D&I Reaches Tipping Point

The issue of Diversity & Inclusion has been raised in enough business entities in Singapore such that the movement has reached a turning point in the city-state.

By Raymond Hoefer, BP


Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) seems to have reached a tipping point here in Singapore in the past year with a surge in the number of diversity networks and groups appearing on the corporate scene. Much of the energy for this phenomenon has been coming from the multinationals housed in Singapore. Networks are forming both within companies and amongst companies, enthusiastically being embraced by many employees, both local and from overseas.


Breakfast meetings are a popular way to start the corporate day and the Women in Energy have had two such events since being formed last year, each event attracting about 50 professional women. The events so far have featured a speaker discussing the implications of the global rigzone D&I report, and an inspirational woman who has risen through the male dominated ranks in a difficult environment.


Hosted by an energy company late last year, a new networking event attracted 140 people from 40 different organisations on a Monday evening. They heard a number of diversity leaders from Singapore and London talk about why diversity is important, how we can all help people bring their whole selves to work, and the importance of allies to support LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex) inclusion. They were also treated to excerpts from the Tony award winning gay-themed play “Take Me Out” which ran through January this year in Singapore. This has recently been followed up by a fascinating panel discussion at Insead Business School, on how to hold the diversity conversation in a conservative country like Singapore.


An industry specific group of organizations have been individually hosting monthly networking gatherings for years. These are energetic and well attended events which also combine networking with interesting guest speakers. A recent event showcased representatives from the young LGBT networks springing up in the universities (NUS, NTU and SMU), the community (Purple Alliance) and of course the well established support group Oogachaga.


These inter-company diversity networks are forming in order to create a critical mass not present in single companies to create impactful events. The committees share best practice on diversity, and provide networking opportunities across broad industry groups. They also support the formation of diversity groups within companies, helping people to establish D&I work practices inside their organisations where there are none.


The British Chamber of Commerce has been the fi rst of the chambers to recognize the importance corporations are placing on D&I and with the sponsorship of Barclays has established a diversity committee. The committee aims to address pressing issues in the workplace and in the community around diversity. It aims to share best practice regionally and globally, share insights and research and foster cross sector exchange. A women in business subcommittee has also been formed. The events created become part of the chamber’s very interesting program. The first diversity event featured a demonstration of unconscious bias such as in and out groups using innovative role play techniques. The first women’s event highlighted the lack of female representation at senior and board level, the impacts of this to performance and a strategy road map to moving the dial.


The framework for diversity and inclusion has been created in many companies; however this is only dry policy if the spirit of diversity and inclusion has not been understood by the people who work in these places. Much of the work of the networks focuses on awareness and education about D&I and to inspire people to consider Inclusive work practices by understanding the issue more deeply.


For many years the diversity focus has been on gender and very importantly the representation of females at senior leadership. This is still a vitally important issue, however the thinking around Diversity is broadening out and includes ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and educational background. In many work structures, people who have these inherent diversity characteristics find themselves in the “out” groups, or worse still stigmatized or ostracized. Characteristics such as sexuality are often hidden by the individual due to family and social pressures. This impacts their ability to contribute fully at work. Inclusion is about how people interact, the culture that supports the diverse workforce and practicing good behaviour. None of this can be policed through rules and requires another approach. People are coming together to form networks to build these cultures, and support each other in educating the working communities around them. The networks exist both within companies and amongst companies.


Within many large corporations, women’s networks, pride networks, and ethnicity networks are being formed by passionate people within organisations. These people already have a busy day job but are committed to building an inclusive culture. These company networks, often called Business Resource Groups (BRG) usually form around one diversity strand as the members have common interests or backgrounds. Although the underlying challenges are similar; the different diversity groups have different sets of issues. Women face challenges around leaning in, taking career breaks for beginning families and having to restart careers a few times over, and they might also seek flexible working arrangements to help them with family duties. LGBT can face the challenges of discrimination or how to live an authentic work life, navigating company policies designed for the family unit and how to come out to work colleagues and family. All diversity groups may face extra career hurdles than the dominant group. These groups bring together people with shared experience to support each other in developing strategies to address these issues. For the LGBT BRG, discussions might focus on raising awareness of an environment that is inclusive of LGBT employees by engaging allies. For the gender BRG such discussions may focus on how to engage men more in the conversation.


Since D&I is about the culture of an organization there is not one size fits all model, nor a clear pathway to get there. Each network supports awareness and creates an activity set that builds an inclusive workplace, improving the wellbeing of people at work so that people can bring their best to the workplace, and companies can attract the best talent the world has to offer.