Business is more than just profits. Ms Abbott tells us why.
How we do business has changed drastically over the last few decades with the evolution of technology, speed of communication, and increasingly global markets. One change, which is les recognised, is that diverse teams drive positive business outcomes. As Dr Stephen Covey aptly stated: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
Teams that have higher diversity leads to more revenue, as recently demonstrated by a study that showed companies with more diverse management teams earned 38 per cent more revenue 1 than the average company. Diversity in management cannot be achieved just by hiring one or two people who are different from the others, but rather, must be achieved through an appreciation and awareness of diversity at all levels in the organisation.
In order to ensure that we are creating truly diverse and inclusive workplaces, businesses must be conscious of their current structure. With women making up 33 per cent of senior management teams in Singapore 2, many companies still have a long way to go.
As companies look to get started in their efforts—hopefully, many are underway—below are a few observations that we’ve experienced at Puppet. Although, there is no prescriptive path to better diversity, there are ways to be more conscious and areas for teams to start to learn and build from.
How Inclusive Environments Play a Role in Diversity
At Puppet, we have a strong focus on building an inclusive workplace, as diverse teams cannot be achieved or sustained unless individuals feel welcomed, valued for their perspectives and differences, and set up for success.
What do I mean by an inclusive environment? An inclusive environment is one in which there is respect, clear communication, and an understanding of the expectations of behaviour. Each person feels free to express who they are and fully participate in any activities. All individuals should feel that the environment does not tolerate any abuse or harassment.
We’ve created classes that focus on what inclusion means and help staff members understand what unconscious biases exist in themselves and can exist in the workplace. Unconscious biases are within all of us and can play a role in making someone feel less accepted or included. This activity has been eye-opening for many of our employees. A single class is not enough to spur for a more inclusive environment, and we try to be hyper-focused and growth minded in the classes that we offer so folks are continually learning. One key aspect of our learning opportunities is creating space to reinforce and practise what we have learned, as it is so easy for the good intentions from one class to just fade away, if not given time, space, and opportunity to practise new skills, such as ally skills.
We also have a Head of Diversity who has been instrumental in providing guidance on how to bring inclusivity to the office. As a growing company, you should proactively think about when to hire someone (or multiple people depending on your size) with a focus on diversity. It’s easier to start a company with a strong diverse foundation.
The Network Effect
So many leadership positions at companies are filled by word of mouth and without having diversity at the top, networks become much more limited. This case was tested at Puppet when we were hiring for our new chief executive officer (CEO). The board was grappling with who to hire when one of the board members (a female) brought up Ms Yvonne Wassenaar, who then become our current CEO. Without this board member’s network, it is likely that Ms Wassenaar’s name would not have been brought up.
Leaders should take the initiative to network with people that don’t hold the same background traditionally as them, and boards should be sure to look to add more diversity as this can help expand your candidate networks tremendously.
Finding and Retaining Talent
It is essential that when new talent comes in, the uniqueness that they bring to the table is valued, welcomed, and expected. In Puppet’s onboarding programme, we make sure to help new employees understand the resources we have to help support and celebrate diversity, along with sharing opportunities for individuals to get involved throughout the company. We also invite all new employees to share an interesting fact about themselves as they are introduced; this tradition has been with us in various forms from the very start of the company and allows Puppet to celebrate what makes each new employee unique.
Additionally, leaders must be enabled and held accountable for driving a diverse and inclusive workforce and team. This is not limited to just hiring, but also in addressing the opportunity gaps that often exist for women and minorities—by being conscious of giving projects,
promotions, speaking opportunities, and other coveted assignments to all individuals on the team instead of to just those who look or think like the leaders.
To drive better outcomes and be a leader in their industry, businesses must focus on diversity and inclusivity of talent as they build their teams and strategies. Key initiatives and groundwork can be through your people-focussed practices and human resources team, as starting with outreach to candidates and the community, setting accountability and expectations for leadership, and providing learning opportunities all set a foundation for an inclusive environment.
Ultimately, a diverse team contributes to the economic sustainability of a company and creates not just a moral high ground, but also financial gains for the company and societal improvements for the markets, industries, and communities in which such businesses exist. While most skills can be learned in a classroom or on a job, it is, ultimately, the willingness to cooperate with people with differing ideas and learning how to communicate across differences that are key to getting teams to come to the “best” solution to any problem.
Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management