As many Asian companies seek to globalise and multinational companies seek to localise, the link between inclusion and enhanced business performance is becoming more critical. The need for inclusive workplaces that nurture the best talent – where everyone with the capability to do so can contribute their full potential – is becoming ever more evident.
In many ways, inclusion in the Asian workplace is an emerging concept that remains distinct from the Western model. Western businesses are seen to have traditionally focused – with greater or lesser success – on diversity, only recently realising that diversity doesn’t stick without inclusion. On the other hand, Asian companies have implicitly benefited from the rich diversity on their doorstep, without focusing as much on the inclusion agenda. Each region is now awakening to the realisation that it takes both diversity and inclusion to drive business success.
Multinational companies may yet have fully deployed inclusion in Asia as a business strategy. Those attempting to bring a ‘western’ approach to inclusion are faced with the complexities of differences in thought, style, culture, traditions, ethnicity and experiences – in a way that is different from their businesses operations in the West.
At PDT, we have the privilege of working with many local and multinational companies across Asia and who are for example committed to nurturing senior female talent – specifically in Hong Kong and China. It is here that we see that the global programmes for promotion, networking and mobility that may be highly sought after by senior female leaders in Europe and North America, may not automatically translate in regions where we see the senior female leaders return home to more traditional living arrangements. And how about the flexible and inclusive working environments that we work so hard to achieve in the West? How do these translate to the ‘presenteeism culture’ that is so prevalent in most of Asia? It is now that we see the subtle and obvious differences in the definition of ‘inclusion.’
Building a Pipeline of Local Leaders
For multinational companies operating in Asia, the additional challenge is to build a strong pipeline of local leaders capable of excelling in both regional and global roles – especially as Asia frequently becomes one of their largest markets. This challenge is of course an immense opportunity for companies to take a leading role in incorporating inclusion as a talent development tool and ultimately a business strategy that drives performance in Asia.
Further still, companies must ensure that their ex-pat leaders – with their western leadership styles – are fully aware of and actively practicing inclusion – perhaps more than in any other global region. Their exit strategy should include leaving behind an inclusive business that will continue to drive success in the future.
West is Best?
Whilst we recognise that the lens with which we view inclusion is different in Asia to that of Western nations, we do in way imply that Asia is behind – simply that organisations in this region have embraced different aspects and used different phrasing in this realm of talent management.
It’s quite normal for diversity and inclusion to be approached differently in many parts of the world – especially when the cultures may be dramatically diverse. We can all agree that, regardless of cultures, there is no ‘one way’ to implement inclusion. Thinking that the differences are insurmountable and to be avoided will only contribute to less inclusive environments.
We must not ignore inclusion – the benefits of greater progress in this area will be felt by individuals as well as companies, both in the present time and in the workplace that will be inherited by future generations.
Challenge the paradigms, surface and embrace the differences of colour, ethnicity, orientation and age, have the courageous conversations – Inclusion is not a western concept..but a global one that we must all embrace and translate in its many and varied forms.
Gulnar Vaswani is PDT Global’s Senior Associate, based in Hong Kong.