What can organizations do to improve their diversity and inclusion strategies?

Shanice Siu, James Clifford Downs, and Fiona Nott

Experts chime in on the latest topics in accountancy and business

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Shanice Siu, James Clifford Downs, and Fiona Nott


Second opinions

Shanice Siu CPA, Tax Partner, Deloitte China

Society, talent and regulators are increasingly expecting bolder diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) actions from organizations, highlighting the importance of equal opportunities for all in today’s businesses, regardless of background, origin or gender.

A recent study by Deloitte has found that women hold 13.9 percent of board seats in Hong Kong, compared to 19.7 percent globally. Even though Hong Kong’s female board representation is above the Asian average of 11.7 percent, there is room for improvement when compared with other mature markets like Europe and the United States, where women hold 20-30 percent of board seats.

Embedding diversity into an organization’s culture can improve its business results. Research shows the correlation between gender diversity and better financial performance. An equal gender balance may attract more talent, and provide a better mix of knowledge and views, which can contribute to more effective decision-making and empower innovation.

Instead of seeing a gender equity programme as something that is nice-to-have, leaders should consider how it adds value to their companies, talent, clients, and society as a whole. Organizations are recommended to take intentional and strategic actions to promote a culture where every individual is embraced and engaged in a way that matters. From an organizational perspective, there should be equal opportunities in areas such as recruitment, retention, mentorship, advocation, succession planning, and return-to-office work arrangements, with a view to developing a talent pipeline of female leaders. For a diverse environment to flourish, everyone should be respected and given opportunities to contribute. It is not a matter of having a top-down or bottom-up strategy, but taking all-round actions to cultivate an inclusive workplace.

To further Deloitte’s effort to advocate gender balance, we have seen the set-up of our DEI Council and Women Leadership Committee in different regions, to support female talent, raise the awareness of women empowerment, and ensure everyone is engaged on this important issue. Empowering female leadership is one of the priorities of our DEI Council.

As part of the DEI Council, our national Women Leadership Committee is dedicated to enabling women empowerment through various programmes and advocating the realization of women’s achievements and contributions, within and beyond the firm. The committee also regularly organizes programmes to support female talent to rise to leadership positions, including executive coaching, training and networking activities. These platforms within the organization enable our talent to learn, grow, develop and succeed.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every company will have to determine its DEI strategy by considering its own business model and specific needs. It is not a numbers game – what matters are values and beliefs. By shifting from a box-ticking mindset to one that truly places DEI at the heart of business strategies, we can move toward fostering a truly inclusive workplace for all.

“For a diverse environment to flourish, everyone should be respected and given opportunities to contribute. It is not a matter of having a top-down or bottom-up strategy, but taking all-round actions to cultivate an inclusive workplace.”

James Clifford Downes, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at a multinational insurance company

For many of you reading this, DEI will probably be something on your company’s agenda. But beyond a buzzword, how can you begin to make gains from the power that it can yield?

Over the past seven years I have supported organizations as a consultant, and up until recently as an in-house D&I Partner at Bloomberg LP to develop strategy and initiatives that respond to social, cultural and people needs in an ever-changing world. I am legally blind and leverage my lived experience to help others share their story to build empathy, understanding and action for driving DEI forward.

In my view, there are three symbiotic areas every organization should include as part of their DEI strategy; these are data, programming and accountability – all of which mutually benefit each other.

Do not underestimate the power that data will have when designing your initiatives and strategy. Identifying a baseline of the identities and background of your people will enable you to begin to think critically about communities that need the greatest attention and focus on the infancy of your strategy delivery. Self-ID campaigns, for example, are a great way to begin collecting this data. But you need to make sure you explain and educate why you are seeking to gather this.

Leverage this data to create focused and targeted programming for diversity strands such as gender, people with disabilities or local talent. Try including the voices of those who you are trying to support into the design and delivery of your initiatives. Often, initiatives fail when the perspectives of a group are not included in the strategy design phase. Essentially, make sure you have a seat at the table for everyone.

And finally, and I can’t stress this enough, DEI is not a “human resources problem”; it is everyone’s shared and collective responsibility. Include your business leaders, team leaders and key influencers into the design and, importantly, the delivery of your strategy. I have seen the greatest success among those businesses that attribute key performance indicators on diversity to their business leaders’ end of year reviews.

DEI does not need to be an intimidating subject for your business. Coach, train and support the growth and learning of everyone. It is okay to fail, so be bold and share what steps you will take to avoid any future shortcomings. DEI is for everyone, and when we all work to build a strategy together, we all win!

“Try including the voices of those who you are trying to support into the design and delivery of your initiatives.”

Fiona Nott, Chief Executive Officer, The Women’s Foundation

Given the global talent shortage and an increased appetite among employees to work for companies that prioritize DEI, having a clearly defined inclusion strategy and accompanying set of practices for an engaged workforce is an imperative. As a core component of DEI initiatives, a strong focus on addressing gender diversity and equality will enhance and advance overall DEI initiatives across an organization. As such, here are four actions organizations may consider adopting to improve their DEI strategies:

Remove bias from talent acquisition: The criteria, writing, advertisement and location of roles both internally and externally are crucial to attracting a diverse talent pool. Recruitment and selection should embed inclusion and eradicate bias in sourcing, interviewing and protocols including considerations around accessibility and non-traditional education backgrounds, among other factors. Adopting simple online tools such as a gender decoder, which reveals hidden gender-specific words and offers alternatives to make your text less biased, can go a long way towards mitigating any unintentional gender bias in job ads around any language.

Elevate employee support: Ensure that policies aim to support men, women and people of all gender identities in advancing gender equality, for instance, offering gender-neutral parental leave for employees with the leave inclusive of all forms of relationships. It is also crucial to offer flexible or agile working which can support employees with caregiving responsibilities. In parallel, ensure performance metrics are recalibrated so that career progression is not hindered from employees using these policies.

Foster an inclusive culture: A culture takes time to build, but is vital to long-term adoption of DEI practices. Start simple – mark and celebrate diverse holidays and observances to increase awareness and understanding of different communities at a company. Create a safe space for discussion on critical issues around DEI where engagement is respectful and non-judgemental. Support inclusive language and practices that avoid biases and expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic background, and ability.

Evaluate the success of the DEI strategy: Tracking diversity metrics is important. Every DEI action plan must have clear goals and accountability. Many diversity and inclusion programmes do not thrive because organizations fail to set concrete goals and metrics of success from the beginning. Organizations should establish an internal DEI task force of key stakeholders that measure and assess the company’s progress to better execute initiatives and provide oversight to the effectiveness of the DEI plan.

“Every DEI action plan must have clear goals and accountability.”

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Experts chime in on the latest topics in accountancy and business


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