People are different and cultural misunderstandings, harassment, discrimination and outright prejudice can occur in some Malaysian workplaces, which is detrimental to office dynamism, productivity and profits. Though Article 8 of the Constitution prohibits ethnic or religious discrimination in the workplace, Malaysia’s prevailing anti-discrimination laws have been criticised by some for not going far enough toward ensuring that everyone gets a fair go. It is therefore important that companies formulate their own over-riding internal policies for executives, senior staff and employees to effectively manage diversity within their workplaces. Executive recruitment consultants Michelle Lau and Stephanie Ng from Monroe Consulting Group Malaysia, say diversity and inclusion policies are integral to implementing effective corporate recruitment strategies.
Workplace discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, cultural or economic background, religion, gender, sexual identity, age or disability is an issue that continues to confront many, if not most, nations around the world, including Malaysia. There are, however, a number of downsides to failing to embrace culturally diverse and inclusive office environments. These negative impacts include significantly limiting the talent pool from which companies can hire important executive-level or technical professionals, which drives up salaries, limits diverse points or view within a business and reduces the potential to reach new customers or markets.
Embrace diversity, increase vision
The positive impacts of embracing workplace diversity in emerging economies such as Malaysia are well understood by leading human resources (HR) professionals, who are increasingly recognising and accepting the need for alternative viewpoints that provide the potential for increased business opportunities. The recruitment of individuals from among the same groups of people or genders therefore limits the potential for companies to reach different groups of customers and make genuine connections that can enhance business and maximise profits.
From a recruitment perspective, Malaysia is facing a talent shortage in key areas due to a number of key considerations, including a brain drain, rapidly expanding economy and growth of many important industries, including technology, industry, health, consumer goods and professional services, which includes banking, finance and insurance. It is often hard to attract the right kind of person a company needs to grow and limiting the talent pool on the basis of race, religion or gender is detrimental to those efforts. In effect, companies that maintain these outdated policies are shooting themselves in the feet because imposing artificial hiring restrictions on themselves means salary expectations among the remaining talent pool will increase, often unreasonably so.
The retention of key staff is another important area. Diversity and inclusion are increasingly important considerations in the recruitment of new executives or key technical staff, but having open, modern and inclusive workplaces where talent is rewarded with pay increases and promotions are also extremely important factors in retaining staff. This also applies to the provision of modern employment practises, including maternity and paternity leave.
A number of leading Malaysian companies are leading by example in implementing changes to increase diversity. KPMG Malaysia is a great example, as the company believes that increased diversity and inclusion brings more advantages than disadvantages in terms of challenging conventional thinking by listening to and incorporating diverse viewpoints to constantly evolve and improve services, products and delivery.
The company, which believes that businesses can achieve greater returns with a greater representation of women on their respective boards, for example, has itself implemented a number of human resources strategies to boost diversity and foster inclusion, including time off for all staff to celebrate the four main religious festivals and formalised flexible working arrangements.
Independent London-based economist Mushtak Parker, writing in the New Straits Times recently, lauded Malaysia’s “pioneering” progress in Islamic finance, which is blighted internationally by severe discrimination against women. He pointed to a number of high-profile female appointments in important financial regulatory roles as well as “four women chief executive officers of Islamic banks.” These appointments were based on merit, as opposed to gender, he added.
Banks, leading by example
Indeed, if we look at banks, and in particular recently implemented paternity or maternity policies, Malaysia is making some great progress:
• Maybank enhanced its maternity leave policy to allow eligible female employees to extend their maternity leave periods for up to 365 days in total from the start of their leave, with variable pay. The initiative is part of the bank’s “continuous efforts to humanise people management”
• Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia introduced a 20-week fully paid maternity leave, a first in the banking industry. The bank said this was part of its focus to adapt to and support the changing requirements of the workforce. In addition, new adoptive parents are also entitled to two week fully paid leave
• Deutsche Bank improved its parental leave policy across the Asia-Pacific to make parental leave gender neutral, and aligned surrogacy and adoption leave with other parental leave entitlements
• CIMB Bank Bhd introduced a one-month paternity leave to allow fathers more time with their first-borns. This is a marked increase on the previous three-day period
Diversity matters in executive recruitment
Monroe Consulting Group Malaysia, which has won multiple awards in both Malaysia and the Asia-Pacific for its executive recruitment services, understands first-hand how companies can limit their business opportunities by hiring from the same select group of job candidates.
Monroe specialises in recruitment in emerging economies and has embraced an internal hiring policy that best reflects the ethnic, cultural, religious or gender mix in each of the eight countries in which it operates, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. In terms of gender alone, almost half of the company’s country managing directors are women, including in Malaysia, women occupy many of the second-tier management positions, and women make up half of the approximately 160 recruitment consultants.
Monroe has grown regionally from just one office to eight in the space of 15 years on the back of its diversity and inclusion policy, and it is an approach that it strongly encourages other companies, regardless of industries, to adhere to for improved business outcomes, from the recruitment and retention of employees, a creative and productive workforce, accessing new business opportunities and a better bottom line.
Formulating, implementing and monitoring an effective corporate diversity and inclusion policy is not something that happens overnight – hiring a candidate for the sake of fulfilling diversity goals can sometimes be seen as patronising to candidates, as well as causing resentment among existing employees. To successfully instil a culture of diversity, employers must give equal weight to a candidate’s merits, leaving no room for bias or discrimination.
Recruiters know that some of the strongest candidates they receive come from referrals, and these convert into new hires more than candidates from any other source, so it is important that diversity policies are meaningful and not simply a token gesture. Word-of-mouth referrals to passive candidates from underrepresented groups is a great way to tap networks of specific employees in today’s increasingly competitive hiring landscape and is something companies should be understanding, adopting and enhancing.