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Creating a culture of diversity


Diversity is the embodiment of everything that makes us different from one another. These differences can be traced back to our different heritage and upbringing, resulting in different perspectives. Research has shown that diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones financially, and yet, women are still underrepresented across organisations, and racial minorities still feel workplace bias.

In an industry that is predominately Asian and male-oriented, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) believes in creating a mutually appreciative and conducive work environment where diversity leads to team success. We chat with three employees in GAR to learn about their experience in the workplace and what they believe can be done to create a culture of inclusiveness.

The Biao Ling, Operations Managing Director, based in Indonesia
Donatella Guerra, Senior Marketing Manager, based in Italy
Esther Aye, Trading Marketing Manager, based in Singapore

What does a typical day in your life as a working woman look like?

Donatella: I am an extremely active multi-tasker whose day starts at 7.30 am and almost never ends before midnight. I love my job and I also take care of my mother and a 12-year-old girl while tending to the demands of the house and social engagements. Work consists of road trips to customers, providing them with market information, achieving sales targets and many such activities. My days are never boring as no two days are ever the same.

Esther: My days move so quickly that I hardly have a moment to sit back and breathe it all in. A typical morning starts with a rushed shower and doing up my hair and make-up. When I get to work, it is all about responding to emails, attending meetings and collaborating with a host of people. After work, if there are no social commitments, I enjoy the company of my television and sofa.

Biao Ling: My job involves me shuttling between the office in Jakarta and the plantation. I have weekly meetings in Jakarta every Monday, so I am unable to be in the plantation as much as I would like to, as travelling up and down can take quite some time. These days, I try to go to the plantation at least twice a month.

How do you think working women of today differ from the past?

Esther: I imagine that in the past, women in the workforce wouldn’t have been too different from Viola Davis’ character in the movie ‘Hidden Figures’. I do think women are more accepted in the workforce now than they were before and that there are more opportunities for women, though some biases definitely still exist. I myself immigrated from Myanmar to pursue new opportunities and I vividly remember the transition process. It was difficult and I felt that my male friends were more confident through the process. Despite women having more opportunities, societal conditioning means that men are still more confident in the workforce. Today, through working hard, I have gained confidence in myself and given others confidence in me.

Biao Ling: More women are a part of the workforce than before and even the ones who choose to stay at home run home-based businesses like baking. Perhaps a rise in the cost of living has compelled more women to enter the workforce but I believe there is also a change in mentality – women no longer feel limited to staying at home.

What differences do you see between working women in different countries?

Donatella: From my limited experience, I find that it is a little more challenging to be a working woman in Europe. For example, in Italian and European culture, it is important to share homemade meals as these are times where families can sit together and share the events of day. I have observed that in Asia they are less pressed to do so and prefer eating at restaurants for convenience, rather than cooking at home. In Asia it is also quite common to rely on a live-in helper or babysitter to take care of their kids, whereas Italian women do it personally or rely on their parents.

Esther: I am presently working in quite a liberal and diverse environment in Singapore, so I feel rather equal in terms of the opportunities career women are given. Perhaps, back home in Myanmar, young women would still question how they fit into the corporate environment and be unsure of acceptance.

What can companies do to support women & diversity in the workplace?

Biao Ling: We currently have some measures in place to help our female employees with young children, but I think we can still do lot more to support career-oriented women. Simple things such as providing refrigerators at the workplace for storage of bottles of milk to save them the hassle of carrying ice boxes helps. We now also have day care centres in plantations, which I am recommending to expand in both size and scope. We also have a firm stance to ensure that pregnant women are not exposed to chemicals, so during their pregnancy, we offer them positions in other locations in line with their competence.

Donatella: I think that international companies like GAR should consider short to medium term assignments in different countries for their employees to allow integration of global perspectives and create opportunities for employees to make contributions on a global level. They can also create project teams with people from different nationalities.

Esther: I think companies can encourage change in mentalities about women’s roles in the workplace. Society defines gender roles and children learn from the past experiences of their parents, thus giving rise to a vicious cycle. I think once our mentality changes, women will automatically feel more confident to seize opportunities in the workplace.

Any final nuggets of wisdom to share?

Biao Ling: I strongly believe that gender does not determine good leadership. Other factors such as character, style and culture play a much bigger role at shaping what kind of leader a person will become. I like to work with result-oriented people and don’t feel my gender dictates my leadership style. There is no substitute for mastering one’s field of work and once women master their field of work they will automatically become more confident about their place in the workforce.

Donatella: Diversity is important in the work place as it brings along different points of view and perspectives which add value to the work being done. I work in a team of varying nationalities, gender and experience, and each of us has a different approach to handle business. Through a combination of ideas and compromise, we are able to achieve superior quality work, a better work experience and desired results.

There is definitely more work to be done in the area of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace as we aim to continue the conversation with our employees. Read more about some of the interesting roles women in our workplace have here.

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