Asia diversity

Asian recruitment practices favour harmony over diversity

Diversity matters, but not at the expense of harmony in the workplace, according to a survey of Asian companies by Mercer.
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Maintaining harmony is the main focus of employers in Asia
<div style="text-align: left;"> Maintaining harmony is the main focus of employers in Asia </div>

Most Asian companies are more concerned about inclusion and harmony in the workplace than “celebrating the uniqueness of the individual”, according to recent research. This contrasts with many Western firms, where the focus, during the past 25 years, has been on hiring a greater number of women, ethnic minorities and different generations.

Achieving a balance between different elements among employees to maintain harmony is the primary focus of 355 companies in the region surveyed by Mercer, a global human resource consulting firm.

“How diversity is understood varies widely across the region since the topic is a relatively new one,” said the authors of the report, published this week. “It wasn’t until 2005 that evidence of a real diversity and inclusion agenda among some companies ... began to emerge.” Indeed, “diversity”, both as a term and a practice, “remains unknown in some counties” in the region.

Mercer’s report coincides with an examination of the promotion prospects of women in the banking industry, in our May cover story: “What glass ceiling?”

However, despite the emphasis on harmony, almost three-quarters of respondents to the Mercer survey listed gender as the main focus of their diversity efforts, with 26% of companies prioritising leadership roles for women in 2012. While variety in terms of culture and ethnicity is also important, age barely figures in their planning, and 34% of firms have no diversity strategy at all.

Nevertheless, among those that have failed to keep up with orthodox Western practice, more than half said they “would like to explore or are already looking into establishing a diversity and inclusion strategy”, according to Mercer’s Asia Pacific Diversity & Inclusion Survey.

Yet even these companies offer programmes such as flexible work arrangements (52%) and mentoring (43%), and have family-friendly policies (43%).

This indicates that diversity policies “are gaining a foothold even among companies that don’t label them as such”.

The issue is likely to gain increasing significance. Demographic shifts — ageing populations, more spending power for women and immigration — will have an effect on the makeup of the workforce available in the region and on the customer base it serves. In addition, the mobility of labour among Asian countries is on the rise. According to the research, this trend is having the greatest effect on existing hubs for international talent in Asia such as Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and China.

“A majority of organisations in Asia-Pacific see their diversity strategies as enabling them to better meet the needs of diverse customers. In this sense human resources professionals should leverage their diversity and inclusion strategy to be stronger partners to the business and create an employee base that can help better serve the changing consumer segments,” said Bianca Stringuini, human capital consultant at Mercer.

However, the firm’s research reveals that most companies are missing out on opportunities to use diversity and inclusion to improve their businesses “by linking it to scorecards and leveraging it to enter new markets”. Basically, they are ticking the boxes.

Indeed, many companies in the region lack the commitment from their bosses to support diversity and inclusion efforts. At least half of those surveyed reported that business leaders in their organisations are not actively involved in diversity and inclusion efforts.

Perhaps, most significant changes will be prompted by demographic changes and economic necessity.

As the authors of the report point out, in contrast to the overwhelming force of legal prescriptions in the West, “legislative mandates pertaining to diversity and inclusion are almost non-existent in the countries of Asia-Pacific”.

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