Diversity in Motion — Levelling the Workplace Playing Field

Achieving equality in the workplace isn’t as difficult as we think. Here, we explore the importance of diversity, and take a look at how pioneers like GIC and Accenture are paving the way for greater acceptance.

Singapore is known for many things — being a garden city, a global financial centre, one of the safest countries in the world, and of course, having a diverse local and international community. Though this lends a vibrancy to our Singapore society, there’s always room for improvement in terms of diversity and equity, and work-places are now acknowledging this.

Known as Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) in the corporate sector, many companies are now taking active steps to make the workplace a more inclusive one by setting up dedicated teams or programmes to tackle workplace inequality. In Singapore, GIC in Capital Tower and Accenture at Raffles City Tower are some of the companies that have consistently been championing diversity and equity with comprehensive DE&I policies and programmes in place.

Here, we take a leaf out of their books and take a look at some of the ways in which we can create more inclusive workplaces.

In a 2021 survey conducted by Indeed among 1200 members of the Singapore workforce, 76% of respondents consider DE&I policies an important factor in creating a good work environment.

Look Beyond The Numbers

Under Singapore’s Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), there are anti-discriminatory hiring guidelines in place that state that employees should be recruited on the basis of merit, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability. On top of that, most, if not all companies, would have their own set of diversity policies to adhere to, but true inclusivity goes beyond just hiring for the numbers.

Known for having strong DE&I policies in place across their global offices, GIC kickstarted a new programme in 2019 and extended equal workplace opportunities to students with disabilities by offering them internships with the company. Jonathan Tiong was one of three interns hired that year in the inaugural run of the GIC Enable Programme (GEP). After graduating in 2021, Jonathan was hired full-time by GIC, and is now an Employee Engagement Executive in the firm. A total of ten students with disabilities have completed their internships at GIC under the GEP.

Despite only being with the company for about a year, GIC tapped on Jonathan’s skills and challenged him by tasking him to write the “Our People, Culture, And Community" chapter in GIC’s annual report for 2021-22.

“Having ticked the box for hiring a disabled person, my bosses could easily have shunted me into some safe, boring, dead-end job. Instead, they entrusted me with a big responsibility — the same kind given to a healthy employee,” Jonathan tells us.

It’s always nice to be able to forge strong friendships in the workplace — Jonathan considers his teammate Mandes one of his besties both in and out of the office. Image courtesy of GIC.
Apart from condemning any form of harassment, discrimination, or inappropriate behaviour, Accenture also has a zero tolerance policy for retaliation.

Learn To Listen And Communicate

One challenge that many employers face in their journey towards inclusivity would be listening to the needs of employees. In the same way that staff look to leaders to solve problems, employers should also look to employees to better understand their evolving needs, and how they can help create a safer, more comfortable working environment for the team.

In Accenture, employees are encouraged to raise encounters of inappropriate behaviour or discrimination in the workplace through Human Resources, the Legal team, or the Accenture Business Ethics Helpline. While investigations into such claims are carried out, Accenture supports staff through their 24/7 Employee Assistance Programme, where individuals facing trauma or stress from the reporting process can connect with trained professionals and resources that can help.

Of course, diversity is a very complex issue, and there is always more that can be done on the road towards inclusivity and equity. It involves constant learning and relearning, and flexibility to deal with whatever new challenges may come.

As Jonathan puts it, there is a “precious balance between ensuring that all employees, whether disabled or a minority, feel like a part of the team, and respecting any limitations that their disability or circumstances may place on them, and not making them feel pressured to do things they are uncomfortable with”.

That said, it is a collective effort between both employers and employees, so learning to be open and honest about our struggles, whether it’s about feeling discriminated or about not knowing what steps to take to address inequality, is an important step forward.

Invest In People

Another big factor that might deter employers from ramping up inclusivity in the workplace would be the costs involved in the process. For instance, upskilling older workers who might not be as adaptable with new technology as younger workers are could cost quite a bit of money, especially for companies with a large pool of inter-generational employees. However, levelling the playing field in this way allows all employees an equal opportunity to grow and take on new responsibilities at work, and closes the gap between employees of different age groups.

As daunting as the costs may seem, the payoffs are always worth it in the long run. In fact, Jonathan shares that the Singapore government is now quite good at helping individuals and businesses defray these expenses through grants, like the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit for developing the capabilities of employees, or the Job Redesign Grant to support the redesigning of jobs for disabled employees.

“Oftentimes, the major obstacle to inclusion is not cost, but the mindset shift required to do things differently,” Jonathan says. “Killing some sacred cows might be necessary in accommodating the disabled and minorities, and therein lies the challenge, but managers and teams which can overcome it will be well on their way on their DE&I journey.”

Jonathan and his colleague, Slyvia, chat about work, life, and everything in between. Image courtesy of GIC.

At the end of the day, DE&I is a long but necessary journey. As the landscape of work environments and the needs of employees, minority or not, continue to evolve, so will the measures taken to improve diversity in the workplace. The best thing that we can do is to keep an open mind, learn from each other, and find what suits us best, whether as an employee looking for the right company or team, or an employer looking to create a safe space for all.

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