It is no secret that diversity and inclusion have taken centre stage in company strategies worldwide due to their essential roles in driving business growth. Research has found that companies with the greatest diversity outperform less diverse ones by 36 per cent. In fact, companies with a solid commitment to equality, equity, diversity and inclusion (EEDI) have also been shown to reap a myriad of additional benefits1, such as an increase in innovation, enhanced brand reputation, and the ability to attract and retain talent in an effective manner.
These advantages hold true when viewed through the lens of gender equality. Companies that have more than 30 percent women on their executive teams are significantly more likely to outdo2 those with fewer or no women executives. In the healthcare industry in particular, developing and delivering innovative life-changing medicines for our diverse patients with unique health challenges requires thoughtfulness and creativity that comes from having a wide range of inputs. Incorporating EEDI into ways of working also result in better clinical outcomes3 for patients, as it enables effective communication which leads to higher employee productivity and, in due course, the provision of higher-quality care.
Despite these proven benefits, however, there should still be much progress in designing and executing lasting and impactful EEDI approaches within the healthcare landscape. A report by McKinsey in 20204 discovered that only one-third of the firms the company tracked since 2014 had achieved real gains in executive team diversity. Additionally, nearly 50 per cent had made little or no progress and, within that, many have seen gender and ethnic minority representation even go backwards. According to a survey carried out by Deloitte and NAHSE5, three out of four respondents did not believe that their leadership was held accountable for meeting diversity and inclusion goals.
Then, how can the perception of diversity and inclusion be transformed in healthcare? This is especially the case in the Asia region which is a melting pot of different cultures, races, languages, backgrounds, identities and more. In this day and age, individuals are becoming increasingly inclined to respect differences, encourage meaningful collaborations, and understand the importance of diverse viewpoints in the workplace. With this comes along opportunities to bridge gaps in gender and generation and culture as well as to break through from traditional assumptions and practices.
Factors to consider for a successful roll-out of diversity and inclusion initiatives
Building a talent pipeline
Building an effective diversity and inclusion strategy starts with considering talent management. Building a talent pipeline begins with putting the awareness of EEDI into action. Hiring managers should learn how to recognise potential unconscious bias that they should avoid when conducting interviews or screening candidates. They need to ensure that they consider the wide range of perspectives and qualities possessed by candidates to attract a diverse and talented workforce.
Secondly, while the competition for talents gets fierce, diversity and inclusion become critical factors in attracting and retaining talents. According to Forbes Insights6, a diverse workforce can attract talents in the market. When companies have good career advancement opportunities, they have a higher chance of securing a diverse workforce. Talent management strategies and development programs can be integral in continuously developing the talent pipeline and helping qualified employees advance their career journeys. We have our annual talent assessment processes in place, running various development programs based on talent development plans, coaching and mentoring programs, and short-term assignments for talents across Asia. We have developed and exported our talents beyond the region, which can strengthen a global diverse workforce.
In terms of career advancement for women, I think steps are being made in the right direction. McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org7 found that female leaders are more likely to help employees navigate work-life challenges and spend more time contributing to EEDI efforts. A healthy representation of women leaders is more likely to foster diversity and inclusion.
Strengthening of leadership accountability
Leaders in organisations must play a substantial role in cultivating diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as the extent to which companies respond to matters of EEDI is largely, if not fully, dependent on leadership. In the Heidrick Asia Pacific Diversity and Inclusion Survey 20198, it was found that business-driven EEDI strategies led by CEOs and other C-suite leaders achieve more success. Additionally, around 70 percent of employees in the survey believed that it would be helpful for their leaders to learn to manage diverse groups, recognise unconscious bias, and adopt more inclusive behaviour and thinking.
Inclusive leadership should be regarded as a core competency for people leaders. This begins with establishing an inclusive mindset. It is also important for leaders to model behaviours that help nurture a culture that offers the opportunity for employees to achieve their best.
Once an inclusive mindset is adopted, we can move towards putting EEDI into practice9 by promoting flexible ways of working, conscious inclusion of diverse team members, and creating an environment where open communication is encouraged. Diverse employee communities for the underrepresented can be fostered throughout the organisation by leadership to promote awareness and appreciation of diversity and support people of all backgrounds. We also receive valuable input from our employees through biennial employee surveys, which evaluate our leaders’ inclusion behaviours.
As a female leader, I realise how necessary it is to step up to the plate and be a role model both at work and at home. In Asia, we encourage our leaders to attend inclusive leadership programs where we learn how to manage diversity in teams and foster a welcoming culture. We had also created Women Leaders in Action (WLA) in Asia — a group for women leaders to empower our employees in the region to reach their full potential.
Looking at a long-term holistic approach
For diversity and inclusion initiatives to achieve their maximum impact, it should be made integral to the mission 10 of healthcare companies. Companies should have concrete measures to boost diversity and inclusion, such as a roadmap to implement them and a plan to monitor progress over time.
The established strategy should be part of the fabric of the work environment. Leaders should work with their teams to plan a constant stream of applications of EEDI throughout the year.
We should also measure the performance of diverse and inclusive initiatives by celebrating quick wins, highlighting successes, and managing what should be improved. Realistic goals should also be set to best determine the progress of diversity and inclusion in an organisation. They can take the form of a demographic that the company is looking to increase or perhaps boost overall employee engagement. In both cases, employees, including leaders, need to understand their roles in reaching these objectives and how they can contribute to making impactful change together. For instance, our legal team leaders have specific personal goals to advance our diversity objectives which are continually measured and assessed11.
Steps forward for building diversity and inclusion in healthcare
The adoption of diversity and inclusion in healthcare has proven crucial in driving business impact and success by securing a talent pipeline and enriching a diverse workforce which sparks innovation to bring sustainable growth to life. To achieve a favourable outcome, a holistic approach needs to be adopted while prioritising leadership accountability and ensuring the right strategy to weave diversity and inclusion into a company. When companies can successfully embed a diverse and inclusive way of working into their culture, they can expect highly engaged employees to unleash their potential and ultimately drive business growth.
1 Workforce Institute D&I Insights Report, 2021, https://www.achievers.com/sg/resources/white-papers/workforceinstitute-di-insights-report/
2 McKinsey & Company, 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversitywins-how-inclusion-matters
3 Relias, 2022, https://www.relias.com/blog/how-diversityequity-inclusion-influence-healthcare
4 McKinsey & Company, 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/featured%20insights/diversity%20and%20inclusion/diversity%20wins%20how%20inclusion%20matters/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters-vf.pdf
5 Deloitte, 2021, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/diversity-in-healthcare-workforce.html
6 Forbes Insights, 2011, https://images.forbes.com/forbesin-sights/StudyPDFs/Innovation_Through_Diversity.pdf
7 McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, 2021, https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2021.pdf
8 Heidrick & Struggles, 2020, https://www.heidrick.com/en/insights/diversity-inclusion/diverse_region_inclusive_workforces_-asia_pacific_diversity_and_inclusion_survey_2019
9 General Counsel for Diversity and Inclusion, 2022, https://www.gcdandi.com/app/uploads/2020/12/practical-step-2-top-ten-tips-e-an-accountable-inclusiveleader-final.pdf
10 National Library of Medicine, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387183/
11 AbbVie, https://www.abbvie.com/our-company/equality-inclusion-diversity/diversity-in-law.html