Tang Chay Wee, Chief Operating Officer, Hitachi Asia, shares why it is important for him and his team to create an inclusive space where employees embrace each other’s differences.
In embracing the Konsei culture (meaning ‘mixed community’), Hitachi Asia has promoted the inclusion of disabled persons in business activities, the appointment of foreign nationals, and celebrated diverse communities with festivities, amongst other things.
A firm believer and advocate of this is Tang Chay Wee, Chief Operating Officer, Hitachi Asia (pictured above), who has been with Hitachi's group of companies for more than 20 years. Today, alongside his current role, he serves on the board of directors in various Hitachi group companies & affiliates; holds the position of Chief Marketing Officer for the APAC Water & Environment Business as well as the APAC Strategic Management Office, and as Director for Filinvest-Hitachi Omni Waterworks.
In this interview with Arina Sofiah, he shares his journey of ensuring that equity is included in all processes and policies across the whole employee experience.
Q In 2021, Hitachi announced its commitment to achieving 30% non-Japanese and 30% females in executive and corporate officer roles by fiscal year 2030. What steps is the company taking toward this goal in Asia?
Hitachi is committed to implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the organisation to be a global leader and foster sustainable growth of the business. Sustainability is the very core of Hitachi’s business strategy, and to be a global leader in social innovation, and DEI is a crucial component for successful growth.
A diverse workforce that represents society will allow the group to better understand customers and society’s needs.
As part of our strategy, we set the target to achieve 30% non-Japanese and 30% females, to grant equal representation in our leadership layers. To do so, we will be working on five key pillars of implementation:
- Leadership commitment,
- Organisational culture,
- Recruitment activities,
- Retention, and
- Promotion to higher positions
To achieve the target, we ensure that all employees complete our unconscious bias training to educate them about best practices.
On the management front, we are building a pipeline of diverse leadership for our nominating committee and executive committee with the Future 50 programme. Through various interviews and analysis of job performances, we identified a group of 50 diverse employees – based on their merit regardless of age, gender, or nationality, across the region with next-generation development potential. These individuals will receive one-on-one mentoring with independent directors and extensive training to be better leaders.
With this programme, we hope to change mindsets to develop our employees for important positions in the future.
Additionally, we take pride in celebrating our diverse communities with festivities such as International Women’s Day and Pride Month. These celebrations help create a stronger sense of belonging among our employees.
Q Different markets come with different cultures and mindsets – how is Hitachi Asia adapting its DEI strategies to each market’s needs, while at the same time unifying them across the markets?
Driving the diversity agenda is challenging, especially in a region that covers approximately 50 countries with various religions and forms of government, not to mention nearly 2,300 different languages and dialects.
We must understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach in a multi-cultural region. Hitachi recognises this in our approach and works with our regional business leaders to ensure that each region has its own DEI strategy that aligns with its culture and respective regulations. These business leaders and regional DEI leaders will work together collaboratively to set these strategies.
We also understand the value of data and new technologies in identifying gaps, as well as behavioural and structural blockers. To resolve these blockers, we use equity as a key enabler across all processes, policies, and procedures. This will allow us to build a sustainable growth mindset, ensure agility in processes and create innovation.
Technologies such as Big Data, AI, and Cloud are effective tools to gain a deeper understanding of your employees and their lived experiences.
In Asia, we actively promote the appointment of foreign nationals, especially at the decision-making level. Currently, six out of 13 people on our board of directors are foreign nationals.
As a non-Japanese executive, I’m proud to say that I’ve seen how committed the company is to building an environment in which not only female or non-Japanese but also people with various personalities can play active roles. We are working to develop and further strengthen the management oversight functions.
Q In your role as both a COO and as a board member in various Hitachi Group companies & affiliates, how are you actively cultivating a culture of DEI and contributing to this goal?
As the COO and a board member at Hitachi Asia, I aspire to create an inclusive work environment, where people are encouraged to respect and inspire one another.
I believe we’ve implemented various initiatives that will put inclusion into practice, promote equality in the workplace, and thus contribute to the success of our business.
Our Valuable 500 partnership is a great example of this. The goal of the initiative is to promote the inclusion of disabled persons in business activities. We’ve been able to do so by working with special education institutions and agencies that support the disabled, accepting applications for internships and on-the-job training.
Hitachi has also expanded employment for the disabled by using Japan’s "special subsidiary company" system to build more accessible workplace environments, and by providing employment opportunities where each individual can fully demonstrate their own abilities in keeping with their unique circumstances.
Q At the same time, how does DEI tie in to Hitachi’s recruitment and retention strategy? Do tell us about some interesting initiatives in place.
Placing diversity and inclusion at the heart of employee retention and recruitment is a critical step toward creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace. It is essential to make sure equity is included in all processes and policies across the whole employee experience – from the hiring process to everyday work life.
With that in mind, Hitachi has embraced the Konsei culture: Konsei means ‘mixed community’ or ‘mixed voice’ in Japanese.
Hitachi has adopted this mindset throughout the organisation to leverage the power of human connection and make the company stronger. We’ve also implemented Konsei to empower marginalised groups, such as Konsei women, which is focused on providing mentorship, leadership programming, and support for the women in our company.
Q What are some challenges you've faced in rolling out these initiatives, and how did you overcome them? In that vein, what are the biggest barriers facing workplaces today, in achieving a stronger culture of DEI?
Leaders are faced with many challenges when it comes to DEI, from navigating hiring freezes that impact efforts to build a more diverse workforce, to the growing demand for HR leaders.
Still, the key barriers that are hampering DEI success include:
- Lack of measurable goals: Simply recognising the need for DEI isn’t enough to enact change. Leaders must take the initiative to use goal-setting frameworks such as objectives and measurable goals to see results. Similarly, we have taken the initiative to identify the relevant metrics in terms of performance and receptiveness to measure the effectiveness of programmes.
- Insufficient training to foster connectivity: While mandatory diversity & inclusion training is helpful in educating employees, it fails to create shared accountability for each employee to adopt these DEI best practices. Instead, organisations should prioritise training that teaches empathy, communication, and conflict management. By adopting these skills, we celebrate our differences and learn better ways to communicate. At Hitachi, we’ve found that the best way to engage our employees is by communicating these values through storytelling.
- Low or no prioritisation from leadership: Another barrier to DEI implementation happens when senior leaders don’t make the initiative a priority — mainly because they are prioritising business success over employee satisfaction. This should not be the case. Organisations must frame DEI challenges as an integral part of the company’s core values and encourage employees to see DEI as an advantage (rather than a nice-to-have). According to Deloitte, companies that embrace DEI report better business performance, with an 83% increase in innovation and a 42% increase in team collaboration. We have reflected this in our founding spirit, embracing harmony, sincerity, and the pioneering spirit. I believe Hitachi has done well in embracing DEI by educating our leaders on inclusive ways to communicate with employees. From there, our leaders help to set the tone of what is to be expected in terms of DEI.
Q Looking at DEI on a broader spectrum - What do you envision for the future of DEI at Hitachi Asia, and the Asia region as a whole, in the next 3-5 years?
Hitachi envisions a future where everyone, from every gender, nationality, and background, feels welcome and supported to thrive. We are working to increase equal representation among our leaders, to inspire all our employees to work towards the DEI goals.
To achieve this, we will continue to contribute to the creation of social value through the resolution of complex social issues and customer challenges by accelerating group-wide efforts to promote diversity and inclusion and by supporting the creation of an environment in which diverse human resources can maximise their abilities.
Our final goal is to create an inclusive space where we embrace each other’s differences. Only through respecting and valuing these differences can we understand our markets, create better ideas and drive innovation to better society.
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