Building an Inclusive Organization in Asia

The problems in building an inclusive organization in Asia can be very different than those we face in western countries. Migrants in western countries often are in the minority. They often lack power and their opinions are neglected. In many Asian countries this problem is reversed. Migrants are sent by their employers to build a new branch which makes them the one’s  in power.

People in some countries even have – and this is very sad – some weird kind of inferiority complex, a result of being colonised for a long, long time. People in these countries see a “white guy” and immediately think he or she must be rich and powerful. This can lead to an imaginary gap between  foreigners and locals. It’s sad, but a fact of life. But still, we don’t need to accept it. Hell no, we should do something about it!

Of course the problem of inclusion in Asia is not all about foreigners. It’s far more than that. Ethnicity, gender, educational background, social class, way of thinking, learning style, personality – all these factors (and many more) also play a role in Asia. So what can we do to create an inclusive work environment?

First of all we need to ensure that the people who make the decisions about hiring, firing, talent development, staff promotion etc. themselves are diverse. Human resources, in the best case scenario, should reflect the differences that come into play in the organization. And they should know what is going on in other departments and with all staff members. Rotating job functions is one of the ways to do that. Give them the chance to work together with as many employees as possible and experience first hand what the problem of the organization are.

Let foreigners experience first hand what it means to work in a department which is traditionally not that dominant or powerful. I love to give the example of my friend who is working in the Indonesian garment industry. Imagine an incredible hot, crowded and loud working environment with terrible air.



Garment factories are always struggling to keep up with their deadlines.They compete through low prices and quick delivery. That’s why my friend – a German factory manager – often finds himself at the front line of the production, operating the sewing machine together with all the locals. To be honest I couldn’t even stand the working conditions for a single day. He strives on it.

I’m not saying that you need to go looking for a job where you can work in the worst environment possible. What I want to say is that it is important to know what it feels like to work on the front-line. Otherwise, how do you want to understand the perspective of your employees? Spend some time in sales, operations or whatever it is you know little about. It will open your eyes.

However, that’s not the only way to get an understanding about your colleagues’ needs. Equally important is to regularly conduct employee surveys – it is a good start to finding out to what extent their opinions are heard and valued in your organization and in which ways they feel like being in a disadvantaged position. You will learn about problems you had no idea about. Start with a quantitative survey and go in-depth by conducting interviews related with the problems that surprised you. Make sure that you ask the right questions – those that can lead to insights on which you can act.

An example for a survey item would be: “I believe that acting in an inclusive manner is an important part of my performance evaluation”. The answer to that question is a good indicator for whether or not employees feel that the management values inclusive behavior. “Good” behavior is always rewarded, therefore it is important to make inclusive behavior part of the performance evaluation. Employees will see that the management is serious about making inclusion a priority.

You will only create an organizational climate in which different ideas are valued if you demonstrate your belief that inclusion has a direct impact on business results. Making inclusive behavior part of the performance evaluation is just one way to do that. Generally speaking you have to hold managers and other employees accountable for giving people of various backgrounds the opportunity to express their point of view. And people have to feel it. They have to know that they can be themselves without facing any consequences.

I think you can already see where this is heading: the only way to create such an organization is by integrating inclusion into all aspects of the business. Mission, policies, processes and leadership practices. Every part of the business has to show how important inclusion is to the top management. Show your employees that their opinions are as important as yours – they are just different.

Of course this means that you will need to bridge the gap between you and them. Inviting them for golf is definitely not the right way to do that. Do anything to show that you appreciate and respect them and their way of living. Find out what they do during break time and join them.

Well, it might not be that easy at times. In some cultures where power distance high (meaning that people embrace power differences), the employees might not be ready for that. “Force” 😉 them if necessary. Remember: in Asia your colleagues are your family. As an expat you are automatically a little bit “different”, so it is your job to become accepted as a family member.

I doubt that you read until here. It was a long article and people really don’t read that much on the internet. But if you did, I highly encourage you to share your experiences about creating a culture of inclusion. Especially in terms of bridging the gap between foreigners and locals. Any experiences?






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