Building truly inclusive and diverse companies starts with leaders. Before goal-setting and strategies, they first need to be allies to their employees, shares Amelynn Tan, Head of Human Resources, Singapore, 3M. 

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, besides protecting employees’ safety, another concern remained on my mind – how were we to continue driving the inclusive culture our employees so cherished?

It may not be obvious, but diversity and inclusion (D&I) could be the way out of the crisis.

I have always believed the myriad of perspectives, abilities and experiences from a diverse workforce spurs creativity and better ideas. Indeed, a 2017 BCG study found that companies with diverse leadership teams reported 19% higher revenue from innovation than their less-diverse peers.

There are three observations that I think are key to achieving D&I in this climate.

First, leaders as allies

Building truly inclusive and diverse companies starts with leaders. Before goal-setting and strategies, they first need to be allies to their employees.

What does being an ally mean? Simply put, this means leaders who are a trusted force for good. Beyond good teammates, they readily speak up against non-inclusive behaviours or policies, and work to change them.

They are curious, listen and forge personal connections with employees.

Second, D&I from the bottom-up is just as important

Many may think accountability for D&I rests with the top management or HR. But I think D&I efforts from bottom-up are similarly vital.

We need to raise our expectations of local teams and managers, and help them take the topic just as seriously, since they make up the bulk of employee interactions in current work-from-home situations.

3M helps leadership and teams play equal roles through cross-functional team collaboration, appreciating a multi-generational workforce, celebrating cultural festivities, forming employee resource networks, and deploying various feedback channels for employees to raise issues and concerns, just to name a few.

Third, drive D&I through safe spaces

During the crisis, employees tend to gravitate towards employee support groups as they provide safe spaces to articulate challenges of remote work. Such groups have helped build a sense of community and motivate stronger D&I efforts.

These networks are a significant part of 3M's commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce. Of the nine employee resource networks 3M has globally, the 3M Women Leadership Forum (WLF) is one to call out. First formed in 2005, WLF seeks to attract and develop leaders at all levels, and accelerate the inclusion and advancement of female employees. We have now expanded to over 65 chapters worldwide.

Despite the ongoing challenges, I'm proud that our commitment to driving D&I has never ceased. Since circuit breaker started, the WLF Singapore chapter have organised three virtual events on the topics of the "new normal" of working-from-home and personal branding, to encourage sharing of experiences and tips.

We have also set up Lean-In circles across Singapore and will be holding two in September and October. They provide a safe environment for our female employees to have candid discussions and ‘lean-in’ on one other for support.

COVID-19 is not the time for D&I to take a backseat. We need stronger efforts from leaders and everyday actions by local teams. Adapting D&I practices to the “new normal” will continue to garner significant pay-off for corporates.

Photo / 123RF

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