Diversity in the Global Workplace

On November 24, 2012 – Young Corporate Malaysians (YCM) has organised their 4th Annual Summit for this year. As you can see above, all of the speakers are both from the public and private sector where all of them had exchanged insights with each other and also with the delegates as well on discussing Challenges and Opportunities of Diversity in a Global Workplace. Throughout the day itself, 4 sessions of discussions was held and moderated by the appointed Conveners of the Summit.

1st session > “Shattering the Glass Ceiling” – Managing Diversity in Leadership and Organisation

For this session, three speakers had been invited to share their insights on this issue, which is Ms Stephanie Gault (Partner – Accenture APAC), Ms Aireen Omar (CEO – AirAsia), and Ms Nora Abd Manaf (Head of Group Human Capital – Maybank). The session was moderated by Ms Nor Azah Razali (Partner and Managing Director – The Boston Consulting Group – Kuala Lumpur)

What was meant by the “Glass Ceiling” by Ms Nor Azah referring to the boundaries and limitations of women to be a part of a company’s board and also playing roles in the senior management level – where it has been found that only 10% of women that made it into that level in their respective organisation, not only in the country (Malaysia), but also globally. In a way, the representation of women on boards and as a part of the executive committees in Asia VS the World market reflected in the attachment.

A surprising fact which is also a clear example to really show the situation is that, Ms Aireen has told the delegates that she is currently the only woman among AirAsia’s Board of Members. It is one of the good examples to be shown that gender diversity is one of the major problems in a company, yet also a crucial one to be implemented as well – so that there is balances from various aspects, because women are being known as under-represented in terms of leadership.

Ms Stephanie shared her secret to reduce and overcome the problem back in her company by outsourcing in areas with low priorities and focusing on her core competences. She also made a statement that “Challenge is not about the “Glass Ceiling”, but rather in multiple levels, facing the challenges, and coming out intact without “damages” “, as it also refers to the priorities that often change as the time goes.

While from Ms Nora’s perspective, to her the “Glass Ceiling” was nothing – as she never saw herself as a woman in the workforce to be treated differently. It was the same for Ms Aireen herself, as she saw work as her responsibility and does what she needs to do to excel in it.

Talking about diversity – Ms Nora has a diverse background – in HR, Consultancy, IT, Banking stints, and also spanning geographies. As for Ms Aireen, from Investment Banking back in Wall Street at the Big Apple (New York, USA), to Malaysia – as the only Investment Banking person-in-charge in AirAsia to increase growth.

“If an organisation focuses on merit, gender won’t be an issue. When you are accountable to what you are doing, you want to ensure that you do the best, and not to fail.” – says Ms Aireen. She also stated that Tan Sri Tony Fernandes encouraged his team to be entrepreneurial – to move fast and to adjust to market condition. She has also said that, it is not about the gender on why not many females are board members of organisations, it is about finding the right person for it.

A surprising fact has also been shared by Ms Stephanie that only a third of Fortune 500 companies put Diversity as a top issue to look at. Surprising? Both Ms Stephanie and Ms Nora are also believers on the usage of metrics. Ms Nor Azah said that “Diversity is still a challenge to most organisations. However does it really bring real benefits to the organisations? Need metrics to prove.” Ms Nora also made a statement that there is a need for greater understanding, and for people to own the problem, and also for more circles of influencers to take action. To her as well, “There is also “reverse mentoring”, where the “old dogs” can also learn new tricks.”.

At the end of the session, Ms Stephanie gave her last words by saying “To think yourself as a 5 years-old – always asking why, never thinking it is impossible, and always making friends.” As from Ms Nora, “Look at the glass half-full. You should always have that perspective.”

2nd session > Woman Matter : An Asian Perspective

As for the second session, three speakers had been invited to share their insights on this issue, which is Ms Tracy Ong (Managing Director – Bank of America Merril Lynch), Ms Anushia Kandasamy (Manager – McKinsey & Company), and Dato’ Latifah Merican Cheong (Advisor (Chairman’s Office) – Securities Commission of Malaysia). The session was moderated by Ms Wan Nadiah Wan Abdullah (Director – Sunway Group).

“An equal employment of men and women into workplaces is expected to closes the gap of shortage of 40 million of high-skilled workers by 2030.”, says Ms Anushia (referring to a recent research conducted by McKinsey and Company). Ms Anushia made a standing point on the government’s initiative that back in the past times, there were less initiatives done. But now, we have infrastructure, policies, and enabler initiatives. However, it is useless without being driven or supported by the women in the country. As on family-friendly policies, she said that it both applies to men and women, and everyone should become more aware of the trade-offs that are about to be made between one party and another. Referring to the statistics by Ms Anushia’s team as well – it is shown that majority of workers leave their jobs for better ones with the competitors, some tend to change from one working industry to another, and only a few chose to stay home. In a way, some companies may refuse to train women in certain age group(s) because they are afraid of the expected losses as either they leave for family responsibilities or to work with the competitors.

Ms Tracy talked about career and responsibilities specifically on women. She explained it in a graph by comparing a woman’s decision making once reaching mid-30s and mid-40s onwards. As explained by her, at that point of ages – it was like a cross-road for a woman to make decision whether want to stay taking control of her career or leave it and continue life with her responsibilities (i.e family). It normally happens as at times women tend to get themselves in trouble on balancing both of their careers and responsibilities. Thought-provoking questions were asked by Ms Tracy to all delegates in the hall:
“Who am I, and where am I going?”, “At which level do you want to pursue your career?”, “How can you be expected to be invited on board if you resign earlier due to family responsibilities?”, and “Are you taking control of your career?”.

As from Dato’ Latifah, she shared her experiences of working in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. To her, just to have policies on diversity isn’t enough – one need to work in partnership with others including men and women in order to excel. At the same time, she also promoted the opportunities for women to study Liberal Arts in the States because referring to her, Liberal Arts studies can help a woman to be a well-rounded person unlike only studying in a specific discipline or a major and having certain useful skill-sets instilled as it comprises studies on various subjects that will be useful for the women to compete and stay at-par as the men. She also said that, Malaysia’s education system are comprehensive, but not integrate with each other. Dato’ Latifah also shared with the delegates, that women have the tendency to sell themselves as some of them preferred to not to be promoted and just do the current job at the first place. But as the time goes on and the situation become very competitive, they will be come not happy and leave the job. One of the bad effects that should be expected by women before making such decisions.

Ms Tracy gave her last words by saying “To be inspired, you need to have an aspiration.”. And Dato’ Latifah gave an advice to the guys in the hall – “Women can think on a lateral basis. So if you have a job that builds on that, get your women colleagues to help you.”

3rd session > Diversity and the Adaptive Leader

For this session, two high-level ranking individuals had been invited to share their insights on this issue. They are Mr Sridharan Nair (CEO – PricewaterhouseCoopers SEAPEN Region), and Mr Zarif Munir (Partner and Managing Director – The Boston Consulting Group – Kuala Lumpur). Ms Nani Abd Rahman (Vice President – Global Emerging Markets of HSBC) was the moderator for the session.

“What distinguishes us – the millennial (the Gen-Y), is the diversity of thinking” – Mr Sridharan. Diversity in thinking is more important than the typical aspects (i.e age, gender, race) as the world has changed. What matters now is not about what we can do about diversity, is how to get the diversity itself to work for us in our businesses, stresses Mr Sridharan. He also said that women tend to have a better ability to display both EQ and IQ. As on leadership, he stressed that leaders must have the courage to be vulnerable as a person do not have to be perfect to be a leader. He also advised to the female delegates in the hall to have the courage to stand up and to embrace their own strengths. As for the males, he advised to recognise the shortcomings as well.

Meanwhile, Mr Zarif shared his experiences of interviewing a CEO where that particular CEO said that he didn’t believe in diversity. He believes in diversity of intellectual thinking. As one of the important persons in BCG-KL, he also said that when it comes to diversity, they (the BCG-KL team) groom their staffs to be highly adaptive and be humble about the learning process. Mr Zarif also shared that an adaptive organisation have 4 characteristics which is also an advise for leaders – “You have to debate the points by people around you but come out of it with one voice. Emphatise and contextualise. Navigate and act quickly as diversity is important within this area as resources are scarce and also it is needed to look out for a win-win collaboration with people around.”

At the end of the session, Mr Zarif closed it with a statement by saying “Women are naturally better adaptive leaders. Men are playing catch up”.
It has come to a conclusion where leaders whether male or female, should possesses the ability to inspire others and educate. That differentiates a leader and a boss.

4th session > Incorporating Diversity within Public Policy : Milestones and the Way Forward

For the last session, three speakers from the public/government sector who were invited to share their insights are Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria (Secretary-General (Trade) – Ministry of International Trade and Industry), Mr Johan Mahmood Merican (CEO – Talent Corporation Malaysia), and YM Tengku Nurul Azian Tengku Shariman (Director of Education NKRA – PEMANDU). The session was moderated by Ms Nurlin Mohd Salleh (Manager – The Boston Consulting Group – Kuala Lumpur).

Mr Johan kick-started the session by taking The Avengers as the diversity analogy. The reason of why he took The Avengers as the analogy is to show how difficult it is to harvest diversity in an organisation where everyone have high egos, being selfish etc like how every superhero among The Avengers behave between everyone of them. He said that organisations with a balanced diversity generally perform better, but making it happen is a tough challenge. He also mentioned the situation back then where the high-ranked personnel of the Ministry of Finance was conquered by the female until it was once called as the Ministry of Females. Topped it off, Mr Johan also said that diversity always has its challenges; as one don’t always get a consensus because it is harder to gel and not always efficient – but he/she reap the real potential. A piece of advice was also given to the guys by him to change mindsets because women also have their own roles to play too because policies are being written as we speak.

As from Datuk Dr Rebecca, she mentioned about the holy trinity in the public/government sector – specifically about the three highly-ranked positions in the sector itself. A fact about these three positions where one of it is the Chief Secretary to the Government where the roles had never been played by a woman before – in other word, been played by the men until today. She also urged the female delegates to keep shouting those voices out loud until being heard where in some cases, the environment or situation is supportive.

Last but not least, Tengku Azian talked about the ministers, education in Malaysia, and also a little bit touching on the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), and the Government Transformation Programme (GTP). She mentioned that every minister have their own Key Performance Indexes (KPIs) that need to be achieved and their performances are being monitored frequently. Right before the ending of the session, she also shared a surprising fact regarding the tertiary-level education where all faculties in public universities are being dominated by women, except for engineering, management, and construction.

As a conclusion, this year’s Annual Summit of Young Corporate Malaysians has been a tremendous one as it doesn’t involve any political influences. Knowledge shared around throughout the summit was also shared online on Twitter using the hash-tag #YCMSummit and also on Facebook. A good example for upcoming summits that will be organised soon if the aims are to sort something out and get things done, where discussions are being sparked both between the speakers and delegates without any controversial influences around.

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