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Making strides with diversity & inclusion in Asia Pacific


While the APAC region has made rapid progress in digitalisation, future-first strategies and tech-centric organisational culture, the region faces a multitude of challenges in diversity & inclusion. Asif Upadhye, a Director at work and culture consultancy Never Grow Up, explains why the region should make strides with the topic, and how the region can advance its endeavours. 

Encompassing tech and innovation hubs like India and Singapore, as well as tech behemoths like Japan and China among others, APAC countries are a richly diverse mix of cultures, albeit separated by multiple borders. This means that unlike Europe, that allows for fluid mobility between countries due to the Schengen agreement, APAC countries are closed off and cross-country talent exchange is often a tedious process involving reams of paperwork.

This ultimately means that cultural differences are stark and even over the decades of globalisation, it’s been a slow change in terms of APAC nations understanding or accepting each other culturally. Despite this, however, certain countries like India, Singapore and even Australia enjoy a substantial influx of foreign talent – definitely an encouraging trend.

Asif Upadhye, Director Never Grow Up

However, what this also calls for is that diversity & inclusion interventions need to be benchmarked with a more global perspective. Multinationals and other corporates in APAC nations can’t afford to solely recognise the sensibilities of their parent country, they need to go a step further and craft policies that are conducive to inter-country/inter-cultural talent mobility. 

Here’s an interesting insight into why these changes need to be policy-level in nature, and why they absolutely must start from the top, putting the onus on policy-makers and implementors. According to the Hofstede Insights on company-wise culture, many countries in the Asia-Pacific region score exceptionally high on what they term as “power distance”. 

This power distance refers to the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations accept the fact that power is distributed unequally. Essentially, this means that the power balance is skewed, and that people don’t expect any better. 

To get into some specifics, Singapore and India both score very high in power distance, coming to 74 and 77 out of 100 respectively. This means that in both countries, senior leadership is given a very high priority, with hierarchy playing a massive role in organisational culture. 

This reduces team work, collaboration, individual ownership and leadership approachability. While much of this is cultural, this indicates a need for greater equality and inclusion, beginning from the top. Whether it is paternity leave, racial sensitisation, non-negotiable zero discrimination policies, or an airtight redressal mechanism against sexual harassment, it’s time for APAC companies to make sure that these rules apply to everyone, from juniors to C-suite executives. 

Stay aware and know your surroundings

Whether you have offices across various countries, or have roped in global capability centres from across the border, if your organisation has any sort of global associations, it’s your responsibility as a leader to be cognisant of others’ sensibilities. This also follows a trickle-down effect. 

You might have bagged a client from a neighbouring country, or might be welcoming a new colleague from another APAC office. It’s a good idea to do your homework on their home country, and make them feel included when they move to yours. Of course, it’s difficult to be a 100% aware of other cultures, but an openness to learn and accept communities different from yours, is the first step towards inclusion.

The latest Qualtrics survey has enlightened us all on the fact that a top priority for employees is a sense of belonging. It’s time to add sensitisation sessions, cultural learning & development programs and conscious acceptance training to your diversity & inclusion framework. 

Know your people and the societal issues they face

While it’s normal for there to be a degree of distance between personal belief and the professional realm, it doesn’t hurt for companies to double down on eliminating unconscious bias. These biases run deep, and it takes consistent, sustained sensitisation to help people emerge from decades of conditioning. 

It’s also important to note here, that tokenistic diversity & inclusion doesn’t help anyone – not even your business. It’s time to move beyond viewing inclusion through a monochromatic lens. Too many organisations consider diversity & inclusion to be only about gender diversity or only about foreign talent. These are indeed pressing issues, considering that the APAC region scored highest when in terms of gender roles at the workplace, and considering that the cultural make-up of numerous APAC countries is multilingual. 

However, true diversity can only be achieved if inclusion covers every section of society. From language, race, culture, sexual orientation and gender identification, to disability, pregnancy, age and skin colour – the bitter truth is that there are too many bases of discrimination and not enough advocates for equitability. 

Data from LinkedIn shows that towards the end of 2020, posts on diversity had a chance of getting 125% higher engagement than other topics in the APAC region. People are clearly looking out for companies that prioritise diversity & inclusion. It’s up to all leaders to take that first step and translate thought into action, words into sensibilities, and social media branding into real, on-ground intervention.



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