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Best practices for regional business to manage a diverse workforce

Best practices for regional business to manage a diverse workforce

For successful outcomes, an organisation’s journey with diversity and inclusion must be continuous one

We see the men, but do you see the women?

Not a question anyone of us should be asking towards the end of the second decade of the new millennium but yet here we are – still asking it. One of the most striking outcomes of economic liberalisation has been the entry of large numbers of women into the workforce.

In the west, this growth has been rapid and going on longer. Perhaps not surprisingly, the four countries with the highest percentage of female workers are all part of the EU and very interestingly, they border each other – Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Although the gender gap is narrowing in western countries, for Middle East countries, much work still needs to be done. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, 12 of the 15 countries in the world with the lowest rate of female participation in the workforce are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and these countries may take up to 140 years to reach equal-pay status compared with 54 and 59 years in Western Europe and Latin America.

Why is diversity important? For a nation to be competitive on the global stage, it needs to know how to make use of its female talent pool – otherwise referenced to as, give or take, half of the population. While more women have entered the workforce, there are still plenty of inroads to be made, particularly in the upper echelons.

While the proportion of women who have climbed the corporate ladder and made it to board of director status varies greatly among countries, they remain extremely low.

According to the IMF, just around 18 per cent of firms globally are led by women, and on average, only 22 per cent of board members in OECD countries are women. There is an even lower representation in emerging economies, such as India at 13 per cent, 8 per cent in Brazil and 9.5 per cent in the Middle East. Take the financial services sector as an example – you see women missing across levels. At the customer end, there are too few women depositors and borrowers, and at the institutional end, too few board members and regulators.

According to the IMF, women account for less than two per cent of financial institutions’ chief executive officers and less than 20 per cent of executive board members.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) have become more than just HR checklist items; they’ve grown into a cultural phenomenon that – when executed correctly – have a direct effect on the bottom line.

These days, it is more crucial than ever to ensure that the workplace not only accepts, but also embraces this practice. Especially in United Arab Emirates (UAE) where D&I management is of particular importance given that the country is now the fifth largest in the world when it comes to attracting international migrants. To put this in perspective, immigrants made up 87.9 per cent of the total population of the UAE, according to UN data (2019).

It must be noted that the UAE government has launched numerous initiatives over the past few years to integrate and develop Emirati women in leadership positions, further affirming that the mandate for inclusion can be even more effective the higher up the endorsement.

With the millennial segment growing within the workforce – and expected to reach three-fourths of the total global population by 2025 – building a diverse team is not a choice but a business necessity.

IMA recently published a synopsis called the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, which can serve as a guide for any employee or executive who wants to jumpstart a D&I initiative within their own organisation. The synopsis outlines five key approaches that its members have used to measurably increase diversity:

1. Lead from the top
D&I needs to be exemplified throughout the company, starting from the top. It requires a culture that rewards a willingness to course correct. CEOs, board members, D&I committee heads, and other senior leaders need to set the tone on D&I and lead by example. The same goes for transforming individual departments; for the finance function, the tone must be set by the CFO.

2. Establishing accountability
D&I initiatives shouldn’t be delegated to a committee or entry-level employee as accountability will fall by the wayside. Instead, assign a senior level executive to oversee D&I initiatives, one who will be held directly accountable for progress. The role will be responsible to develop new resources to help employees and members, implement D&I strategies, and monitor performance in this area.

3. Quantify D&I
It is crucial that each organisation clarify and measure what goals are involved in making progress on D&I, including employee statistics and whatever other initiatives are launched. This is an area where finance and accounting professionals, under the leadership of the CFO, can play a key role.

4. Communicate initiatives, goals and successes
Make D&I part of organisational communications across platforms, whether it is in annual reports, employee communications, or marketing materials. Companies that disclose more quantitative data and represent employees in their marketing of D&I have more credibility.

5. Build a diverse leadership pipeline
Create a diverse leadership pipeline within the industry or organisation. During the recruitment or internal promotions process, showcase a diverse leadership representation through succession planning and job postings on sites that attract diverse candidates. Analyse senior level and professional roles of the organisation (front line, managers, and C-suite) as well as local demographic trends as a basis for forecasting future D&I planning for the organisation.

To yield successful outcomes, an organisation’s journey with D&I is a continuum that must be considered as an organic evolutionary journey that is monitored and assessed periodically.

Any transformation or commitment the organisation makes with diversity and inclusion is a great investment to ensure that its workforce meets the needs of a diverse population of employees and other stakeholders. Such crucial steps will eventually become the building blocks for creating and nurturing an inclusive workplace where talent thrives and in turn, organisations thrive too.

Hanady Khalife is the senior director for MEA and India Operations at the Institute of Management Accountants

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