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.
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.