Speech at the Employee Engagement Summit 2010

“Shared Vision: Equal Opportunities and Successful Employee Engagement Strategy in the Workplace”— Speech by Mr Lam Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission(只备英文版)


Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here. Thank you to A-Performers.com and Singtao News Corporation for inviting me.

Today, I wish to speak on a shared vision, and that is how equal opportunities can help to engage employees successfully.

To begin, I would like to show a short video clip from a docu-drama series jointly produced by RTHK and the EOC, A Mission for Equal Opportunities. This clip is from an episode called, “In the Name of the Family”.

An Insensitive Culture Doomed for Failure

The video showed us how the work culture in Hong Kong is often marked by insensitivity and lack of flexibility. Individual circumstances are not taken into consideration; HR policies are applied rigidly; communication is superficial and leaves room for gossip to take over.

This results in the absence of trust and commitment. Such a relationship is surely fragile and doomed for failure.

Slash and Burn Policies ≠ Productivity

We therefore need to rethink our work culture. Many people in Hong Kong indeed work hard for their money. This is why the city is a successful business centre. But are we working so hard that we are burning out our most important resource, our employees? A recent survey from an NGO, Community Business, shows that almost 1 in 5 of respondents gets physically sick often. More than one-third don’t feel they have time for their family, and more than half of respondents feel “prolonged fatigue, sleepiness and extreme tiredness”. Tired and sick employees are certainly neither productive nor engaged, and they are not good for the business.

So what can we do?

Build an Equal Opportunities Workplace

Building an equal opportunities workplace can help create an environment of mutual respect, which helps employees to feel valued and able to balance their work and life. There are four key elements: The workplace needs to be inclusive, gender-friendly, family-friendly, and talent-oriented.

Be Inclusive

You all know that Hong Kong has an ageing population and low birth-rate. That means that we face a looming talent crunch, and younger workers will increasingly be a rare asset. These workers of the Post-80’s generation are now kicking off their careers and they tend to share some particular characteristics and needs.

Many in the post-80’s generation grew up with few regard to national and ethnic boundaries and take diversity as a given, so they care about an inclusive workplace. They tend to want to make a difference with their work, and their social conscience makes them less likely to tolerate discriminatory workplace practices.

They grew up with technology and the internet, which widened their choices and range of activities. As the multi-tasking generation, they expect reasonable hours and flexibility to pursue their interest outside work. And according to Johnson Control’s 2010 annual report on Generation Y, many care less about money, and more about opportunities to learn, to care, to collaborate and share knowledge across cultures and generations with a team they respect.

Therefore, the ability of an employer to provide an inclusive workplace can make or break their ability to attract and retain fresh, young talent.

Be Gender-friendly

More women than men are now graduating from universities and this trend is set to continue. This means gender diversity matters, and will increasingly matter, in this city’s workplace. Female employees, like their male colleagues, also look for opportunities to advance in a company, and are more likely to remain loyal to a company that takes their gender-specific needs into consideration.

And the reward for you is better profit margins. Research from organizations such as McKinsey & Co. and Catalyst have shown that companies with the most women in their management team tend to outperform their counterparts. The reason? Diversity of views and experience in upper management and the boardroom widens the variety of inputs and enriches the discussions.

It is also said that women are often more prudent in making financial and operational decisions, leading to less potential for disasters like the financial tsunami we saw in 2008. Women play an instrumental role in the buying decisions of most households, which means that companies with a greater number of female managers are better equipped to anticipate the needs of female customers who buy for the whole family.

Be Family-friendly

Closely relating to gender diversity are family-friendly policies. The truth is that women do remain largely responsible for taking care of the family, including children and the elderly. Often many women hit a glass ceiling in their corporate careers, because it is too difficult to juggle the needs of work and family, and end up resigning. This female brain-drain is a serious loss to both business and the community, not to mention the suffering of the affected women and their family.

Family-friendly policies benefit everyone. By putting in place family-friendly policies, you can ensure that you retain more human capital, both female and male.

In the survey you saw earlier, 37% of respondents said they do not have enough time for their family. Nearly the same number said that they would leave their current job for better work-life balance. Policies which allow more time for the family, such as flexible work arrangements, in truth cost little to implement, but can have long-term benefits in attracting and retaining talent.

Be Talent Oriented

Another way equal opportunities can help you attract and retain talent is to judge performances on merit and talent, not on stereotypical factors. When companies value face-time over quality of output, it is the result of lingering stereotypes on what makes a good worker.

Unfortunately, stereotypical attitudes remain prevalent. For example, in a 2009 EOC survey, almost one in five local respondents don’t want to offer a job to a candidate of Southeast Asian or African descent who fulfils the employment requirements. More seriously, almost one in four would not choose applicants of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent.

Yet ethnic diversity helps in business. In this globalised world and in this cosmopolitan city, ethnic diversity in the workplace can help businesses to cater better to their customers and reflect the customers’ particular needs. It also ensures the proliferation of ideas and opinions, which fosters creativity and innovation.

Lip Service ≠ Employee Engagement

As managers, you well know that to make anything happen, simply paying it lip service is not enough. Action and commitment are needed. The same holds true for employee engagement – as leaders of your organizations, you have a key role to play.

Be a Corporate Role Model

As leaders, you have the ability to implement real changes, and be a role model for the future generations of aspiring young men and women. Practicing what you preach will show that all this talk of employee engagement is not just for lip service. One way to do this is to make diversity count in the assessment of managers. It means that managers who are willing to make real efforts and implement changes to make the team inclusive gain credit in the company. By taking action on this now, you can be at the forefront of employee engagement, and show your team that you really care.

How can EOC help?

The EOC is ready to help in a variety of ways as you seek to engage your employees through equal opportunities policies. You can visit our website to access our many resources for businesses, including research reports, seminars, and news. We also offer training and consultancy for Hong Kong’s businesses. Finally, we conduct business-oriented outreach, such as holding talks and setting up exhibition booths at the annual SME Expo, to widen awareness on workplace-related equal opportunities issues. The next one is coming up on 2-4 December 2010.

Equal opportunities and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. A workplace that promotes mutual respect and provides everyone with equal opportunities to succeed, based on their own merit, goes a long way towards making employees feel more valued and engaged. The EOC is ready to work with you to make Hong Kong an inclusive society.

Thank you.