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Hearing From Digi: Reaping the Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

Corporate Governance

Hearing From Digi: Reaping the Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

  • Hearing From Digi: Reaping the Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion What are the tangible benefits of a focus on diversity and inclusion? We hear from Digi, a D&I leader, to learn from their experience.
  • Date: Feb 22, 2021
  • Category: Corporate Governance
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Digi.Com Berhad (Digi), one of Malaysia’s largest mobile service providers, has long prided itself on its ability to nurture an inclusive culture and environment at the workplace. From policies such as 6-months maternity leave, to recent upgrades to their website and app to better serve the visually-impaired, Digi’s commitment to improve diversity covers gender, ethnicity, age, nationality, disabilities and educational/professional background.

As a result of its efforts, Digi is one of the three Malaysian companies included in Bloomberg’s 2021 Gender-Equality Index, together with Maybank and Bursa Malaysia. The index recognises publicly-listed companies for demonstrating transparency to gender-related practices and policies. Scores were given across five pillars: Female leadership and talent pipeline, equal pay and gender pay parity, inclusive culture, sexual harassment policies, and a pro-women brand. In 2020, they were also ranked #37 worldwide in Refinitiv's 2020 Edition for the Diversity Inclusion Index – again, one of only three Malaysian companies recognised.

Research has shown the importance of investing in diversity and inclusion (D&I) as an integral part of a successful business. A 2017 Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. A more recent 2020 McKinsey report found that companies performing better in both gender and ethnic diversity were on average 27.5% more likely to outperform their peers financially.

So has Digi reaped these benefits? And why do they invest so much in D&I? To better understand their point of view, we spoke to Rafey Majeed, the Head of Learning, Talent and Rewards, and Philip Ling, Head of Sustainability.

Philip Ling, Head of Sustainability, Digi

Rafey Majeed, Head of Learning, Talent and Rewards, Digi

Diversity and Inclusion has been identified to be one of your material issues. Could you share why this is important for you?

Philip: We’re a Malaysian based service provider with a customer base of 10.4 million, representing a very diverse spectrum of customers with different needs and expectations. It’s important for us to mirror that with our own employee base, so that the demands and requirements of each customer segment is properly understood and addressed. For us, diversity is a critical pillar of good governance as it drives better decision making, stimulates innovation, increases organisational agility and strengthens resilience to disruption.

Could you share any examples where D&I has brought about tangible business benefits?

Rafey: We have an annual employee effectiveness survey (EES) which measures various dimensions such as employee engagement and enablement. We find that more diverse teams (i.e. those indicating in the survey that “opportunities are equally available for everyone”) tend to be more effective overall when it comes to engagement and enablement. They are also more collaborative. That’s an indicator we use to support the case for D&I. There are plenty of other benefits including having the ability to manage workforce requirements during festive seasons.

Philip: In 2020, we launched a commitment to make our digital touchpoints, such as our website and flagship mobile app (MyDigi) inclusive for the visually impaired community. This is a rather large group as it is the 3rd largest differently abled community in Malaysia. To better serve our migrant customers, we also launched our Interactive Voice Response (IVR) in 5 languages and developed alternative microsites in Nepalese and Burmese, to ensure that our migrant customers can get the information they want. These enhancements have made it easier for a wider customer base to browse our products and services, making bill payments, etc. and these initiatives in turn, will strengthen customer loyalty and brand affinity.

Apart from gender and ethnic diversity, Digi also focuses on other forms of diversity. Could you share more and how they have helped the business?

Philip: For me, one of the great things we’ve done is called the ‘Digi CXO Apprentice Programme’, where selected apprentices are paired with Digi’s chief officers (CXO) as their mentors, giving them the chance to shadow their respective CXO and have first-hand exposure to high-level decision making and dealing with real business challenges. One of the benefits that we see is that the CXO, who is usually above a certain age range, now has a sounding board to validate some of his/her thinking. The younger generation tends to provide a more diverse perspective that is crucial for business decision-making.

Gender diversity is one of Digi’s strengths. You have a rather gender-balanced workforce, even up to the key management layers and the Board. Can you share more about how you got to where you are today?

Rafey: It has definitely been a journey. When we first stepped out to focus on D&I more than 7 years ago, gender diversity was one of the first things we looked at. Now it is an area of strength, but it required a lot of monitoring and efforts to ensure it remains a strength today. This is done through a combination of things – building org-wide awareness, leadership training, robust talent management practices, supportive policies and so on.

One of your key initiatives is to offer 6-months maternity leave, which must have had its operational challenges. How did you overcome these challenges?

Rafey: When we first implemented this in 2016, it was a big change to manage. Everyone bought into the concept but practical implementation required a lot of discussion and dialogue with employees and leaders to understand how we can land on the best setup. Yes, there were some operational costs for stop-gap measures during that 6 months, but it’s a trade-off that we felt was beneficial for Digi in the larger scheme of things.

Philip: We always get asked by other corporates: How can we allow a 6-month maternity for business continuity? For us, the benefit comes from looking at it from a different perspective. When one of our colleagues is on maternity, the first preference is for an internal colleague to step in as a substitute for 6 months. This brings multiple benefits. Of course, for our own staff, they greatly appreciate the opportunity to spend time with their infant in his/her critical first few months. From the business point of view, we are able to use the opportunity to elevate the experience and exposure of other internal staff as well as discover possible talent succession candidates. Alternatively, we can also bring in fresh talent from the industry, as not only a potential talent that we can hire, but also someone who can provide an outsider perspective for industry benchmarking. Furthermore, we are in an industry that’s extremely fast moving. This initiative helps us to build a culture in our organisation where we are comfortable with constant change and disruption.

What is your advice to other companies facing challenges to improve D&I performance?

Rafey: The main advice I would give is that believing in D&I and taking that as an organisational philosophy is a key enabler. If that part is missing, then no matter how much effort is made on the policy level, things don’t really move. It is important to ensure that the leaders – especially top management – walks the talk and invests enough time building a culture of D&I in the organisation. Once that is done, all the other problems can seem trivial. You can find solutions to everything one way or the other.

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