We all know there is a lot going on in reimagining the workplaces of the future. There are so many important questions we have yet to answer, among them: What will collaboration look like? Will physical offices continue to serve a purpose? How can we set up a successful hybrid-work arrangement? 

Within the entirety of this work, I think it’s important to repeatedly ask, “Where does diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) fit in?” 

What we have seen in working with hundreds of organizations over the past year is that the call to action on DIBs—globally—has never been louder. Spurred by some of the events that happened in the U.S. that have spread around the world and have required organizations to step into the conversation, we have an opportunity to weave DIBs into the fabric of how we reimagine workplaces of the future, putting people at the center.​

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging from an Asia-Pacific perspective

Sometimes it can feel like conversations around DIBs are overly representative of U.S. or Western world issues, and far removed for those of us living and working elsewhere. I have worked both inside and outside the U.S. throughout my career, and I’m now based in Singapore. Based on my experience, I would argue that DIBs is a relevant conversation everywhere in the world, especially as it relates to employee experience.

Let’s look at the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region as an example. It has a wide range of geographic, ethnic, and cultural diversity, and there are certainly nuances to DIBs conversations here by country that we need to consider. Yet there are themes that emerge across the region and coincide with DIBs challenges we see around the world.

For instance, if we look at gender, we can see that progress is slow, and we have work to do to improve representation and equity at all levels. 

  • In India, Only 3% of CEOs and managing directors of National Stock Exchange-listed companies were women in 2019. ​
  • In Japan, women earn 23.5% less than their male counterparts.​ 
  • In Australia, women make up only 18% of CEOs​.

DIBs conversations in the region that extend beyond gender are still nascent, as seen in research that shows a gap in programs aimed at ethnic minorities and LGBTQ groups. Colorism is rampant in many parts of Asia, and has implications for exclusion inside and outside the workplace. My own experience having lived and worked in many countries, including in Asia Pacific, is that these conversations are steeped in historical and political nuances and layers. But none of those are reasons to avoid the topic.

The good news is that, in the conversations I am having, many leaders recognize that, in the age of social media, no organization in any part of the world can afford to opt out of DIBs conversations. In fact a diverse and inclusive workplace that fosters a sense of belonging is critical to attracting and retaining top talent. Hearteningly, dozens of organizations, across the region, from Japan to Singapore and Australia, have told me DIBs is one of their top people priorities.

I recently sat down with Devyani Dutt, the head of diversity, inclusion and belonging for LinkedIn Asia Pacific, to chat about how to construct a relevant and leading edge DIBs strategy in this part of the world. Here are some tips to consider: 

Start with the common ‘why’ 

Some might see DIBs work as benefiting only a few, generally in an underrepresented minority. Other groups, often those who hold positions of power and influence, tend to disengage from the conversation. We need common language and a common “why” we can rally around. Our research shows that belonging is that why. As Devyani put it, “At LinkedIn, we talk about it this way: Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being invited to dance. Belonging is being able to dance however you like; you are accepted as you are.” 

Belonging is a fundamental human need, so much so that we have adapted our behaviors to minimize lack of belonging in much the same way we try to avoid physical pain. And research shows that when we create a more inclusive work environment, it fosters a stronger sense of belonging, which in turn positively impacts engagement and performance. Anchoring on belonging also allows people to build empathy regardless of their stake in the conversation. We can all think of a time where we didn’t feel like we belonged. Ideally this common experience helps us foster greater understanding for those in underrepresented groups.

But a word of caution: strong belonging can also occur because you are hiring people from the same networks and communities. Therefore, monitoring belonging for underrepresented groups is crucial, rather than just looking at the overall organization level.

Change the conversation on the ‘business case’ 

It’s not uncommon for me to hear from my clients that they are working on a business case for investment in DIBs. I often wonder what business case will be compelling enough to prove it’s the right thing to do if you don’t believe it’s important. But the business case is there. 

Research has shown organizations with inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. But the ultimate business case is that people do their best work when they can bring their authentic selves to work and succeed not despite who they are, but because of who they are. Today’s multigenerational workforces want their workplaces and leaders to lead from the front on inclusion, and staying out of the conversation, or only having it if it shows up in the bottom line, is simply not an option. So rather than having a “What is the business case?” conversation, reframe it to a “How can this make us a stronger organization?” conversation.

‘Glocalise’ your strategy 

It’s not always easy to have a conversation about DIBs across countries with varying political, societal, and cultural nuances. However, having clarity on core tenants and behaviors that underpin the type of inclusive work environment we want to build is still critical. 

Devyani has some useful tips here. When the conversation around Black Lives Matter started in early 2020 and LinkedIn stepped into the conversation, the reaction from employees in Asia was mixed. 

“Some were very keen to learn more about the events and the role we can play, whereas others questioned if we even had a role at all with respect to the movement that started in the U.S.,” Devyani says. 

The APAC DIBs team’s approach was to draw parallels between the U.S. movement to homegrown issues such as anti-blackness in Asia and oppression of underrepresented groups such as Indigenious Australians. 

“Our role as allies is standing up for injustice, and so we talked about simple actions people can take, whether it’s learning about communities other than their own, participating in employee resource groups, or learning about microaggressions and how they show up at work,” Devyani says.

Get your leaders to lead from the front 

Leaders’ behaviors matter. Senior leaders set the agenda in organizations; they signal what’s important. But research has shown that only one in three employees report that senior leaders encourage an open conversation on diversity and lead the charge of improving workplace inclusion. 

Devyani talks about one of the most important behaviors LinkedIn leaders get coached on: cultural humility—rather than just cultural competence, which is focused on achieving a certain level of expertise. Cultural humility is about a journey of ongoing learning. 

“We want to inculcate this in all of our leaders that we will never achieve perfection, that there is always more to do and more to learn,” Devyani says. Glint’s research also shows that perception of how inclusive leaders are is strongly correlated with confidence in leaders, which, in turn, is often a strong driver of engagement. Bottom line, leadership commitment to inclusion promotes better outcomes for employees and for the organization.

Skill up across the board 

Inclusion is systemic and dynamic. It’s not a one-time event or a training program. It can be created (or destroyed) in every interaction in the course of how work gets done. Upskilling across the organization is critical. As Devyani says, “We believe that each and every employee at LinkedIn has a role to play in creating an environment of belonging. My team enables each one to understand their role, and provides tools and resources to help them play this role effectively.”

Learn more about Glint’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging program.