean with clients, [you would have] a completely different perception.’ That was a wake-up call for me.” 

The panel also dives into an important question: how should the industry raise awareness of DEI issues without being tokenistic? According to Christopher Khor (filmmaker and human rights advocate), “a good way to ensure [a campaign or initiative] is not tokenism is to include LGBTQ+ people [or other underrepresented groups] in the planning of these campaigns.” 


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