Manulife: What Does It Take to Champion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Goals?
By Chris Davis
  • Awarded top honours as the winner of Grand Award of the Year and Excellent Diversity and Inclusion Award under the HKIHRM HR Excellence Awards 2021/22, Manulife International, explains how its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are designed to be impactful and sustainable.

  • As the function that intersects with all other business functions, Manulife's HR team plays a unique role in ensuring that effective DEI strategies permeate into every facet of talent management.

As a trusted name in Hong Kong for 125 years, for international insurance and financial services giant Manulife, a strong company culture is the company's “superpower”.  Integral to sustaining Manulife's company culture is a company-wide commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). “The challenge of making sure that DEI is seen as part of our culture,” explained Sudesh Thevasenabathy, Assistant vice president, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Asia. Sudesh adds that Manulife is constantly exploring new ways to broaden the understanding and awareness of the importance of DEI. For example, removing the stigma of tackling topics such as mental health, menopause and neurodiversity. “We cannot assume that a topic is ‘too sensitive’ and just avoid it,” he notes.  Consequently, to better reflect the realities of  Manulife's diverse workforce and its customers, in its Code of Conduct training that all employees are required to complete; DEI concepts are integrated into the modules, scenarios and exercises that  feature personas from different cultural backgrounds, with various disabilities and indicates their pronouns (including they/them). 

When it comes to implementing DEI initiatives, Sudesh says Manulife is committed to an on-going process to establish awareness and transform mindsets, behaviours and practices to create and sustain a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. Importantly, along the way, it is crucial not to make assumptions about what colleagues expect or will push back on. However, by encouraging dialog and building trust, buy-in can be engendered across all levels of the organisation. “We know that a good DEI strategy is a change management strategy,” Sudesh said, “It is iterative and every action matters.”  

To measure key performance indicators and guide efforts and decisions, the organisation utilises its Manulife Impact Agenda.  Across the organisation, performance reviews are done twice a year and all employees are evaluated not just based on the “what” they’ve achieved but also the “how” it was achieved and how well they have embodied Manulife's organisational values. For employee resource group (ERG) leaders, 10% of their evaluation is based on how they have supported the DEI agenda.  The organisation has also set a number of targets in terms of diversity representation of women at assistant vice president and vice president levels as well as disability representation. To ensure accountability, these are measured monthly and reported to all leaders.

Focus pillars 

As an integral part of the Manulife's organisational mission and vision, referred to by the organisation as “commitments”, Manulife's DEI team identified four key focus pillars: talent, culture, business and community. The goals of these pillars to drive change globally  include:

1.  Talent - Diversity at all levels in the organisation that is reflective of the communities Manulife serves.

2.  Culture - Employees thrive because they belong and can bring their authentic selves to work.

3.  Business - Extend DEI values across all products and services to make them more inclusive.

4. Community - Strong partnerships and DEI support in the external communities in which Manulife operates and its workforce lives, works and serves.

“The four pillars cannot stay on the page and must be brought to life in a way that has meaning for our colleagues,” notes Sudesh, “We needed to show how DEI is actually in alignment not just with our corporate values but also with their own personal values,” he adds. While DEI pillars provide valuable focal points they are not a once-off, and will need to be constantly improved and updated as new DEI areas emerge that might not have been covered.

In addition to providing training modules including mandatory unconscious bias training for all employees, programmes and events which all employees are welcome to join are organised with the goal of raising general awareness; providing opportunities to interact with diverse communities and encourage deeper dialogue by introducing unique stories, perspectives and ideas. In 2022, in Hong Kong, more than 20 DEI events were staged, either in English or Cantonese. Programmes and events are offered in multiple languages and delivered both in-person and online formats. Sudesh explained that, during the early stages of offering programmes and events, having senior leaders who were open and vocal with their support went a long way towards ensuring that DEI initiatives did not become siloed or seen as a project being run by the HR function.  “DEI needs to be a ‘team sport’, with everyone playing a role in creating an equitable and inclusive organisation — not just DEI executives or the HR function,” Sudesh said. To build a DEI “big picture”, it was important to understand the diversity needs of the workforce. To achieve this, colleagues were asked to help the company better understand who they are through town hall meetings, engagement surveys and through Manulife's SelfID initiative, which enables staff to voluntarily update their “workday profiles” and anonymously share diversity markers.

Supporting strategies

When it comes to driving effective DEI change, Manulife's HR function plays a vital role in setting DEI strategy as well as being  a catalyst that supports company-wide DEI initiatives, explained Tina Arcilla, Manulife Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion APAC “The various functions of HR each play a key role in Manulife's DEI strategy by supporting the DEI team’s directive of fostering an inclusive culture and brand with diverse talent,” she said. The Manulife Talent Acquisition (TA) team, which focuses on unbiased hiring and finding ways to diversify the pool where talent is drawn from, proactively seeks out partnerships with local NGOs that work with talent from diverse backgrounds and hold career fairs for these communities. “Not only are individual members of the TA team active members and leaders of our employee resource groups, there is a strong culture of collaboration between the wider HR team and the DEI team,” Tina said.  The strong culture of collaboration supports an openness to change.  A prime example is a new role recently created for a “Diversity Sourcer”; a role that is dedicated to nurturing relationships and building a talent pipeline from diverse communities. With DEI concepts needing to be embedded into every company function, the Employee Relations team ensures that equal opportunities training and promotion are provided. The HR function also works with the Talent Management team which focuses on maintaining a merit-based performance culture while the Rewards team ensures inclusive and family-friendly benefits. 

With commitment to DEI requiring continuous improvement by reassessing strategies and initiatives, through internal DEI Microsite and PURSUIT e-learning platforms, the HR function—the same as all staff members— has access to a widespread range of resources. “Both platforms contain comprehensive amounts of information and learning modules which are kept up-to-date on DEI matters globally,” Tina said. In addition, Manulife recruiters globally receive dedicated sensitivity training to support their hiring process.

Elevating the DEI learning experience

Believing when it comes to raising awareness and supporting colleagues who are interested in developing inclusive mind-sets and habits; tailor-made learning tools are crucial, Manulife's Global Learning teamed up with renowned culture guru, Jorg Schmitz of the Inclusive Leadership Institute to develop a three-part, six-hour, online learning series that anchors intercultural collaboration skills across the organisation. This self-driven learning journey explains Tina, is available to all employees to help them navigate and collaborate effectively across Manulife's workforce made up of diverse social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Another initiative launched titled DEI Essentials, provides a learning journey focusing on working in diverse teams, the use of inclusive language and additional modules available to people managers.

Always looking for opportunities to build on its internal DEI initiatives, Manulife recognises the importance of citizenship programmes and marking global observances such as International Women’s Day, June PRIDE, International Day of People with Disabilities and Diversity Awareness Month. “With large scale global and regional events we encourage local initiatives that resonate better with local colleagues,” says Tina. For example, during Diversity Awareness Month, the organisation organised two exhibits that highlight the cultural diversity of Asia which were displayed in two of its Hong Kong offices.  Designed to better reflect local sensibilities, Manulife's Hong Kong EMBRACE Employee Resource Group, focuses on creating an environment where communication and cooperation help members bridge race and culture differences.  Providing hands-on experiences to create inclusion and diversity awareness, the EMBRACE group have organised a food festival, a comedy show and a T-shirt design contest. 

Meanwhile, in addition to offering formal DEI training programmes, Diversity in Action! A pioneering 11-week programme is aimed at ideating inclusive products and services. “It gathered a cross-functional cohort of Manulife employees from various areas of expertise across Asia and got them to think laterally, investigate existing challenges and opportunities and dream up potential solutions,” Tina said.  The programme is another example of Manulife's commitment of building inclusion into every aspect of how the organisation respects and values its people, conducts business and serves its current and future customers. 

Manulife: What Does It Take to Champion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Goals?
PR 21 December, 2022