The importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at work
DBS was named to the 2023 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) in 2023 for the sixth consecutive year. Photo: DBS
A diverse and inclusive work environment establishes a sense of belonging among employees. Read more about the importance, benefits, and challenges!
Be it attracting the best talent or producing their best work, companies have long been aware of the benefits of diversity at work. Employers who discriminate based on factors such as ethnicity, culture, gender, for instance, limit their own talent pool, while possibly damaging their corporate image.
It is therefore crucial for companies to embrace diversity in the workplace, and the principles of gender equity.
What is diversity & inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are concepts that focus on creating an environment where individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are respected, valued, and included.
Diversity refers to the presence of a wide range of human characteristics, such as, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, physical abilities, religious beliefs and more. It recognises and celebrates the unique qualities and differences that individuals bring to a group or organisation.
Diversity in the workplace encourages respectful communication, such that differing viewpoints become a strength rather than a drawback.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is about ensuring that all individuals feel welcomed, accepted, and empowered within a given setting. It involves creating a culture and practices that actively involve and engage people from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to contribute and thrive. Inclusion goes beyond mere representation and focuses on providing equal opportunities, equitable treatment, and fostering a sense of belonging for all.
True diversity and inclusion practices go beyond simple anti-discriminatory practices. They should be deeply rooted and form the basis of the working environment In offices.
Some examples of diversity and inclusion are:
- Gender diversity, in which people of different genders are equally valued, and employers avoid skewed demographics (e.g., management teams where every member is of the same gender).
- Cultural diversity, in which the workplace aims to mix people of different creeds, languages, and customs.
- Background diversity, where members of the workforce can come from different educational, wealth, or professional backgrounds.
In addition to diversity and inclusion, there is also equity.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is an expanded and more comprehensive approach that builds upon the concepts of diversity and inclusion.
While diversity and inclusion focus on recognising and valuing differences and creating an inclusive environment, DEI incorporates an additional emphasis on equity.
Equity recognises that not all individuals have equal access to opportunities and resources due to systemic barriers and historical disadvantages. It focuses on addressing these disparities and ensuring fair treatment, access, and outcomes for all individuals.
At DBS, given the diversity of our global workforce, we are intentional about providing equitable opportunities and building an inclusive culture where all employees are treated with dignity and respected, cared for and valued.
We outline our approach to diversity, equity and inclusion here, with commitments to pay equity, supporting women in tech, diverse representation in leadership, and more.
For instance, women comprise about half of DBS’ workforce, 40% of the senior management and drive the largest businesses and functions across the bank. At Group Management Committee and Board level, women make up 29% and 20% respectively. As of 2022, DBS has been included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for the sixth consecutive year.
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace: benefits and challenges
The benefits of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion include:
- Growth and retention of the employee talent pool
- Better insight into various customer demographics
- Foster innovation and paradigm shifts
- Sensitivity toward messages or images that can be misconstrued
1. Growth and retention of the employee talent pool
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is not only important for creating a sense of belonging and retaining employees, but it also has significant implications for talent attraction. As word spreads of a positive office environment, a company is likely to be the first port of call for upcoming new talent.
Studies have highlighted the positive impact of diversity, equity and inclusion on employee satisfaction, productivity, and overall organisational performance.
On the flip side, employees who don’t feel inclusion in the workplace are more likely to leave, resulting in a high turnover rate. This leads to, for instance, additional cost in time and money for Human Resources (HR) to locate new hires and retrain them.
In the current era, social media and job search services, such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor, also allow employees to comment on diversity at work – or the lack thereof. Constant negative remarks will further inhibit HR’s ability to recruit effectively, and impact people’s perception of a company.
2. Better insight into various customer demographics
By embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, companies gain access to a wider range of perspectives and experiences. This, in turn, enables teams to generate deeper insights into consumer needs, resulting in more effective strategies and improved customer satisfaction.
An example of this in the finance industry: employees from different socioeconomic backgrounds can better understand how financial goals – and philosophies of money management – differ based on experience. For instance, customers from different age groups have different investment horizons, and hence, will also require different financial services.
In another example, companies that are seeking to go cross-border can benefit from team members who already have experience with the people and culture in the intended destinations.
The benefits of gender diversity help with gender-specific products and services. It is, for instance, easier to sell maternity/ paternity-related products, when you have a mix of different genders doing the brainstorming.
Diversity in the workplace also helps with Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. When selling healthcare-related software, for example, it could help if the sales team includes members with a biomedical/ biochemical background, instead of just the software engineers.
3. Foster innovation and paradigm shifts
Research shows that diverse teams tend to be more effective at complex problem-solving and generate innovative outcomes. By bringing together individuals with different experiences and perspectives, organisations can tap into a wealth of knowledge and expertise.
Moreover, inclusive workplaces mitigate unconscious biases, creating a fair environment where ideas are evaluated based on merit. This fairness encourages employees to share their ideas, take risks, and challenge established norms, ultimately leading to paradigm shifts within the organisation.
In DBS, employees are enrolled in unconscious bias training which equips them to understand the different forms of unconscious bias and the effect it can have on workplace interactions, understand their own biases and learn strategies to mitigate bias at work.
By cultivating diversity, equity and inclusion, organisations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive innovation that sets them apart in a competitive landscape.
4. Sensitivity toward messages or images that can be misconstrued
An example of this was the “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” campaign by an apparel company, in 2018. The marketing images were considered to have racial overtones.
While diversity, equity and inclusion does not exclude the need for careful research and cultural sensitivity, it does raise the odds of catching such messages before they reach the market. When there’s diversity in the workplace, someone in the company is more likely to detect the unintended negative connotations (if any), and have personal insight into how their culture would react.
Building a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is not without its challenges
Companies that have long lacked diversity at work may resist change.
Senior leaders must be ready for pushback. Steps must be taken to avoid adversarial standoffs, and to persuade such employees that diversity at work is helpful to the company and hence to their own prospects.
Hiring processes may require review and HR departments may wish to engage external experts, to reduce the risk of unconscious biases.
In Singapore, DBS is guided by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) which are a set of eight standards covering various aspects of fair employment. In other markets where DBS operates, the bank adheres to similar market best practices. In Taiwan for example, DBS abides by inclusive hiring practices where one in every 100 employees are persons with disabilities.
Diversity, equity and inclusion also includes awareness of any gender gap, and this may require changes to existing employee compensation.
A diverse workforce means accommodating a wide range of cultural practices, which may require detailed work rotation. For example, respect must be given to employees who have regular prayer sessions, or who need to celebrate religious events (some of which may not be public holidays).
For a global workforce (e.g., remote-work teams), diversity in the workplace can mean challenges in co-ordinating variances in national holidays; Singaporeans, for instance, will still be working on the 4th of July (American Independence Day), whereas US-based counterparts may not have Chinese New Year as a holiday.
While building a diverse, equitable and inclusive office does have many challenges, it is essential for companies that want to stay competitive in today’s markets.
Ultimately, the benefit of diversity, equity and inclusion is from the day-to-day impact on the workplace.
When people feel they’re respected and have equal opportunity, it’s easier to avoid office gossip and toxic work environments. Employees will benefit from a sense of belonging which makes work – particularly the occasional stressful periods and bouts of overtime – more enjoyable.
This has commensurate benefits in terms of mental, and hence also physical, well-being. Work is also kept interesting and engaging, when colleagues always have new perspectives to discover.
At its core, the daily impact of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is an office where employees want to be, rather than a place they have to be.