[Sponsored Article] Successful businesses in the Asia-Pacific region are employing increasingly diverse workforces, and putting diversity and inclusion policies in place to support such employees, according to surveys by Aon Hewitt, a global human resources outsourcing and consulting firm. According to Mary Yu, Head of Talent Solutions at Aon Hewitt and also HKUST MBA alumnus, her company’s studies together with a range of surveys by other organizations, form a solid business case for actively promoting diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. “If an organization has a highly diverse workforce, and an inclusive culture in which all opinions are valued, it has a better chance of gaining a deeper understanding of customer needs, and developing new, creative and innovative ideas,” Yu says. “A diverse workforce increases the possibility of achieving the agility required to work in new markets, allows a company to adapt to change, and helps to attract, retain and engage top talent.” D&I and the bottom line The Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders program examines the link between leadership practices and financial results. Yu says the latest edition of this program shows that the most successful companies integrate their diversity and inclusion strategy into broader business strategies, and encourage employees to gain diverse experiences. Such companies go beyond compliance to measure the success of their D&I policies in terms of driving continued change. They also look at how the policies reduce the gender imbalance in leadership. The evidence doesn’t only come from Aon Hewitt’s research. Another Forbes study of companies with diverse work forces found a direct link between inclusive decision-making and better business performance. Yu highlights a finding that showed, “decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60 per cent better results (than those from homogeneous teams).” McKinsey & Company’s latest Diversity Matters report analyzed 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the UK, and the US. “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 30 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians,” Yu says. “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Gender gap still needs closing Yu notes that the McKinsey study showed that in the UK, every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity on a company’s team of senior executives corresponded to a 3.5 per cent rise in earnings before interest and taxes. Notwithstanding this very positive contribution made by women, Yu reports that Aon Hewitt’s global engagement data has uncovered lingering differences in the way men and women assume they will be treated in the workplace. “Women are less likely to feel that action will be taken on issues of workplace fairness (57 per cent for women, 62 per cent for men) and are also less likely to think that organizational leadership is worthy of trust (61 percent for women, 66 percent for men),” Yu says. There is a similar discrepancy in the sense of empowerment experienced by the genders. “Women feel like they have less influence on decisions than their male counterparts (57 per cent versus 62 per cent),” she says. With the discussion around pay discrepancies between men and women still grabbing the headlines, Aon Hewitt’s research shows that women feel their pay is not as connected to the results they achieve (47 per cent for women, 52 per cent for men). But progress is being made. One of Aon Hewitt’s 2016 Best Employers case studies documented DHL Korea’s efforts to “increase the share of women in leadership positions and provide a healthy and family-friendly work/life balance”. The introduction of this policy resulted in the ratio of female managers in the company increasing from 8 to 12 per cent between 2012 and 2016. Boosting D&I Yu says the work Aon Hewitt has undertaken in this area suggests ways in which companies could effectively promote more diverse and inclusive workplaces, and thereby boost their own performance. Its Top Companies for Leaders program found that the recruitment and talent decisions of the most successful companies tend to be less influenced by bias. “This is because they are more likely to use objective assessment methods such as personality and cognitive ability tests, as well as 360-degree feedback surveys, when recruiting, assessing and developing leaders and staff who have high potential,” she explains. Top companies also actively encourage their top talent to gain different experiences as part of their development plan. Rotational assignments not only develop the individual and bring more diverse experiences into the organization. Top companies also put more support mechanisms in place for these employees to ensure their success – such as by providing language training, mentoring and repatriation programs. Improving the quality and regularity of communication between management and staff is key in several ways. Employee perceptions of the opportunities open to them can be improved by regular one-on-one meetings to discuss career developments after one, two, and five years. More transparency about how performance metrics link to pay can help employees understand what they need to do to get where they want to go and minimize the skepticism around equitable treatment in the workplace. Trust in the leadership of an organization can be strengthened by ensuring the vision, strategy, objectives, and decision-making process are clear to employees, especially during times of change. Ensuring that leaders are willing to listen to employees, and managers are engaging their teams to discuss new ideas, sharing their opinions and providing feedback on decisions can foster a culture that encourages change and appropriate risk-taking. Yu adds the achievement of gender pay parity for women, and the sense that women are being treated fairly, can only significantly boost their level of workplace engagement.