Diversity in Risk Management in APAC – Part 3 of 4: How to Move Beyond Gender Diversity

Gender equality is just one part of a much bigger picture when it comes to diversity and inclusion. How are firms in APAC looking to widen the conversation and what more could be done?

By Jonny Warner, Senior Consultant, Sheffield Haworth Hong Kong

Whilst there has been a real focus on gender diversity within the APAC region, we don’t necessarily see the same kind of focus on other areas of diversity and inclusion compared with some other geographies.

I was keen to delve deeper into this topic, so I discussed it with four leading APAC-based female risk management practitioners in global financial services firms to get their insights.

How are FS firms in the region looking at ethnic or sexual diversity? What are some of the APAC-specific challenges compared with other geographies? How are firms tackling the challenge of increasing cognitive diversity – and why is that so important?

This is the third article in a series on diversity in risk management in APAC. Check out part one here: How Has the Role of “Diversity Ally” Evolved and Why is it Important? 

Check out part two here: How Covid Has Impacted D&I in APAC

Q: Where do we sit with ethnic or LGBTQ+ diversity in the APAC region and what can we do to elevate the conversation more in line with EMEA and North America?

A: Each of the countries in Asia are at different levels of maturity when it comes to D&I. In some Asian countries it’s still illegal to be in a same sex relationship, for example. In Hong Kong it was only a year or two ago that we were able to sponsor same-sex partners for dependent visas. So we’re not at the same level.

 

“We’re not at the same level. In some Asian countries it’s still illegal to be in a same sex relationship, for example.”

 

In terms of what can we do, I do think we need to have the conversation about diversity and inclusion in ways that go beyond gender. In our team we have regular conversations where people bring a topic that’s a bit difficult and uncomfortable and you have it in an honest and safe environment because we need to hear and understand what it’s like for people of different ethnicities or sexualities. What are their challenges? What do they think we can do to support them?

It’s also important to look at your D&I strategy, make sure it includes aspects that go beyond gender and look at how you’re tracking and measuring that.

 

Q: How are companies in APAC approaching cognitive diversity and what sort of initiatives are we already seeing or can expect to see to increase this going forward?

A: We don’t just want to drive diversity because it’s a good thing to do or to be a good corporate citizen. It is actually also the smart thing to do.

When you speak about diversity in terms of gender or skin colour or age, all of this defines how you see the world and how the world sees you. The chances are you do think differently because of it. That’s where cognitive diversity comes in.

 

“You need to create a culture where people feel comfortable to share diverse ways of thinking, ideating, and finding solutions. You don’t get that until people feel comfortable in bringing their best self to work.”

 

Cognitive diversity is about perspectives. How you frame things, how you’re processing information, and how you approach problem solving. The more diverse the thought process, the more innovative your problem-solving and your solutions will be.

Many a time it enables teams to see a completely different problem compared to the one you were initially contemplating. And that’s how you can drive differentiated client solutions as well. There’s a growing recognition within businesses that diversity enables you to drive business goals, revenues, controlling costs, innovation, and creativity.

To enable this, you need to create a culture where people feel comfortable to share diverse ways of thinking, ideating, and finding solutions. You don’t get that until people feel comfortable in bringing their best self to work.

 

“There’ll always be some friction when you have a preferred way of getting things done. Training your managers to support and be comfortable with diverse perspectives is what will ultimately drive growth for you.”

 

It takes organisational patience to actively manage and support the cognitive friction that arises as a result of cognitive diversity. This friction is not unnatural. It occurs because it’s uncomfortable to be outside your own way of thinking, and this is why organisations need to look at managing this.

Discomfort leads to growth. There’ll always be some friction when you have a preferred way of getting things done. Training your managers to support and be comfortable with diverse perspectives is what will ultimately drive growth for you.

 

Q: What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen specifically in APAC compared with what we see in other geographies?

A: The challenges are more or less similar everywhere. But if you talk to some markets in Asia it’s a bit more complicated because the talent pool is probably smaller. Trying to ensure you have diversity all the time is more difficult to achieve. Plus, as an organisation we want to make sure we give a chance to the best people. We’re acutely aware of this challenge, but it is still a challenge.

With Covid, it opened up some opportunities because we can work differently and meet this diversity challenge differently. We are less constrained by geographies and that helps us be a bit more open about who can do the job.

 

 “As a global bank we need to stay in touch with the realities of the local market. That’s what makes us stronger.”

 

This is not to avoid the challenge in a specific market but to give a chance for more diversity within a business function or team regardless of where you are located. This is a potential game changer for us because we are able to operate differently.

The challenge of this is that globally we have less of a sense of the local cultural challenges. Global processes and global approaches do not really work all the time. Leaders need to keep that in mind when they interview, when they recruit, when they promote – they have to be aware of these differences and manage them appropriately.

As a global bank we need to stay in touch with the realities of the local market. That’s what makes us stronger.

 

Q: Are there any particular lessons or successes you’ve seen in other geographies we can bring to Asia to open up this conversation into all the areas of diversity?

A: You can’t presume or take your experiences in other regions or other countries and say that’s going to work everywhere. That simply is not the case.

You have to localise. Otherwise the messaging won’t resonate and could well work counter to not just the local culture but sometime also the law. Pause, educate yourself. Don’t make assumptions.

Once you’re there do start to raise awareness but do it the right way, not just the set global way.

 

Read part one of this series on diversity in risk management in APAC: How Has the Role of “Diversity Ally” Evolved and Why is it Important?

Read part two of this series here: How Covid Has Impacted D&I in APAC

 

For more information about how to increase the diversity of your risk management team please contact Jonny Warner

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