I is for Inclusion: The Forgotten Element of DE&I Strategies

Date 2024-01-16

Hannah Duley, Global Client Lead for HSBC at Design Bridge and Partners, and Stephanie Ng, Global CMO for Wealth and Personal Banking at HSBC, have worked in tandem for eight months on creating new ways to execute the bank’s iconic brand through human-centric design.

But there is something even more exciting afoot between this agency and brand duo.

Whilst working together on HSBC’s brand activations, the two realised that they shared something important: a feeling that they, as female senior leaders, were too few in marketing. In Hong Kong, women make up just 17% of executive level roles in the workforce, despite accounting for 40% of the workforce and globally, less than a third (32%) of leadership positions are held by women.

Branding in Asia spoke to Hannah and Stephanie as they now embark on a mission to get businesses to improve the day-to-day experiences of women in the workplace — experiences that can amount to a supportive environment, or one that creates barriers for women. There’s no silver bullet cure for lagging gender diversity on leadership teams — both Hannah and Stephanie are pursuing multiple avenues that include mentorship by both male and female seniors. But day to day education is critical, and creates the culture that women face every day.

Stephanie tells us, “I remember interviewing for a senior role and this was the time when my child was two years old. The interviewer tells me that the role would involve global travels, heavy client events and hosting and didn’t think that it would be good for a mother with a young child to be doing the job. Turns out that his unconscious bias had already decided whether I got the job or not.”

Hannah argues that while a lot of businesses talk about diversity, many don’t actually educate their workforce about inclusion and what it means in practice. “Businesses now more than ever need a strong employer brand and experience. Not just for women, but across race, sexuality, disability, neurodiversity and more. Too many businesses are still only focusing on gender and ethnicity from a diversity standpoint — not yet even embarking on looking at how to create an inclusive experience. Famously, men prefer the office colder than women, but this principle extends across the entire employee needs and experience of the workplace.”

She continues; “Businesses are becoming more comfortable with leveraging personalisation for their customers, but we have not yet embarked on what this looks like for employers.” As a single working mother and third culture child, Hannah understands the complexity of various needs that businesses need to start considering.

Hannah and Stephanie argue that one key, and often overlooked, aspect of building better environments in work is with the person who can often define the experience: line managers. It is only through organisational policy that addresses education of line managers and the tools they’re given that women can truly be supported. Line managers need to be more understanding of women and diverse employees to have the strongest levels of engagement, performance and return.

This can be achieved by building programs for line managers, including materials such as guidance on assisting maternity leavers back into the business, how to offer greater flexibility for working mothers or how to support women experiencing the menopause. Women will subsequently no longer need to explain or defend those needs themselves, ensuring that the business is getting the best out of their employees.

As such, the two female leaders argue that it’s time to address root cause, rather than making gestures. Businesses need to foster environments that extend beyond the pages of policy, and to do this requires a deeper, and sometimes more uncomfortable, analysis of the gaps in long term inclusion. Start today, and we can begin to keep female leaders in and moving up, instead of falling down and moving out.

First published in Branding in Asia.