How SME’s Can Implement a Diversity and Inclusion Programme

8 Minutes

Diversity & Inclusion is, without doubt, one of the most important HR subjects of 2020. ...

Diversity & Inclusion is, without doubt, one of the most important HR subjects of 2020. For SMEs there is often a feeling of not being able to implement these types of programmes whether it be due to a lack of resources or know-how – this, however, doesn’t have to be the case. I recently sat down with Sakshi Kumar from Community Business who is the Programme and Content Manager for the Diversity & Inclusion in Asia Network to talk about how SMEs can break barriers and build inclusive, equitable workplaces across APAC.

If you are not familiar with Community Business they were founded in 2003, are based in Hong Kong, and work with companies of all sizes and in diverse industries across Asia, harnessing the power of business to drive social change Can you tell us a little more about Community Business? We are a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to lead, inspire and support companies to have a positive impact on people and communities. We seek to advance responsible and inclusive business practices in Asia, and our work addresses these four focus areas. Building Responsible Leadership Tackling Workplace Inequality Ensuring Employee Well-being Promoting Social Inclusion We are best known for our work in tackling workplace inequality, through our Diversity and Inclusion in Asia Network (DIAN), first set up in 2008.

Community Business brings companies together through our networks and events to raise awareness and facilitate learning on issues relating to responsible and inclusive business practices in Asia. Our work is grounded in research and examines the dynamics of different markets across Asia. We also offer to consult and train to help companies drive their D&I and Employee Wellbeing strategies forward in the region. What advice would you give to a company that wants to get a D&I programme off the ground – it's a big task, where would be the best place to start? There are a few components that have developed a winning formula for D&I programming - data collection, setting objectives, training, communication and measurement of outcomes. The foundational work of collecting data on workforce diversity is critical to identifying areas or trends that may raise concerns and informs the objectives set for a D&I programme.

Companies must ascertain whether there are significantly underrepresented or under-supported groups in the organisation compared to the industry and location average. From there, companies can set specific goals to address these gaps by increasing representation or introducing comprehensive benefits. With a lack of clear objectives and focus areas (gender, LGBT+, disability, etc.) implementation becomes challenging. To step out with well-intentioned yet loosely outlined goals that are too broad can result in overstretched resourcing and alienated employees. The insights you gather by looking at diversity data reveal the pulse of your organisation, the pain points in your business processes and functions or places with the most significant room for improvement in terms of diversity and inclusion work. Data points are irrefutable and help highlight the need to rework policies, practices and workplace culture.

As we know, having buy-in for D&I programmes is crucial to their success. Hence start with the data, leverage this to set parameters for change and use it as a tool to table conversations and influence key stakeholders. What is likely to be the biggest hurdle you are going to encounter with a D&I implementation? Indifference: "This is not relevant for us", "This is not a priority, right now", "I am too busy driving results", "Diversity & Inclusion is not relevant in Asia". Such attitudes tend to leave D&I trailing behind on a company's list of priorities. Lack of empathy can lead some members to treat it as a tick-box exercise, blunting the impact of the D&I programme. While implementing D&I might take place in terms of running programmes, a lack of buy-in from leadership and people managers cripples the success of the implementation. Let's consider the opposite scenario that can present an interesting hurdle, where employees are excited about the programmes and, to get the conversation going, the company is showcasing passionate voices and stories. While this can be effective to drum up enthusiasm and raising awareness, implementation also needs meticulous and consistent execution as any other organisational change. The challenge here is about striking a balance between highlighting experiences and the desire for allies to "do good" by setting up guardrails around what this means for implementation. How do you get the entire company – particularly the leadership team—on board with diversity and inclusion initiatives? This speaks to the training and communication components of the foundational steps in setting up a D&I programme we talked about earlier.

A first step can be to identify the key stakeholders within the leadership team you need buy-in from - the people who will be your allies and those that are likely to object. Especially in Asian workplaces, where maintaining hierarchy is an unspoken yet understood social norm, you can pivot this to utilise the influence leaders have in the workplace. Here are a few things to consider: Identify leaders and influencers who show interest in volunteering to drive change. Engage them strategically, some leaders may be great at storytelling to highlight the human aspect, and some might be better in the role of a sponsor. It is important not to lose sight of the silent allies who can influence policies and workplace culture behind the scenes. Share a road map - discuss if you want to share your findings on diversity data with your employees to facilitate an understanding of why this is important and the change these programmes hope to achieve. Clarify your goals and communicate this often to share the benefits of creating an inclusive workplace. Everybody benefits from inclusion and belonging, not just underrepresented groups. Respect their journey and perspective.

D&I is an evolving concept, and while as supporters, we operate from optimistic assumptions, not everyone is educated and aware of D&I principles. Remain regular with the programmes and make time for one-on-one conversations with leadership. Some D&I practitioners have found it helpful to approach this with the perspective of helping leaders enhance their leadership capabilities. Benchmarking company data and highlighting the differences internally versus industry averages can be beneficial as well. Offer training - we must appreciate that on this journey to inclusion, we're asking people to challenge their existing thoughts, and biases and change their behaviour. We need to provide people with information and education to get them on board. When looking at D&I content to share with employees, perhaps, think in terms of habits that need changing and not just information that needs to be shared. Once a programme has been implemented, how do you ensure it grows & people stay engaged? Make diversity and inclusion visible throughout your organisation. Ensure that your commitment to D&I is reflected in your company code of conduct and make it part of your onboarding process.

Support D&I activities and initiatives outside the company, and in the communities, you work with. Make inclusion an integral part of other training. Link it closely with other business processes, for example, add a component of unconscious bias awareness in performance management training, and offer cultural acumen and vocabulary training to your front-line or customer-facing staff. Identify the high-risk areas to start with as this will meet a need from the employee perspective and may even make the case to get continued support from leadership. Make small additions. Getting started is perhaps one of the biggest tasks from a risk perspective. You can then think about piloting other similar programmes or making smaller additions. Here are some other ideas you can consider to get started - Measure outcomes and review feedback to strengthen the programmes. The volatility and complexity of the current business environment call for an adaptable and flexible plan.

The key to sustaining momentum and keeping people engaged is to identify micro-challenges and ways to upskill your workforce to meet them. What are the unique D&I challenges in markets like Hong Kong & Singapore? The D&I landscape in Hong Kong and Singapore has developed in promising ways. Hong Kong has seen remarkable progress with LGBT+ inclusion, whereas this remains a contentious issue in Singapore, where there is no clarity around how employees and society should address LGBT issues, given the government’s opposition. On the other hand, Singapore seems to have fared better in promoting the inclusion of women in the workplace. While (at home) women are expected to be the primary caregiver, the government has launched many gender-neutral policies to support a family-friendly environment. Women are well-represented in the workplace but lack representation at senior levels which also appears to be a challenge in Hong Kong. These markets are considered international hubs for the APAC region, bringing together diverse talent from across the globe.

Despite this, there is still room for improvement when it comes to creating inclusion for people belonging to various ethnic and religious groups. In Singapore, racial discrimination is less severe compared to other Asian markets but remains an issue in some instances. Specific to Hong Kong, we see a lack of integration between ethnic minorities and other cultural groups. Still, there has been a growing interest in social inclusion for ethnic minorities since the pro-democracy movement that emerged in 2019. As for people with disabilities, a group that we find is often overlooked across the different markets. Given the segregation of people with disabilities from the general workforce, there is a lack of access to mainstream workplaces and career choices. The challenge with driving disability inclusion is related to the lack of barrier-free environments, and bias against people with disabilities and their capabilities to perform.

If you are an SME who is looking for a partner to help transform your business into a more diverse & inclusive workplace please get in touch with Sakshi Kumar at If you are looking to staff your D&I team/ keen to understand more about D&I candidates available in the market please get in touch with me on LinkedIn or at