Panel Discussion on Diversity & Inclusion

This article was originally published in June 2014 within the Orient Magazine


Let’s begin with the question, ‘Why now?’ Why is D&I coming to the forefront arguably somewhat late in the game?

Dr Tanvi Gautam (TG), Singapore Management University: D&I has always been at the forefront for forward-looking organisations; it is some organisations that are late in recognising the social, economic and innovation potential of D&I. The issue will remain in the forefront given the talent management imperative of D&I.

Mark McLane (MM), Barclays: I agree. One thing to keep in mind, however, is diversity in isolation of inclusion does not have the intended impact most organisations are searching for, where inclusion can unlock the rich value of a diverse workforce.


How can D&I be a priority for companies when businesses have other big issues to deal with, such as market risks, tightening budgets and highly competitive industries?

TG: We are living in volatile and uncertain times. While risks, budgets and competition are symptoms of this environment, a successful response is going to be influenced by how well a firm can harness the potential of diversity internally. A problem cannot be solved by the same mind that created it; therefore, when we have to respond to a complex environment, that response cannot come from an undifferentiated, monolithic internal culture, where one person looks, thinks and acts like the next person.

Beth Brooke-Marciniak (BB), Ernst & Young: We recently conducted a global survey, The Power of Many: How Companies Use Teams to Drive Superior Corporate Performance, which clearly showed that an organisation’s ability to develop and manage diverse teams is essential for future competitiveness. Those who rated their companies as ‘excellent’ at building diverse teams were much more likely to have achieved greater growth. However, the problem that the survey unveiled was that companies lack leaders with the ability to manage and motivate these teams. As a result, there must be a focus on developing leaders who embrace differences and are eager to engage a wide pool of talent. To achieve superior performance, tapping into the full range of diverse skills and expertise at their disposal is essential. The war for talent in the professional services sector is incredibly fierce; attracting and retaining diverse talents is critical to our success.

MM: If an organisation clearly understands the connection of D&I to talent management and customers, I would ask that organisation, “How can D&I not be a priority?”


Are there strands of D&I that are easier to facilitate than others? Why?

TG: It is important to differentiate between surface-level diversity and deep-level diversity. Surface-level diversity looks at gender or colour, but deep- level diversity—non-apparent things such as thinking style—matters quite a lot. For instance, you could have a group of British men who, while been identical in surface-level diversity (all-men or all-British) may be very different in their approach and background when it comes to thought diversity (deep-level). Ultimately, we want to move beyond surface-level diversity to harness the power of deep-level diversity. Meeting diversity numbers is the easier thing to do; harnessing synergistic thinking is more difficult. I would caution against confounding surface-level diversity as a sign of deep-level diversity.


Sounds like D&I can only work as a top-down policy. Can a junior staff member get his organisation to implement D&I?

BB: While written policies may be implemented from the top down, the actions and interactions that reflect who we are as an organisation can—and do—begin at any level. Staff members at all levels should be encouraged to develop the habits of inclusive leaders: to look for and value different viewpoints, and to make sure that team members feel comfortable speaking and knowing that their voices are heard. At Ernst & Young, working inclusively is a practical way for all of us, regardless of rank, to manage change and capitalise on our global reach. It can transform how we interact across service lines, cultures and geographic boundaries, and how we respond to personal differences and to the needs of our clients.


Can you share some examples of how a D&I policy affected your company in a positive way?

MM: Barclays has seen some great impact as a result of our global strategy: award-winning talking ATMs, a gay couple in a retail bank advert, 2013 Disability Standard Award from the Business Disability Forum, recognised as TIME’s top-50 places to work for women in the UK.

TG: We ensure that regular updates and recommendations are shared with the university’s leaders by a committee comprising representatives from faculty and staff. Our students, staff and faculty are drawn from some 50 countries across six continents, comprising a range of groups, generations, identities and backgrounds. We believe that diversity expands our capacity to

(i)                 expand our hearts and minds,

(ii)               harness multiple talents and perspectives,

(iii)             foster innovation,

(iv)              engage more effectively with our community and

(v)                better appreciate business and social complexities. Indeed, there are many opportunities for inter- and multicultural interactions on campus.


 What challenges did you face implementing it?

MM: Barclays established a D&I strategy addressing five pillars: gender, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), disability, multicultural and multigenerational. It focused on improving the percentage of diversity at the VP-and-above levels, continuing to improve our inclusion index as measured by our employee opinion survey, and maintaining our position as an employer of choice as reflected in external benchmarks. The future for diversity in financial services holds multiple opportunities; the first being continued focus on attracting an ever-more diverse talent pool into the industry; the second is improving leadership talent management skills as it relates to building an inclusive and bias-free work environment; and the third is commercialisation of the diversity business case.


Does a generation gap pose a significant challenge?

MM: Generational difference in the workplace is no different from gender, ethnic or other differences in the workplace. Recognising and addressing these differences improve your brand equity with colleagues.


Do you think the current education system should include this as a part of the curriculum?

TG: Absolutely! D&I initiatives at the corporate level are often too little, too late. We must make sure that frameworks of D&I are included as early as the primary school years so that it becomes a part of future citizens and leaders. Dialogues, conferences and events are organised at SMU throughout the year to encourage thinking around diversity issues. The university also provides workshops, in- and out-of-classroom support, counselling services and grievance handling frameworks to reinforce inclusion across schools, groups and offices on campus. We launched a Women & Leadership programme as part of executive education. It’s had a great response and continues to keep the topic at the forefront. By keeping such dialogues going, D&I ideas are kept top of mind.


How far along the diversity journey do you feel the Singapore business community is at?

BB: Speaking to our Ernst & Young leaders and the business community in Singapore, I observed that we’ve made good progress compared with 10 or even five years ago, when D&I were relatively unheard of in some circles. Having said that, Singapore lags behind other developed countries in fully understanding and embracing D&I, and the reasons are multifaceted and interlinked. However, it’s a journey that has gained great momentum. Government- and industry- led task forces have been established to promote gender diversity on corporate boards in Singapore. The Singapore business community is also realising the merits of leveraging diverse talent as a competitive advantage in the current environment. While multinational and global clients value the innovative solutions and holistic perspectives that a diverse team can bring, talent shortages are driving the need to tap into a more diverse pool of candidates. There is also greater awareness of the importance of inclusive leadership, which helps to define and shape an internal culture of highly engaged, empowered and high-performing talent. This will challenge us to adapt our mind set and behaviours. As an advocate of D&I, Ernst & Young is also influencing the external market through memberships into D&I programmes, dialogues and thought leadership in this area. Our organisation is also making significant investments in D&I education and creating a workplace of the future that offers flexibility.


On a personal level, what impact does D&I have on you?

BB: I believe deeply that differences matter. I’ve experienced that personally in my life and in my career, and I advocate for that message authentically in my role as the global executive sponsor of D&I at Ernst & Young. In doing so, I often talk very openly about the differences I’ve brought to my role at Ernst & Young as a gay woman, a democrat, an introvert and a collegiate athlete, as just a few examples. I’ll be the first to admit that embracing and talking about all those differences hasn’t always come naturally to me. I can tell you without hesitation today that the key to making me comfortable was working in such inclusive and progressive environments and teams that really challenged me to see the value my differences can bring to business and beyond. I now recognise that those differences can make me a better leader, too. By being who they are, leaders give those reporting to them permission to be themselves.