Community Business CEO Peter Sargant on How to Build a Truly Inclusive Workplace

Diversity and inclusion in workplaces traces its roots back to the first modern equal employment legislation introduced by the US Congress in 1943. Since then, considerable progress has been achieved whereby workplaces have now designed structures and policies to be more accommodating of the wider biodiversity of talent.

Peter Sargant, CEO of Community Business, is a veteran with over 20 years of experience in the D&I space. He is widely known for founding the Diversity and Inclusion Council of Standard Chartered Bank Hong Kong as well as the bank’s LGBT+ Affinity Network. He is also recognised for his service to the AIDS Concern Foundation in multiple leadership roles, including vice-chair of its fundraising strategy committee.

Lynk caught up with Peter for a chat about his journey from corporate to non-profit D&I policies, as well as modern day strategies companies could adopt to create more equal workplaces.

L: Lynk | P: Peter Sargant

L: How would you describe your current thinking about D&I and how has your thinking changed over time?

P: Throughout my career, I have always been a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion. When I first moved to Asia in the mid-1990s, the conversation was quite one-dimensional, focused on singular issues as-and-when they garnered attention. I took a reactionary rather than a measured approach to conversations, hoping that we could fix everything immediately. As the narrative evolved, my understanding of the intersectional nature of equality and inclusion has evolved with it. Today, we see interventions to promote diversity and inclusion from the bottom up, representing a much wider range of voices and opinions. 

Reflecting on the evolution of my approach to D&I, I today see the value in designing holistic solutions that hold the beneficiaries and their needs at the heart of the conversation. Success should be measured constantly and by interacting with target groups. Our approach to D&I should continually question our motives, and we must challenge ourselves to step outside of our own echo chambers, ensuring that we amplify the voices of minority groups, making space as allies for them to advocate on their behalf. The conversations we see about the complex nature of race and inequality recently are urgent and necessary, and I look forward to seeing how they contribute to the broader debate and our work in this area. 

L: What is a memorable D&I initiative which you introduced that you believe was impactful and are proud of? 

P: For me, the most important piece of work that I’ve engaged with has been the growth and development of employee resource groups (ERGs) and networks in Asia. In the years since we introduced the ERG model to Asia, I’ve noticed a higher representation of Asian talent and a far greater number of women leading these networks. As an ally, understanding when to elevate minority voices and when to step back and ensure they take the platform to advocate on their own behalf is an exercise in self-reflection and understanding privilege as well as something that we can all benefit from contemplating.  

Peter Sargant, CEO of Community Business
(Photo Courtesy of Peter Sargant)

L: What are a few often-overlooked D&I metrics that organisations need to start adopting?

P: Only a few years ago I recalled bemoaning the absence of relevant D&I metrics and so let’s not forget just how far we have come. However, the relevance of these metrics remains a major challenge in Asia. Market-specific and local context adaptation is often overlooked when implementing global policies. Key markers that we should focus on include: 

  • Measuring Inclusion: This is determined by indicators such as engagement, incidences of exclusion and qualitative feedback mechanisms. 
  • Retention Data: Specifically, tracking the leaky pipeline to uncover at what point a female talent leaves. Ensuring comprehensive follow up that reaches out and gathers qualitative metrics on why talent leaves.
  • Engagement Surveys: Examine the quality of horizontal and vertical relationships with the organisation. Develop an understanding of the fact that individuals are not operating as isolated entities within the organisation, and the quality of relationships impacts their engagement and employee satisfaction. This data can be particularly useful to make workplaces more inclusive for diverse talent and underrepresented minority groups.

L: At Lynk, we celebrate diversity of thought because we believe in the importance of bringing diverse viewpoints to every discussion. What would be your interpretation of diversity of thought?

P: This is an interesting question, especially now as we’re just starting to work on research around diverse thinking. It’s undoubtedly the case that diversity of thought won’t be achieved simply by looking at diverse representation, much like inclusion is not assured just by bringing together diverse talent. While diverse representation is important, to achieve true diversity of thought, we should include the more complicated questions around economic background, cultural influences, thinking style, communication style, etc. We must challenge ourselves to ensure that truly diverse perspectives are not just heard, but valued, encouraged and nurtured in a way we haven’t traditionally done before. Disruption needs to be welcomed. Those that express dissent are not seen to be ‘trouble-makers’ and must feel safe to express their opinions and sometimes quite radical ideas. They should feel valued for these contributions. Achieving true diversity of thought requires a systemic shift in how we look at inclusion.

Can you tell us a bit more about how Community Business has developed a strong culture of D&I?

P: I have only been at Community Business for three months, and much of that has been working remotely for us, so it’s premature for me to speak directly on this as yet. But when I ask my team, it’s encouraging to hear them say that they feel valued, supported and championed by the managers they have worked with. This is not just due to the remarkable individuals but also due to the focus on people management. Regular weekly and bi-weekly catch-ups are the norm. First-time people managers are given advice on how to build trust and an effective management style. There is a healthy feedback culture and there are various efforts led and encouraged by our leadership team focused on creating a “great place to work” and having conversations around values and culture.

This time around, we’ve focused more on stability and employee wellbeing. It’s a difficult year for many of us, but there is no more critical time for us to come together and support each other. I have been very fortunate to work with amazing people throughout my journey. People that challenged me, encouraged me and gave me a real sense of belonging. At Community Business, I hope to role model the kinds of workplace practices we see through the leading companies we work with, to create a great place for people to work, where our teams have the opportunity to do their best and inspire others to move forward and create the social change that society so badly needs right now.

L: Why is D&I a business imperative?

P: This question strikes at the very heart of why diversity and inclusion are so important to companies. Rather than building business cases, we should be educating leaders on the fact that diversity of thought and opinion are essential to future-proof our businesses. A D&I lens should be applied to all strategies, decisions, and actions that organisations make. This is essential to ensure that businesses operate inclusively as well as responsibly.

Companies should keep in mind their diverse customer base as well as their employees when applying a D&I lens to business planning. This is not only vital to risk mitigation but provides an advantage in the VUCA world of today, positioning companies as an employer of choice. In our digitally-driven society, consumers hold companies accountable for their actions and judge them just as critically on their ethos as on their products or services. With this in mind, it is then imperative that D&I values inform all business decisions and are not merely paid lip-service to.

Peter is also speaking in our Pride webinar next week where he will discuss why diversity and inclusion should matter at work. Register for your free ticket here.

This interview is a part of Lynk’s diversity and inclusion focus for Pride Month. Read more about our other Pride initiatives here.

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