The commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion programs is evident in many organisations– yet there still seem to be roadblocks to realising the full value of diversity. It’s becoming clear that one size does not fit all – and barriers to change might be quite different in the Asia-Pacific.
Organisations around the world recognise the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). In fact, it’s the fastest-growing global practice at Korn Ferry.
Diverse and inclusive organizations are 70% more likely to capture new markets and 36% more likely to outperform on profitability. That’s not surprising, given diverse and inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time. 
Until recently, progress in the Asia-Pacific region seemed a little slower – and largely driven by multinational headquarters. But now, we are seeing Asia-based organisations with global aspirations take up the movement. They know they need an international mindset to expand in other regions – and they want to operate in a way that brings out the best in everyone.
If diversity is the mix, inclusion makes the mix work – and equity ensures the people who make up the mix have a fair chance of success by re-balancing the playing field. These three factors need to work hand in hand to achieve positive outcomes. And global headquarter DE&I agendas might not translate to the challenges on the ground in diverse regions like APAC.
For example, posters promoting leadership advancement of African-Americans have less context in relatively homogenous cultures like Korea or Japan. Language can also be an issue: not every potential leader presents well in English. There may even be legal sensitivities – openly achieving LGBTIQ+ equality will be difficult in countries where same-sex sexual activity is illegal.
Within the Asia-Pacific region itself, there are also different cultural norms to consider. India’s caste system is fundamental to its societal makeup, while in relatively multi-ethnic countries like Singapore or Hong Kong the ‘bamboo ceiling’ might still be perceived as limiting promotion opportunities for local residents.
And then there are the leaders who believe their DE&I programs simply need to focus on hiring more women. That may promote diversity, but not equity.
That’s why it’s important to consider all the dimensions of diversity – beyond physical aspects like race or gender, to socio-economic backgrounds, beliefs, education or experiences.
The Korn Ferry Dimensions of Diversity Model
Once you understand these dimensions, you can empower underutilised and underdeveloped talent – and unlock the full potential of a more diverse organisation. Whether you’re starting out on this journey or looking to make more progress on your investment in DE&I programs, there are four fundamental steps you need to take.
1. Understand the root causes
To avoid addressing symptoms rather than the underlying issues, start with diagnostics. At Korn Ferry, we analyse HR data across Asia-Pacific operations, conduct one-on-one interviews with leaders, and run focus groups and engagement surveys to work out where the pain points and priorities are.
For example, you might find there aren’t enough women at a VP-level and above. But rather than jumping to the conclusion, you need to hire more senior women or create ‘women supporting women’ mentorship programs, look at the root cause. Why aren’t women progressing at the same rate as their male colleagues? Are there any specific policies or structures holding them back, or is it reflected in the organisation’s culture?
2. Build inclusive leadership
Inclusion is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a business imperative. And inclusive leaders don’t simply tolerate differences, they are aware of their unconscious biases and understand the impact that has on their team. They lean into hard or uncomfortable conversations and value the perspectives of others. Recruiting for this skill is a priority – and you can develop it within your leadership team through coaching. For example, Korn Ferry’s Inclusive Leading workshops facilitate conversations about the personal impact of feeling excluded or undermined. This can be a very powerful exercise in bringing people together because we find everyone across the region has such rich and diverse experiences.
3. Shape behavioural inclusion
To help develop these behaviours across the organisation, Korn Ferry also encourages leaders to have one-on-one fireside chats with their team members – giving them the tools and support to have what can be quite confronting conversations.
4. Architect structural inclusion
The right structures need to be in place to make these behavioural shifts stick. That means designing the organisation to serve the needs of all employees – whether that’s enabling workplace flexibility, removing hierarchical cues, or addressing pay equality. And it also means holding people accountable and measuring the impact. You need to track progress to see how bringing out the best in people has tangible business outcomes.
The global rise in DE&I roles is a good indicator that the case for diversity is being taken seriously, with LinkedIn reporting a 71% rise in available positions over the last five years.  But investment in DE&I programs will inevitably fail to deliver unless it is embedded into the DNA of the business strategy, challenges the underlying structural and behavioural biases – and is localised to connect with the challenges on the ground in a diverse region like the Asia-Pacific.