Multinational businesses must take global approach to diversity

Out-Law Analysis | 29 Nov 2019 | 5:05 pm | 2 min. read

Without sensitivity towards the local context, multinational businesses seeking to develop more diverse and inclusive cultures will struggle to find success.

Fostering diverse and inclusive working cultures is complex and challenging, and rolling out global programmes across international offices on a 'copy and paste' basis is unlikely to be successful.

Brook Graham, the diversity and inclusion consultancy owned by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, recently opened its first offices in the Asia Pacific region, across Australia and Singapore. To mark the opening, we hosted a series of events in Pinsent Masons' offices. Our intention in Singapore was to offer an open and collaborative opportunity for clients to share experiences, and to provide practical examples of organisations which have fostered diverse and inclusive workplace cultures.

Diversity through a Singapore lens

Diversity in a Singapore context is completely different to diversity in the context of Sydney, Australia, or London, UK. The legislation, demographics, societal norms and expectations differ enormously from one jurisdiction to another.

Justine Cooper

Head of Brook Graham APAC

Rolling out global programmes across international offices on a 'copy and paste' basis is unlikely to be successful.

Understanding a particular organisation's mission, what it stands for and what its values are is important. But the priorities, while aligned to a global strategy, are likely to be different, and so too is the way in which these priorities are designed and implemented.

In Singapore, increasing interest in building diverse and inclusive workplace cultures is often attributed to:

  • increasing competition to attract and retain talented employees; and
  • harnessing innovation through greater diversity of thought.

Fostering diverse and inclusive working cultures takes time and is multi-layered. For businesses in Singapore, it will be important to make a compelling business case to senior leaders and to find a way to connect with people in a way which inspires authentic sponsorship.

Leader-led accountability

One option is to appoint senior individuals on the ground in Singapore to lead on diversity at a local level. These individuals should be encouraged to immerse themselves in activities which allow them to walk in the shoes of people different to them - for example, a reciprocal mentoring scheme; listening groups; or seconding or networking opportunities with people from different backgrounds and experiences.

Pinsent Masons, in partnership with Brook Graham, invited colleagues in Singapore to attend local focus groups in order to learn about diversity and inclusion and have their say on what mattered to them. Valerie Wu, who joined the panel at Brook Graham's Singapore launch event, explained that this led to the setting up of a local Diversity and Inclusion Committee with three areas of focus: gender equity, mental health and embracing cultural diversity.

Stuart Affleck of Brook Graham told attendees about some of his work with global clients with a presence in Singapore. First, he talked about partnering with De Beers to assess the maturity of their work on diversity and inclusion. De Beers has embraced its commitment to gender equity beyond internal employees. The business embraces gender equity through its corporate social responsibility agenda by committing microfinance loans to female entrepreneurs in the mining communities in which it operates and is one of the United Nations' #HeForShe thematic champions under its group chief executive Bruce Cleaver.

Fostering diverse and inclusive workplace cultures takes time. Cromwell Property Group, another global client with a presence in Singapore, recognised the opportunity after successful growth to build connections and foster truly collaborative cultures with colleagues across its multiple divisions and jurisdictions. It partnered with Brook Graham on a review of practices and employee data, along with internal frameworks and communications. The company has now established a Diversity Leadership Council, represented by three members of its executive team, which has developed a business case for diversity and inclusion and an action plan to foster an inclusive, collaborative and connected workforce that embraces and harnesses its collective diversity.

Our panellists concluded that there is power in collaborating, sharing challenges and successes and learning together. Organisations must develop their own 'why', and weave diversity and inclusion into established workplace practices and norms to build momentum.

Justine Cooper is a consultant at Brook Graham, the diversity and inclusion consultancy owned by Pinsent Masons.