The power of workplace diversity

by Hector Tan (htan@sph.com.sg)
published on 05 July 2016

In an effort to be more profitable in a globalised economy, savvy companies are embracing the concept of having a diverse workforce.

 

But while diversity is about having people of different races and cultures working together, it boils down to people's perception of themselves and others, said Mr Jeffrey Williams, a professional trainer.

 

He said: “These perceptions affect engagement throughout an organisation, in areas such as communication and a business’ adaptability.”

 

Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI), said: “As Singapore moves into its next phase of growth, it is crucial that businesses adapt to the changing demographics of the labour force and tap on the strengths of their employees.

 

“Diversity gives organisations an edge. It fosters innovation and encourages better problem-solving skills, helping businesses to remain nimble and maintain their footing in the market.”

 

Here are some practices employers can adopt to harness the benefits of diversity.

 

1. RETAIN THE RIGHT TALENT

Attract and keep the right talent for your business.

 

Mr Tan said: “Companies should be deliberate with their hiring practices. Employers may need to expand their search beyond traditional hiring sources to ensure that the pool of qualified applicants they are looking at reflect the diversity of the markets that their businesses run in, or the clients they serve.”

 

Ms Lynne Roeder, managing director at Hays Singapore, said that when considering new hires, a business must first look at its processes.

 

She said: “Employers must ask themselves whether their screening processes are limiting the type of personalities they are attracting.

 

Make sure that the resume screening to the interview process are inclusive, and welcome people from various backgrounds and experiences.”

 

To retain the right people, Mr Williams highlighted that companies must meet employees’ needs.

 

He said: “Companies must commit to fair treatment. They must value diversity, and be flexible in ensuring that their employees’ goals are met.”

 

2. SET STANDARDS

Mr Tan said: “Employers should train all employees on standards of behaviour. The biggest mistake employers make is to assume that everyone fits into the culture and knows how to behave. But each individual’s perception of values, ethics and standards of behaviour varies from that of others.”

 

Areas to cover include work performance standards, grooming, discrimination, sexual harassment, work rules, and procedures for queries and problem resolution.

 

All employees must be made aware of the consequences of violating these rules.

 

Mr Tan added: “Heterogeneous groups deliver better solutions and critical analyses, so it’s important to structure and run your company in ways that promote diversity.”

 

3. EDUCATE AND INFORM

Provide diversity training in your workplace. Mr Tan pointed out the importance of ensuring that line managers understand the importance of diversity.

 

He said: “Managers are the ones who will be implementing personnel policies on the ground, so they should be fully committed to supporting the goals of the business.

 

“Create a diversity committee and empower the individuals on this team to develop a statement that is consistent with the company’s strategic goals. Allow them to develop programmes to support diversity.”

 

4. RECOGNISE VALUE

Have a strategy that facilitates a culture of diversity.

 

Mr Tan said: “Celebrate the differences among your employees, and encourage them to let their individuality show. Such initiatives must permeate every department and function of the organisation."

 

Ms Roeder said that employers are encouraging innovation when they recognise the value that individuals bring to a company.

 

She said: “Each employee has his or her own unique way of contributing to a company. It is the responsibility of line managers to know the strengths and weaknesses of their team members, and encourage diversity of thought to maximise employees’ talents. This also improves problem-solving, as people perceive and solve problems differently.”

 

5. FOSTERING HARMONY

A friendly work environment is necessary to maximise the potential of a diverse workforce.

 

“A harmonious working environment is one that has a ‘feel good’ factor. The onus is on employers to create trust, respect and understanding among employees,” said Mr Williams.

 

He also added that management plays the biggest part in ensuring that working relationships among workers are professional.

 

Mr Williams said: “There should be avenues for employees to air their grievances when there are disagreements. Employers must also empathise and appreciate employees’ contributions, and help them move beyond misunderstandings and prejudices.”

 

Harnessing diversity means maximising the potential of every talent in the company for long-term success.

 

Ms Roeder said: “The challenge of tapping on the skills of talented people is not a luxury, but a business imperative. It is one that, if planned and supported well, will reap the value of its investment many times over. This ensures that organisations have access to a sustainable talent pool to draw on.”