What is diversity? Ask a number of people this question, and you’ll get a number of different answers back.
Now Thomas is focusing on the topic of diversity, various internal perspectives, opinions and voices have arisen, digging up the many equally-important facets of diversity and unique human qualities.
We’ve decided to take the pulse on diversity across the globe and interview some of our international colleagues in Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Africa to get a glimpse of how diversity impacts these Thomas work environments and indeed the wider cultures. These individual perspectives, representing their Thomas cultures, highlight that diversity needs to be addressed in terms of acknowledgement, awareness, dialogue, dynamics, experience, commercial value and, last but by no means least, managing specific challenges that may affect different people and communities.
We interviewed Hein Jan Lapidaire, International Account Manager in Malaysia, Samantha Bloxham, Client Development Consultant in Hong Kong and Caitlin Meyer, Client Development & Support Manager in South Africa for their thoughts on diversity around the world.
So, first thing’s first, how would you define diversity?
Hein Jan: Diversity in the workplace, for me, means including and embracing all differences people can bring to the organisation.
Samantha: Diversity is about variety. In the context of work, it is around cultural diversity for me. This means different people from different cultural backgrounds bringing their experiences and traditions to the workplace.
Hein Jan: Yes – building awareness and using the diversity in age, ethnicity, gender, culture, talent and personality to turn an average company into a world class company.
Caitlin: South Africa is known for its ethnic diversity and with 11 official languages it is often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’. These cultures can be seen as a way of life or a belief system that determines the manner and style of our reality – this is how I would define diversity.
Is it a challenge to promote diversity in your country?
S: Looking at the specific country I live and work in, Hong Kong as a nation is already culturally diverse as it is a mixture of East (Hong Kong and China) and West (English and now French, American and Australian). In Hong Kong, however, there are still divides between the ex-pats and the locals.
HJ: Interesting. Kuala Lumpur, where I live and work in Malaysia as an ex-pat, is a melting pot of different cultures and religions. It strikes me how all these differences work together and learn from each other. For example, a meeting or a training session in Kuala Lumpur is always a variety of different cultures, religions and genders.
S: Our tool Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) enables us to look at the frequencies of lead profile factors across the world. This is some data we recently pulled from profiling thousands of people’s working strengths around the world:
As someone from the UK who has lived in Hong Kong for a long time, I have noticed differences in approaches to work in the UK and Hong Kong through behavioural preferences. So, we dug a bit deeper into the leading factors of participants from these countries:
In practice, this can be interpreted and indicative (not prescriptive) that the UK working population can be more direct and outspoken and that workplaces in Hong Kong place a higher value on context and procedures. Also in my experience, there can still be divides within companies, where non-locals ‘stick together’, so to speak, as do locals. I believe this is not about work behaviours, but more about traditions, similar backgrounds and having a support network.
HJ: I believe that companies will become stronger if they use the diversity of people in the organization. There are many leading global companies which became well-known and commercially successful because of their approach to inclusion and diversity. So, challenges must be faced and overcome!
C: Well, it’s fascinating to note that workforce and cultural diversity have presented unusual problems in organisations as the implementation of the diversity agenda is often received with questions. One of the biggest challenges that organisations may experience is to clarify the term diversity. The topic of cultural diversity in organisations generates highly emotional conversations. Cultural diversity poses challenges in organisations due to differences in individual perceptions and orientations. Understanding and managing diversity has thus become vital as managers need to understand the subtleties in diverse teams of employees. If these challenges of diversity are well-thought-out, organisational productivity will increase, and employees will be more engaged and committed to their organisations.
Do you have any strategies for promoting diversity in your work environment or culture?
HJ: Diversity programs are not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Certain beliefs and customs are so engrained that the view on diversity can differ from country to country or even from company to company.
C: Creating a workplace where different perspectives are valued and embraced. We foster productive business relationships. Whether you’re in a junior role, a manager or director, actively seeking advice, ideas, and expertise from your colleagues improves communication and creates a more inclusive company culture. This inclusive culture, in turn, helps our company to retain diverse talent and makes our workplace an attractive option for globally minded job seekers. We treat every individual how they want to be treated.
HJ: That’s great. I can share a specific example of how we treat others how they want to be treated here in Kuala Lumpur. This city has a large variety of nationalities, religions and cultures. Next to the Malaysian holidays, it is common practice that employees can have their “own” religious public holidays. Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist holidays are all celebrated and the employee can take leave should they wish to. It could possibly be a hassle to organise all these different days in the Western world! In Malaysia, it is an accepted and appreciated difference, and not perceived as an obstacle; it is embraced as cultural diversity.
What are the benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace?
C: I believe that diversity brings in different talents which can increase productivity in a company. This will then spill into more creative opportunities with diverse minds bringing many more solutions. It can also increase workplace engagement if employees feel included and appreciated.
HJ: Organisations in Asia, and specifically in Malaysia, benefit from the cultural diversity in companies. There may be differences in view within teams but the input from different angles makes the company stronger. A culturally diverse team in Malaysia also makes it easier in a commercial sense. When you have a culturally diverse team, you can tap in different groups of society.
C: The best way to promote diversity in your workplace, I think, is by embracing it and working to build an understanding. Getting to know your colleagues on a personal level, regardless of their culture and background, will help you to find common ground, deepen your appreciation of differences, and promote an inclusive and welcoming work environment.
S: It’s great to hear the benefits you’re already experiencing in Malaysia and South Africa. Diversity in the workplace here is necessary for us to understand the local market.
C: Indeed – understanding your clients is important! Diversity not only increases the chances of hiring the best talent, but also has benefits like increased productivity, better problem-solving, improved life skills, improved creativity and better customer service (as we also have diverse clients).
Do you think psychometric assessments enhance diversity?
C: First things first – unconscious bias. Psychometric assessments can increase diversity and inclusivity as they do not have the unconscious biases we as people have.
HJ: Tell us more!
C: Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. This is the phenomena that makes people feel more comfortable with, and naturally drawn to people who are of similar attributes as they are.
S: So, in essence, it is a human tendency to surround oneself with similar people?
C: Yes, exactly that. Psychometric assessments can assist employees to better understand and appreciate the differences between people. By exploring and understanding one’s own psychometric results (e.g. personality traits) it creates an awareness around differences and allows people the opportunity to open their minds to the possibility of what’s on the other side of the scale.