Celebrating differences that make a difference

Hannah Dobies
By Hannah Dobies | 14 March 2022
Hannah Dobies.

By Hannah Dobies, DE&I & Culture Manager, APAC, Media.Monks

The past two years may have left many executives pondering what the workforce of the future will look like. There have been several ideas and predictions: digital upskilling and dexterity will outweigh tenure and experience, smart machines will be more common, and more employees will want to make a meaningful social impact with their work.

Whether these predictions become a reality or not, one thing that is certain is that diversity in the workplace will become increasingly necessary as technology narrows the gap between geographies. It will become a significant driver in company culture and will fuel business growth and success. This is because fostering a place for great social relations among employees—who may differ across religions, age, race, academic, ethnicity, gender, sexual identities, physical and mental abilities, and more—and removing all barriers of participation and contribution positively influences teamwork and promotes healthy competition. On a granular level, it makes a person feel included, heard, and consequently, have a greater sense of belonging.

Why It Matters

Diversity of thought means more different viewpoints are available. When these viewpoints come together, it can bring about greater innovation and thus, better business outcomes. Just like how no single ingredient can make a great broth, different minds hold the pieces to the whole puzzle.

In a 2018 research paper by McKinsey, it was reported that companies with a higher percentage of gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. Also, top-level teams that were more culturally or ethnically diverse were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.

Conversely, it was found that companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability. In short, these companies were lagging. Hence, the stakes are high for companies to build and foster a culture of diversity.

When a company's culture is an open one, the exchange of multiple perspectives leads to better understanding of one another among employees. But that’s not all: in the APAC region where many clients and partners are cross-regional, understanding cultural differences makes a difference towards better relationships. This is where the social goals of avoiding discrimination in the workplace blends with economic goals—opening up new markets, reaching new audiences as well as increasing positive sentiment with a good diversity reputation.

However, there are industry-specific instances where diverse views matter more, as our APAC Marketing Director Shashwith Uthappa notes. “I believe that while diverse perspectives are great, it needs context,” she says. “Whether at the pitch stage or project stage, some products may require certain sensitivities or experiences while some might not. But the stage at which I think diversity of thought is most needed is during brainstorming. Tapping into identity-related knowledge and experiences can and do make a difference.”

With all these benefits, making diversity an integral business priority is a no-brainer. Buy-in from top management should be easy, but managers should lead the way and consciously incorporate DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) values at every possible opportunity. For companies starting out on their DE&I journey, here are some initiatives I’d recommend.

Start From Within

While top-level executives take charge in outlining a strategy, everyone in the company has a duty to keep their minds open and show empathy. Learning to recognise unconscious biases and educate oneself around the sensitivities can affect how an employee works with others. Companies can give employees a foot up by organising training on unconscious bias, cultural sensitivities and customs, with yearly refresher sessions.

My colleague Moy Yu, Strategist at Media.Monks, says: “A sense of belonging is something we need to work towards, irrespective of how long a person works in a company. As human bias does play a part in creating the bubble, big or small, sharing knowledge of this helps people to understand diversity on a granular level. The more we encourage this sharing, the better it is for the creative business. As a trans person, Media.Monks offers me a safe space to be who I am. Understanding sexual minorities is still a constant work-in-progress but a good starting point for anyone is simply a willingness to listen.”

Encourage Grassroots Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are voluntary employee-led groups, can propel the objective of building a diverse and inclusive workplace that is aligned with the company even further. Create an environment that encourages employees to seize opportunities they see to better the culture or industry by pledging support and celebrating and amplifying these groups and causes within the workplace.

For example, our WoMMen in Tech ERG, which is focused on building a tight-knit network of support for women both internally and externally, launched the Empathy Experiment. The immersive platform invites users to roleplay through tough conversations, building empathy in the process.

Be Committed

Consider creating a dedicated job role to help your company focus on achieving goals set in targeted DE&I areas. With a dedicated staff tied with KPIs to carry out initiatives, there is less likelihood that efforts wither off when another employee is loaded with the extra responsibility to do so. For instance, my role in Media.Monks was created late last year to bring about a balance in gender distribution among roles and ranks. And recently, we had James Nicholas Kinney join us as Global Chief Diversity Officer, where he will be leading the charge in building a culture of inclusion at Media.Monks, growing our ERGs and overseeing recruitment efforts, among other things DE&I-related.

In addition, becoming a member of and supporting external DE&I-focused organisations can help a company keep up the momentum on objectives and encourage exchange of ideas in this area. For example, our team in Australia and New Zealand has been great supporters ofCode Like a Girl, a community of women coders who seek to empower women and girls with the confidence, tools, knowledge and support needed to enter and flourish in the world of coding.

Conscious Recruitment

Reviewing current workplace composition gives a good overview when planning out a DE&I strategy and setting objectives for the year. Work with your recruiting team to ensure best practices are followed in relation to attracting diverse talent, such as attracting underrepresented groups to address disparities with respect to gender and representation. When done right and with the full backing of top management, this can lead to something more powerful. "When leadership, HR, Talent and DE&I come together for conscious recruitment, organisational transformation is possible," says Kinney.

While hiring in relation to diverse specifications is not always possible, at least make the process a fair one. Our Executive Creative Director Joao Flores shares, “It's the differences that make us powerful. We don’t take shortcuts in our recruiting process; we don’t miss even one candidate for consideration. We empower all our creative leads in the hiring process, who review candidates on a weekly basis and make the hiring recommendations.”

For companies like Media.Monks, recruitment is the best lever towards impacting DE&I objectives. For our integration into a unitary brand last year, putting people first had been pivotal in building a single, multidisciplinary and diverse team. This has allowed us to unlock transformative new outcomes for the brands we work with, resulting in tremendous growth in the past year for ourselves and our partners.

Understand Diversity Is for Everyone

For me, diversity and inclusivity should have a symbiotic relationship; you can have a diverse workplace, but if nothing is in place to acknowledge and embrace this diversity, then the strategy will fail and employees will leave the company.

“Inclusion is an intentional action that creates a space that makes you comfortable to express your thoughts,” adds Uthappa. “However, inclusion is the job of every person in the organisation. It should be ingrained in the culture. After all, everyone wants to be in a space where they are celebrated, not tolerated,”

Cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce is a continuous journey that takes purposeful actions, but the rewards are more than tenfold. As your company becomes more experienced in this journey, it becomes easier to get DE&I initiatives attuned with business objectives.

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