01 Jun 2004
Publication: The Edge Daily Malaysia
The external environment is becoming more unpredictable and more dynamic. Indeed, the external realities are getting more hostile, unreasonable and more diverse than ever before. Experts believe adaptability, diversity and the ability to respond to and manage change are among the emerging factors for success.
Workforce diversity is one area that has become an important aspect of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Although diversity management is nothing new, it was accelerated when companies went global. It is now a necessary skill among managers, with global companies treating it as a core CSR process in their quest to become employers of choice.
What is diversity management? Simply put, it means having to manage employees of different ethnicity, cultures and backgrounds in the workplace. A diverse workforce means managers will need to understand cultural issues, address sensitivities and differences when they start to hire, and retain and accommodate such diversity for the benefit of the company. Indeed, CSR matters in an environment that requires a diversity of competency.
Championing diversity might sound simple in multiracial Malaysia; in reality, many workplaces seem to be strictly delineated along racial, religious and gender lines, resulting in a situation that does not help promote mutual understanding and unity.
Does it make business sense?
A diverse workforce is ideal not only for national unity and racial integration, but it actually makes sound business sense. It is a necessity for future organisational success.
Diversity initiatives can bolster the bottom line for it improves the corporate culture, encourages the sharing of corporate vales, induces collaboration and creates a multiplicity of talent. In addition, it tends to result in a higher retention of employees, reduces complaints and litigation, and heightens the organisation's ability to penetrate emerging markets.
In a recent survey, entitled "Impact of Diversity Initiatives on the Bottom Line", by the US Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 79% of those polled said diversity initiatives improved corporate culture, 77% said they helped recruit new employees and 52% cited better client relations.
A total of 121 human resource professionals from Fortune 1,000 companies and companies on Fortune magazine's 100 Top Companies to Work For list were polled for the survey.
Around 91% of these top HR professionals said diversity initiatives helped their organisations maintain a competitive advantage. In particular, diversity can boost marketability in foreign markets and enhance a company's ability to compete abroad. In China today, it is not uncommon to find multinational corporations that are ethnically diverse because they have a better chance of tapping into emerging markets.
A key challenge for diversity management is its exclusion from the mainstream of management. Although diversity management, like environmental initiatives, gathered steam in the 1990s, it has yet to move out of the realm of human resource departments and become acknowledged as a crucial element in executive strategy and overall business success. And just like environmental and other CSR issues, it is not widely regarded as a success factor for long-term sustainability in emerging markets and may not be marketplace-driven.
Around 79% of companies currently consider diversity management a part of human resources, while 14% say it is a part of other departments, the SHRM survey shows. Such compartmentalisation may eventually sound the death knell for diversity. "If accountability for diversity doesn't move out of HR, it will not succeed in the long run," notes diver sityinc.com, a website devoted to diversity issues. "[Diversity has remained in HR] largely because companies still haven't nailed a compelling and quantified business case for diversity specific to their company. When and if they do, diversity initiatives will get out of HR and gain a seat at the executive strategy table."
Diversity management is a driver of the positive outcome of CSR. It goes beyond working conditions, employment policies and social activities. Diversity management has to be an inherent part of workforce management and developments, as well as interdependencies of various business units, cross cultures and competencies.
Monitoring the impact of diversity
Sceptics find diversity management a touchy subject that is intangible and hard to quantify. And some say it is riddled with conflicts and prejudices. But there are ways to monitor workplace diversity programmes and quantify performance.
Some straightforward diversity measures include improving the composition of the workforce to integrate diverse ethnic groups. Under the umbrella of its diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) programme, Shell Global has challenged each company in its network to do everything possible to attract and nurture a diverse pool of talent, including minorities, women and foreigners. For example, Shell Information Technology International (SITI) Sdn Bhd in Cyberjaya has grown to over 1,000 people from 600 when it started five years ago. While the majority of SITI's work-force is Malaysian, the D&I element has drawn IT professionals from 13 nations � 66% of its staff is male and 34% female.
When diversity measures are working, satisfaction goes up and staff turnover goes down. Shell Malaysia has put in place several family-friendly policies like teleworking and flexi-hours to create an optimal environment that enables employees to fulfil work and family obligations without sacrificing performance or career advancement.
In Malaysia, Shell EP's D&I initiatives include specific targets on gender diversity � to increase the number of women in senior positions to 20% by 2006 from the current 2% and to increase the number of fresh women recruits to 30% from the current 20%.
Gaining new market share ties in with using diversity as a competitive edge to boost the company's presence in niche or foreign markets; the company is able to tap into new markets where demographic changes are placing buying power in the hands of erstwhile minorities.
It must be reiterated that diversity is not an end in itself; it must be incorporated into corporate and business strategies. "This link between the business objectives and processes of the organisation and the workplace diversity strategy is crucial to the success of workplace diversity initiatives," says the Australian government's Workplace Diversity Practitioner's handbook.
Diversity management is a CSR issue that needs to be taken seriously, more so if organisations wish to overcome the cultural barriers in an unpredictable external environment and take advantage of diversity of talent.
Tay Kay Luan is head of ACCA Malaysia
Here, Wizan is referring to the fact that Telekom's digital leased line service is a highly advanced, well-managed and secure high-speed service.
Digital leased lines give customers the full power of network communication to support their mission-critical businesses. They offer high-speed connectivity between corporate headquarters and branch offices at data-transmission speeds of 64Kbps up to 155Mbps.
And because there is a growing trend among companies towards focusing on what they do best and not worrying about complex and technical issues such as managing their data networks, Telekom's value-added service has struck a chord with them and is very popular.
While unable to disclose details about their corporate customers, many of whom see their digital leased lines as a competitive advantage, assistant general manager Kamardin revealed that the federal government is a key user; the whole federal administrative capital of Putrajaya sits on a high-speed network infrastructure running at 155Mbps, dubbed PutraNet.
Even state governments see the value and benefit of having quality digital network infrastructures. The Selangor government has been using Telekom's digital leased lines since last year to improve its communications and monitoring of local authorities to ensure citizens are being well served.
Kamardin points out that with the support of its unrivalled and extensive nationwide fiber optic network, the digital leased line service enables a wide range of applications, such as:
You can connect your HQ to your branch office in a secure manner, and transfer data effortlessly without having to fax or post it.
Local and wide area networking (LAN and WAN).
You can connect your LAN to another LAN or create a WAN for information sharing and data transfer.
Voice and data connection.
Companies can connect their PABX to two different buildings or distant locations so that they can enjoy extension calls for free.
High-speed data transmission � you are able to send data at a guaranteed speed of up to 155Mbps.
Video image transmission and conferencing.
You can send video images and also do video conferencing over your leased line connection.
Secure high-speed Internet access.
You can connect to the Internet at a guaranteed speed of up to 155Mbps.
Multimedia application support.
Digital leased lines support all kinds of multimedia applications.
Naturally there is more to this. Digital leased lines come with an extensive support system to ensure businesses operate with utmost security, clarity and reliability. Key to this is the Integrated Network Management System, which operates 24-7 and is able to provide end-to-end management from remote offices to corporate headquarters. It has the capability to identify, isolate, re-route and restore faults.
"Hence, you can focus on your business while we take care of the network," says Kamardin.
Digital leased lines are flexible enough to be customised to any network configuration and business need. Customers do not have to worry about compatibility as digital leased lines support all common interfaces. With over 1,000 digital leased line nodes nationwide and international connectivity via fibre-optic and submarine cables and satellites, communication with branches and customers locally and globally becomes smooth, fast and easy.
Customers of Telekom's digital leased lines will thus be able to offer better services to their own customers and build loyalty. This is something that will ensure the CEOs sleep easy at night.