Article: ‘Progress in D&I is slow in Malaysia, and there is no silver bullet to fix it’

Diversity

‘Progress in D&I is slow in Malaysia, and there is no silver bullet to fix it’

Malaysia is the first country in the region to set a gender target board for locally listed companies, but progress is slower than we all would have liked, says Meena Anand, Managing Director and Head HR, Global Business Services, Standard Chartered Bank, in an interaction with People Matters.
‘Progress in D&I is slow in Malaysia, and there is no silver bullet to fix it’

Meena Anand is the Global CHRO and currently the Managing Director and head of HR for Global Business Services, the 30,000 strong shared service center for Standard Chartered Bank. An alumnus of the London School of Economics, Meena has continued her education at both NTL (National Training Laboratories) and INSEAD Singapore. 

With a strong interest in HR disruption she is constantly looking for ideas to innovate and actively invest in next-gen HR. In the past, Meena has held senior HR roles in financial institutions based in Switzerland and London.

How do you see the gender diversity landscape in APAC countries, especially in Malaysia?

The Malaysian government have been aggressively pursuing this agenda. It was the first country in the region to set a gender target board for locally listed companies - but progress is slower than we all would have liked. And it is not for want of focus. There are several amazing organizations driving a plethora of fantastic initiatives across the country. A few of the better known ones, that Standard Chartered GBS have partnered with, are LeadWomen and the 30 percent Club which focus on the female board member pipeline, LeanIn Malaysia which creates support platforms for women on a wide array of topics (that they find relevant) and TalentCorp’s “Career Comeback” program focused on women returning to the workplace after a career break.

Overall, APAC is dynamic with women’s economic participation increasing – you only have to look at the number of female university graduates – however results, particularly at board level, need improvement. A 2017 survey by the International Finance Corporation had female board membership across the bigger firms within ASEAN at just 14.9 percent. This is in stark contrast to the same organizations Executive “feeder” pipeline that boasts a 25.3 percent gender split (and Philippines at 32.8 percent). So there is more work to do.

Ensuring D&I is not easy. Like any adaptive challenge, there is no obvious ‘silver bullet’. Change takes time and some of the blockers are very deep-rooted –such as communication styles, resistance to change, and cultural stereotypes

Research shows that companies that are more diverse are more productive, more efficient and give better returns to shareholders. What's your take on this?

Time and time again, research has suggested a strong correlation between diversity (of all kinds) and enhanced financial performance e.g. RoE and EBIT so much so that that the link is almost taken for granted. In addition to the achievement of financial results, which have oft been written about, diverse organizations are also said to more resilient, agile and overall just better governed. More recently, however, the focus has narrowed further on the link between diversity and, the much sought after business outcome, Innovation. 

How do you pursue diversity and inclusion at Standard Chartered Bank and how do you connect it with your business strategy?

For the Bank, the pursuit of diversity plus inclusion is at the heart of our purpose - driving commerce and prosperity through our unique diversity. It is critical to the ongoing success of our business given our diverse footprint, product set and more crucially to service the needs of our clients and engage our colleagues.

How do you ingrain D&I into your organizational strategy? What's the role of board on this?

While the responsibility for building an inclusive environment rests with every colleague, the Board have a critical role to play.  The 2018 UK Corporate Governance Code for example, introduced new principles on the board’s role in monitoring and assessing culture - ensuring that practices and polices align to it - and actively promoting diversity of gender, social and ethnic backgrounds cognitive and personal strengths. 

Our own board have committed to a separate D&I Policy which commits to: increasing the representation of women on the Board (with an aim to have a minimum of 33 per cent female representation), ensuring that our Board reflects the diverse markets in which we operate and ensuring that the Board is comprised of a good balance of skills, experience, knowledge, perspective and varied backgrounds.

Do you follow a diversity, equity, and inclusion dashboards which shows the retention rate for women, the number of women in leadership positions, employee engagement numbers, and inclusion sentiment, the percentage of employees who report feeling welcome and included, etc?

My sense is that, like Standard Chartered, many of these metrics have existed for some time and are regularly reviewed by executive teams. Quotas and scorecards have also been used by many governments, for example, Italy imposed a 30 percent female target for all boards in 2010 and by 2016 they achieved it! So metrics and dashboards certainly have a place, but also may drive several unintended consequences through for example pubic pressure. 

The issue is more complex that just a set of data. Driving the agenda across the bank has required sponsorship and commitment of our senior leaders, rigorous governance at each level of our organization and targeted action. 

I am interested to hear more about “inclusion sentiment” – that does feel like something we should explore!

D&I continues to be frustrating and challenging for companies and that's why we have this huge gap. Why are we failing? What are the top challenges?

Simply put, it’s not easy. Like any adaptive challenge, there is no obvious “silver bullet”. Change takes time and some of the blockers are very deep-rooted e.g. communication styles, resistance to change, cultural stereotypes, unconscious bias, acceptance inequity etc. of differing views, wage inflation and basic respect! 

What is the most overlooked inclusion issue in any organization? 

I can’t speak for all organizations, but some basic, practical challenges can be quickly overcome and “signpost” good intent. For example, creating inclusive gender neutral restroom in India, democratizing access to signature leadership programs through self-nomination or including all “Partners” on all our medical and life insurance plans…including Malaysia.

At a baseline level, there is a need for all colleagues to be able to articulate the business case for inclusion, building their understanding of their own unconscious biases and truly ‘seeing more in others’

How do you see inclusive leadership and what are the top traits of an inclusive leader? How can companies ensure they have leaders who can create impact in a diverse workforce?

It’s going to be a critical skill for People Leaders. At a baseline level, there is a need for all colleagues to be able to articulate the business case for inclusion, building their understanding of their own unconscious biases and truly “seeing more in others” – one of the bank’s valued behaviors. That’s the focus of the bank’s inclusive leadership program which over 83 percent of our leaders have completed.

Where do you see diversity and inclusion five years down the line? 

I sincerely hope things will change, but it is not going to happen by osmosis. It takes hard work and effort, a shift in mindset, etc. I see it consuming business leaders and HR practioners for some years to come. 

 

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Topics: Diversity, #EachForEqual

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