Why "walking the diversity talk" is key

By Karen Loon, PwC Asia-Pacific Diversity Leader

I often reflect on whether diversity and inclusion is relevant in Asia – and if it is, how best to adopt it. 

Studies suggest that many people in Asia regard diversity and inclusion as a Western concept, shaped by Western experiences and Western values. There’s also a view that the focus on “individuals” and “difference” inherent in diversity is at odds with Asian cultural and social values. Furthermore, the term inclusion is not always well understood, and can be undermined by the importance attached to hierarchy in Asia. That said, inclusion does play to Asian values of “group belonging” in some markets, where the value of meritocracy is widely appreciated1.

There’s also a view that the focus on “individuals” and “difference” inherent in diversity is at odds with Asian cultural and social values.


Another challenging question in Asia is the extent to which organisations should focus on gender diversity. In some Asian markets there are significantly more women in senior management positions than is usually the case in the West.  You may be surprised to learn that PwC firms in Singapore, China/Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand, have higher percentages of female partners than in many other parts of the world. 

However, this is not the case in all Asian markets. And the relatively high numbers of female leaders in some countries means some Asian business leaders feel that diversity – particularly gender – isn’t a major business issue for them, despite talent shortages.

Do Asian employers “walk the diversity talk”?

So, what’s the current state of play on diversity across Asia? PwC’s latest Global CEO Survey found that 87% of CEOs globally – and a similar proportion in Asia – said their organisations promote talent diversity and inclusiveness, significantly higher than in previous surveys.

CEO's focused on talent diversity and inclusiveness

While this growing commitment is welcome, employers in Asia now need to move beyond simply focusing on diversity by demonstrating their diversity focus is actually having an impact.

PwC’s Winning the fight for female talent publication makes one thing clear: women in Asia have even higher diversity expectations of their employers than their female peers across the world.

Seventy-one percent of women in Asia – compared to 56% globally – said they consider whether an employer publicly shares its progress on diversity when deciding whether or not to work for it. What’s more, 66% of Asian female career starters – compared to 58% globally – said it is important that employers publicly disclose the diversity demographics of their workforce and leadership team. And 76% of Asian women – compared to 61% globally – looked at the diversity of the leadership team when deciding whether to accept a position with their most recent employer, with the percentages rising for female career starters. 

The message is clear. Irrespective of whether CEOs in Asia regard diversity as a Western construct or think the make-up of their current leadership means they don’t need to do more in this area – the fact remains that female talent across Asia are basing their job decisions on potential employers’ diversity performance. So CEOs need to act. And two ways they can do this are by increasing their gender diversity disclosures to demonstrate inclusivity, and combining this with measures to improve their sustainability reporting on gender, a relatively new concept in some Asian markets.

A third step is to make crystal clear to female talent the career development and progression opportunities on offer, while emphasising that these go hand-in-hand with an inclusive talent management strategy.  Women in Asia ranked opportunities for career progression as the most attractive trait in an employer – women globally put it in second place – and women in Asia who had recently changed jobs said a lack of opportunities for career progression was their top reason for leaving their former employer (37% females, 41% males). Female talent in Asia want to join organisations in which everyone has an opportunity to maximise their potential and progress. 

Amid today’s skills crunch, employers in Asia are competing increasingly hard for all talent – and our research highlights that the war for female talent is escalating especially rapidly. Some 88% of employers in Asia have aligned their diversity and recruitment strategies, a higher proportion than globally. Furthermore, 71% of employers in Asia are actively trying to recruit more females, again higher than their global counterparts. 

Asian employers need to take action if they’re to win this fight for female talent. The successful organisations of tomorrow will be those that “walk the diversity talk” – and bridge the female expectation gaps today.

Follow @LoonKaren on Twitter


[1] As at 1 July 2016, PwC Singapore has 29% female partners and PwC Malaysia has over 40% female partners.

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