Driving diversity, inclusion and digital transformation together in fast-evolving times

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By Ronnie Latinazo
Country General Manager, Dell EMC Philippines

AS THE business landscape continues to evolve quickly, two concepts are becoming increasingly apparent and are starting to intertwine. The first, ‘digital transformation,’ is a term familiar to many, describing the advanced technological processes designed to improve business outcomes and operations. The second, ‘diversity and inclusion’ (D&I), is rapidly growing as a business imperative.

In recent years, leaders have been challenged to maintain their organization’s relevance in the digital economy, which has been notable for its widespread disruption of the status quo. The importance of D&I in digital transformation has also been widely discussed, as the understanding that diverse teams are more innovative and creative has increased. This has been quite evident in companies with high percentage of women executives: according to a DDI study, in the 20% of companies that performed well, 27% of which were led by women executives.

The indicates a positive outlook for companies in the Philippines, as according to the latest Grant Thornton study, the country is among the top-ranked countries (#1 in Asia, #5 in the world) that have women in senior management positions. However, the limited access to developmental work opportunities (55%) was cited by these women executives as one of the barriers that hinder them from obtaining the necessary skills to be successful in their positions.

This makes it all the more important for companies to balance and focus on the changing relationship between humans and machines. 8 in 10 business leaders in the Asia Pacific & Japan (APJ) region agree that humans and machines will work as integrated teams inside their organizations within the next five years. What does this mean for human skills? A survey conducted by McKinsey revealed that execs believe employees with strengths and skills such as creativity, critical thinking, decision-making, and the ability to process complex information, will be in higher demand in the workforce of the future. Clearly, for any organization going through a digital transformation that is looking to create new products, applications and customer touch-points, it is crucial to consider creativity, as well as ensuring that the teams involved have a variety of perspectives and experiences. This is where diverse and inclusive teams will come to the fore in helping organizations to be strong contenders in this digital era.

So, as organizations look to navigate digital transformation — and truly prosper from it — it is clear that D&I has a part to play in helping businesses to succeed. What, then, do business leaders need to consider in order to make digital transformation a reality, while emphasizing diversity?

1. Being aware: Staying ahead of conscious and unconscious bias

Showing bias and perpetuating stereotypes can happen inadvertently, and organizations need to be proactive in addressing this with awareness and education programmes.

The tech industry, which has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated environment, provides a great case-in-point. In 2017, Vodafone reportedly rephrased its job advertisements with a specific focus on eliminating gender bias. During a three-month trial it saw an increase in the number of women hired by 7 percent. An advert for a cloud service operations engineer — originally written to seek “outstanding individuals” and “help on our aggressive journey” — was modified to more gender-neutral language and a search for “extraordinary individuals,” and “help on our bold journey.”

Being aware of such “blind spots” or preconceived notions can help leaders, and particularly HR teams, formulate necessary strategies to foster a welcoming environment. Correcting imbalances in unconscious bias awareness can have far-reaching and advantageous effects.

2. Be strategic about D&I initiatives and digital transformation outcomes.

In addressing diversity, it is not simply a question of ticking a box and hiring someone just because he or she is different by race, nationality, or sex. Equally, leaders must avoid taking D&I as short-hand for “gender equality.” Instead, they and their organizations must understand the end-to-end goals for D&I, just as they would for digital transformation.

Challenges around D&I and digital transformation alike cannot be solved by creating a new job function or by hiring a specific number of human resource officers or technology leads. Such transformations are cultural, take time, and involve the entire organization — and the onus is on leaders to ensure that related initiatives are well-communicated and fit into realistic and achievable timelines. Neither is a short-term project or something that can be patched with a ‘quick fix’ — and nor should they be addressed for the sake of seeking awards or accolades. Rather, time and energy should be invested in ensuring that the whole organization fully understands diversity and digital transformation, and that it is committed to it for the long-term.

At Dell, celebrating the diversity of our teams is important to us. Over the years, we’ve established various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that provide mentorship and leadership development for employees globally across all genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations and backgrounds. Our APJ region has the largest ERG membership, with over 12,000 participating team members. The result is a more engaged and energized team, and this is telling in our business results, where we’ve demonstrated strong growth as a company — the ultimate testament to the strength and quality of our team.

3. Tap chief HR officers and CIO-expertise to pace the rate of change, so diversity and digital can truly collide for mutual benefit.

HR and IT are focused on the trend of what’s happening between people and technology. For example, digital transformation has eliminated a lot of the ‘less glamorous’ work associated with the HR function — i.e. through the automation of payroll and salary records — allowing that department to focus more on strategic initiatives and analytics. Increasingly, technology is giving the HR department the power to innovate, something that will be increasingly important as organizations consider new employee engagement and continuous-learning strategies, ensuring their teams are fully readied to harness the power of technology and transformation programmes.

Further, considering that ‘diversity’ can also include ‘diversity of generation,’ CIOs will need to work even more closely with Chief HR Officers (CHROs) to formulate strategies that will enable different generations to work together, as ‘Generation Z’ is welcomed to the workforce.

According to the Philippine findings of the Dell Technologies’ “Gen-Z: the future has arrived” research, 86% of Gen-Z Filipinos are willing to be technology mentors to others, especially for the older generation, for the job. This implies an opportunity for companies to reduce an inevitable “digital divide” among five generations in the workplace, by addressing variances in IT competency and build a more well-integrated workforce.

My advice to organizations is: leverage and support your CHROs and CIOs. Ensure that they have a strong relationship and an open dialogue that fosters collaboration, innovation and mutual enablement from which the whole organization will profit.

With a heightened focus on driving business success in an era of disruption and reinvention, all leaders should take steps to embed D&I within their digital transformation strategies. This will not only help to accelerate the path to success, but it will also be actively noticed — and valued — by the talent you wish to attract and the customers you are looking to serve.