IBM embraces social responsibility

Caitlin Wong

The company sees the ageing population and equal opportunities as its two most important problems

THE AGEING POPULATION and equal opportunities are the main social issues facing Hong Kong, and they have particular relevance to corporate human resources planning.

Their weight on the public agenda is set to increase, so how a company reacts to these issues can affect the operation and image of a good corporate citizen.

IBM China/Hong Kong has made an early start to address these issues. The company has about 1,600 employees in this market, and five years ago it implemented a diversity programme to promote talent and equal opportunity among employees and help older staff balance the demands of career and family.

The programme is being driven by a diversity council led by a senior executive with membership comprised of staff representatives from across the company.

According to Christine Ng Sook-ming, the council's leader since last year, the diversity programme aims to nurture a culture of inclusion and acceptance of staff attributes and strengths to breed and retain diverse talent in the company and optimise the benefits they bring.

'IBM believes that its staff bring a wealth of different contributions to the company by virtue of their different competencies and backgrounds,' Ms Ng said. 'We encourage and value these benefits, and established the diversity council to make sure that everybody has equal access to training, development and promotion to enable them to realise their potential and aspirations unimpeded by things such as age, sex and culture.'

The diversity council is a group-wide, company-specific initiative backed fully by IBM's head office through a global fund for supporting individual companies' diversity programmes.

The focus of the Hong Kong programme covers equal opportunity, staff loyalty and sense of belonging, advancement of women, acceptance of disabilities and minority orientations (such as sexual orientations), cultural awareness/acceptance and work-life balance. The council organises themed programmes and activities for employees, while making sure that diversity concepts are incorporated into the company's work systems and practices.

New recruits are put through a connected system of recruitment, mentorship and educational programmes to help them appreciate the spirit of diversity. The concept of work-life balance is also injected into the staff development and evaluation system under which workers set their achievement or training targets, taking account of other priorities such as family and further education.

Ms Ng said the programme's work-life balance support was popular with staff because it helped allay the pressure of having to juggle work and the family demands that workers faced.

Initiatives include family-friendly work practices, such as staggered hours and flexible work arrangements, like working from home, dedicated activities for families and children, and educational, counselling and assistance programmes.

Ms Ng said the company's average staff age was 36, so these initiatives complemented IBM's commitment to growing and maturing with its employees. They also helped the company retain talented individuals who were highly sought after in today's competitive market.

'We cherish staff loyalty because long-serving IBMers are experienced, dedicated and reliable. They help to anchor the corporate culture and a team spirit in the company,' Ms Ng said.

'The company is happy to grow and mature with our staff, and will continue to help them meet their needs as we move ahead together. After all, employees are productive only if they are happy.'

Ms Ng, a 29-year IBM veteran, is the best ambassador for what she preaches. She moved up the ranks to her present position as IBM Asia-Pacific business area executive, infrastructure, technology collaboration and wireless solutions, global mid-market business. She spoke on behalf of IBM China/Hong Kong, which is looking for staff.

Equal opportunities

A council consisting of staff representatives from across the company steers diversity initiatives for China/Hong Kong staff.

The focus covers employee awareness and acceptance of diverse talent, equal opportunity and work-life balance.

Popular work-life balance measures include flexible work arrangements and programmes for families and children.

Diversity concepts are also incorporated into work practices.