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Diversity & Inclusion – Are attitudes shifting in the Asian workplace?

Richard Letcher, Managing Director of Profile Search & Selection, discusses the importance of Diversity & Inclusion and the shifting attitudes in workplaces across Asia.

 

The last three years showed an unprecedented change in attitudes in the West towards Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. The way men view women in an office environment changed almost overnight when allegations were brought against Harvey Weinstein in late 2017, a story that opened floodgates to accusations against many men, and started the #MeToo campaign.

In addition to this, the BBC salaries scandal last year exposed the gender pay gap within many organisations. Men have now been forced to re-examine their attitudes to women at work with an accompanying rise in levels of self-awareness. 

 

Attitudes toward LGBT men and women in the workplace have also changed as several countries have legalised same sex marriage. As governments move forward, CEOs in the region have undoubtedly been thinking, ‘Perhaps I need to change my perception of the LGBT community’. 

 

But in what way are attitudes regarding D&I in the workplace changing in Asia? 

 

Now in its fourth year, our ‘Working in Asia Pacific: Key HR and Leadership Priorities’ survey attempted to answer this question, among others. In the latest version, close to 3,000 people filled in the survey with the majority of respondents based in Hong Kong, Singapore, China or Australia. 84% of respondents were Managers through to Board Directors, and D&I was just one of many Human Resources and Talent-related topics covered. The survey was done in conjunction with Roffey Park, a leading UK headquartered leadership consulting firm, and The Next Step, a specialist Australian HR recruitment firm.

 

Among many questions posed by the survey, we asked respondents if their organisation is accepting of difference (as “related to gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability and age”), a question we also asked in the 2017 and 2018 editions of the survey. 

 

The results, as seen below, show a marked change in the perception of employees that their organisations are indeed more accepting of difference.
 

Infographic 1: Percentage of respondents who indicated ‘agree’ that organisations are more accepting of difference


Infographic 1: Percentage of respondents who indicated ‘agree’ that organisations are more accepting of difference
 

Singapore and, for the most part, Hong Kong have seen a large improvement since 2017. Even more positive are the results for Australia, with 90% of respondents agreeing their company is accepting of difference. Australia was not part of the survey in 2017 and 2018, so we only have data for the current year.

 

China appears to have gone backwards. This might be partly explained by the fact that 2017 and 2018 respondent numbers were not materially large, with 2019 being far more so. As such, the results for 2019 might be a more realistic view given the larger respondent size. 

But what about diversity when it comes to actually recruiting and retaining talent, and also the perception of employees when it comes to diversity in their organisation’s senior leadership team?

 

The following infographics from the last three years of survey data point to the fact that more needs to be done when it comes to D&I in the workplace. 

 

Infographic 2: Percentage of respondents who indicated ‘agree’ that organisations are more accepting of difference when it comes to talent acquisition and retention


Infographic 2: Percentage of respondents who indicated ‘agree’ that organisations are more accepting of difference when it comes to talent acquisition and retention
 

​Infographic 3: Percentage of respondents who indicated ‘agree’ there is sufficient diversity in the senior leadership team in their organisation


​Infographic 3: Percentage of respondents who indicated ‘agree’ there is sufficient diversity in the senior leadership team in their organisation

 

Although the numbers have improved over the past two years in terms of attracting and retaining talent from diverse backgrounds, there seems to be a lot of talking the talk without walking the walk. This is evident in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, given both the percentages and the percentage increases between 2017 and 2019 are lower than those seen in infographic 1. Digging a bit deeper with this question, it appears that perhaps the initial perception that many organisations are accepting of difference might be hiding a slightly less rosy reality.

 

Diversity in senior leadership teams (infographic 3) shows even lower percentages. Change will take time; however, the changes highlighted in the first two charts provide hope that bringing D&I into the boardroom is an achievable result in the mid-term. With potential generational differences in attitudes towards gender, LGBT, disability and ethnicity, there is hope these changes might accelerate over the next few years as Generation Y become a greater proportion of the workforce.

 

We have been very fortunate to capture this snapshot of people’s views on D&I within the Asian workplace over the last three years, a period in which there has been a lot of change in views globally. The long and short of it is that things are changing for the better in Asia, but there are still some whose attitudes and perceptions need to evolve.

Author

Richard Letcher, Managing Director, Profile Search & Selection

Date

July 2019

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