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Workplace Diversity & Inclusion: The HK Challenge

The world is a lot smaller than it used to be due to advances in technology, generational turnover, widespread immigration, and emerging markets. This means that there is a growing necessity and urgency for society at different levels, from the governmental sector to day-to-day societal norms, to catch up. The traditional corporate ecosystem, in particular, has to address the changing needs of workers.

It is reassuring, however, that there are signs of change happening. Whether the actions are proactive or reactive, small or big, we should not not get frustrated and be reminded that change takes time. Instead we should celebrate the steps that we have been able to take.

Workplace diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important for individuals, especially those within the newer generation of workers, when looking for a job. Society itself is demanding business leaders to make a bold commitment to address injustice and champion diversity and inclusion initiatives. Corporations and universities are progressively highlighting these concepts into their mission statements and strategy or hiring diversity and inclusion leaders despite the overall market being down. According to a LinkedIn study, the demand for diversity-related roles actually spiked in late May and early June this year even at the height of the pandemic.

The surge for diversity-related roles during this time can be explained as a reaction from corporations to the events relating to Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements that are happening around the world. It is important to note that these events did not happen out of the blue but rather were a result of systems that have become outdated, grown complacent and unwilling to change. This is also relevant in the Hong Kong context. As evident from the social unrest that erupted last year, there is a clear divide within the demographic that has simmered for many years. The widening wealth gap has not helped matters at all. Even though Hong Kong boasts a relatively diverse population especially in terms of race and socioeconomic status, the actual workforce does not reflect it. Additionally, there seems to be a lack of progress and interest to make actual changes in diversity and inclusion initiatives. A corporate example of this divide can be seen in Cathay Pacific’s 2019 Move Beyond rebranding campaign which was banned by both the Airport Authority and the MTR. Why is it that Hong Kong is behind?

There are a plethora of reasons that can explain why Hong Kong is trailing other cosmopolitan cities for diversity and inclusion initiatives. To narrow them down, we can generalise them to two main reasons;

  1. Social expectations: This refers to the way Hong Kong people, in particular the older generation, are still quite conservative and set in a more traditional mindset. Since these are the people that are in power, it is more difficult for a society overhaul to succeed.

  2. Lack of representation: One of the most powerful ways of changing minds is through representation in the media and within the workplace. Representation matters because it shapes how minorities, which make up more people than you can imagine, are viewed by society. It is through representation that those who are seen as different become humanised. For those who are considered different or have been traditionally denied a voice, this representation can be empowering.

Hong Kong is behind at the moment. But it doesn’t have to end that way. The way Hong Kong is set up, corporate power has influence. The benefit of this is that businesses are more susceptible to hearing change if it comes from their target audience and customers. Through advocacy at the grassroots level, we can convince people to see the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce and environment so that more people will push for change. Those in power in the corporate level can take those steps to tackle this through diversity management initiatives that promote greater inclusion of employees. Doing so will not only be good because in terms of societal good, but can also have a lot of physical benefits for companies. Effective diversity management can open up new perspectives, foster innovation, reduce turnover rates, improve employee performance, as well as increase profits. If everyone does their part, we can help to promote a system and make it a norm for everyone to be given an equal chance to thrive and grow no matter the differences in background. Remember that there are no negative consequences for this. So start now and be part of the change.

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