Every study of so-called diversity and inclusion (D&I) programmes - whether in the East or in the West - have showed remarkably similar results: they yield significant benefits to job hunters, employers, as well as companies and their customers.
In Hong Kong, which considers itself a generally meritocratic society that strives to provide a level playing field for all its economically active players, observers say that the embrace by organisations of D&I programmes produces win-win outcomes, which is why more employers would do well to implement the concept.
One employer that has long led the way in D&I is UBS. "Diversity and inclusion is a strategic priority for UBS. The firm seeks to attract the highest calibre talent irrespective of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or educational background," says Hayden Majajas, head of diversity and inclusion, Asia Pacific, at UBS. "Not only does diversity drive creativity and innovation, but it also helps create an environment in which all employees are given an equal opportunity to reach their full potential."
The bank's D&I programme is at the core of its human resources (HR) approach, he adds. "UBS seeks to encourage increased diverse representation at all levels, with a particular focus on senior management," says Majajas.
"While a commitment to D&I helps attract the best and brightest from the broadest talent pools, we also constantly seek to provide clearly defined career paths for our employees with development tailored for each individual. An inclusive work environment attracts a broad range of talent and enhances both client relationships and business performance."
The gains are considerable, according to Majajas. "The benefits span a number of areas, from improved engagement with staff via employee networks, through to closer relationships with clients as a result of engagement offerings, to improved performance that comes with development initiatives."
Hong Kong is a rapidly changing society, especially in demographic terms, and UBS is mindful of this. "Our diversity programmes are constantly evolving. They encompass raising awareness through to integrating diversity into the day-to-day management and processes of the firm," says Majajas.
"We also proactively seek to engage our clients in the process. We believe that a diverse workforce boosts innovation and creativity and provides the capability to develop new and relevant products. An example was a dinner for leading women in Hong Kong, hosted by our co-CEO for Asia Pacific, Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, and an event in Tokyo aimed at our fixed-income clients," Majajas says.
The formulation of a workable and effective D&I programme is not without its challenges, as many a head of D&I or HR chief will affirm. But UBS has gone to remarkable lengths to provide as inclusive a working environment as possible.
"The successful implementation of diversity depends on our ability to integrate awareness of the issues to all our employees," Majajas explains. "Our strategy includes the creation of concrete plans of action for the management of each business, all of which are monitored.
"While I am confident in saying that there are no glaring barriers to entry at UBS, we, nevertheless, offer traineeships for university students with disabilities and programmes for special-needs students," Majajas elaborates.
"Placements typically last between four and six months and help participants develop work and life skills, build confidence, gain exposure to the work environment and raise awareness of disability among employees. Of course, we are careful not to become complacent as there is always much more that we can do," he adds.
Another bank with a D&I record respected by the industry is Standard Chartered Bank, which started its programme in 2004.
"For us, D&I is about creating a workplace culture that helps deliver our strategic intent commitments to our people by enabling each and every employee to make a difference, and teams to win," says Fern Ngai, head of the bank's corporate affairs in Hong Kong. "It is more than just policies, initiatives and processes; it is about how we work with each other and our stakeholders.
"Diversity means all the ways in which people differ, including both visible and underlying cultural and thinking styles," Ngai adds. "Inclusion is about making each individual employee feel valued and respected for who they are as a person and for what they bring to the organisation. It is embracing the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives to create business-value... This is not just about `tolerating' differences but about 'valuing' them."