• Perspectives
  • 29 May 2017

Diversity matters

Management

What is diversity?

For some people and organisations, it will be ensuring that there is fair gender representation in a company. Others may view it as having people of different ages, ethnic background and generations. In fact, some even insist that for a company to function well, it must have all of the above.

One thing they agree on however is that diversity refers to the simple idea of having different types of people in an organisation. Today, diversity is a well-entrenched and accepted idea. In fact, studies have shown that diversity leads to better and more productive workplaces.

A McKinsey survey in 2015 showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians.

These results are not surprising. Groupthink is one of the most undesirable behaviours in any company, giving rise to apathy, tunnel-vision, irrational decision-making and lacking the will to challenge when things appear to be headed in the wrong direction. Diversity prevents the insidious groupthink from taking over and brings with it many benefits such as innovation.

What kind of diversity?

So, diversity is important, but we’ve still not answered the simple question first posed: What kind of diversity?

I believe some companies continue to embrace the older form of diversity, what I call the "check the box" approach. This is basically ensuring that there is sufficient representation of gender, races, cultures and even nationalities in a company. But this approach only works up to a degree and does not translate ideas into action.

Doing it blindly could result in hiring for the sake of diversity rather than for what it brings.

What's more important, and increasingly embraced by human resource experts, is the diversity of experience, ideas and views.

A better approach is to focus on people who bring something different to the table, including an original perspective, new skills or a fresh energy to the team.

Here's an example: Once I was looking for a hire for a spot on my team in one of my previous workplaces. On paper, all the candidates were qualified for the job, recording stellar academic results.

But one applicant stood out. She was a fresh undergraduate and had spent her holidays working in part-time jobs. One of the jobs she did for a few months was promoting credit cards on the street.

To me, this job spoke of her tenacity and hard work. It’s not easy standing on the sidewalk, trying to cajole people into signing up credit cards. In fact, she had also managed to hit her quota during her stint, which also spoke of her intense drive to succeed.

I hired her for that little extra I believed she could bring to the table - and today she has risen to become a successful professional in the bank.

Another great example was a young man I interviewed for a fresh graduate role. His part-time job was a bartender.

I was puzzled: It didn’t pay very well and many of his peers had opted for lucrative internships with large organisations or financial institutions.

His answer was simple and refreshing: "I wanted to meet different types of people and learn good social skills. Besides, you learn to multi-task and not to break things."

I also hired him.

Putting an effective team together is like putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. You look for people who bring different types of strengths and personalities that match well with the existing set-up.

This open-minded approach to talent has served us well. Bank of Singapore has access to a wide pool of talent. And we leverage on this to great effect.

We have former engineers, teachers, lawyers, writers and even policemen working in the team. Our 31 nationalities across over 1,900 staff draw on each other’s strengths, complement the gaps of other team members, and learn and grow with each other.

In many ways our business demands that we have diversity of talent. Our client base is global, multi-generational and diverse; many also have a wide range of objectives when it comes to their wealth. Some want to grow their wealth, others want to transfer it to the next generation. That is why we have a wide spread of talent to meet the different needs of our clientele.

Former chief executive and chairman of Ernst and Young, Jim Turley was asked once what he thought diversity was all about.

He said in response: "Diversity itself is about the mix of people you have, and creating an inclusive culture is about making that mix work."

I agree. We cannot talk about diversity without making sure there's a culture of inclusion – that every employee and team member feels that there’s a place for them in the organisation, and our practices and policies reflect this. More than simple business sense, having diversity energises the workplace and supports the kind of culture that we want to have: Deeply rooted in multi-racial and multi-cultural Asia, we are global at the same time, embracing of the different kinds of cultures we interact with in daily the work that we do.

And that’s why we are Asia’s Global Private Bank.

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