Leadership & talent

Talent diversity: The secret to building an innovative organisation

12 February 2018

Innovation has become the new currency of success, and research suggests that your ability to innovate is related to the diversity of your workforce.

In the midst of the discourse on how to leverage technology to find new ways to innovate in the rapidly evolving digital age, companies must not lose sight of the human factor. 

That is according to PwC’s 20th CEO Survey that interviewed almost 1,400 CEOs from approximately 80 countries, including 33 business leaders in Singapore. 

While the survey found that “the combination of man and machine can generate more value than either alone”, it also revealed that an overwhelming 94 per cent of Singapore business leaders are finding that the biggest challenge lies in recruiting people with skills in creativity and innovation. The solution, according to 91 per cent of the surveyed CEOs, is to promote talent diversity and inclusion. Recruiting people from diverse cultural backgrounds allows companies to populate teams with a wide range of skillsets, perspectives and experiences that all work together to drive innovative thinking.

Karen Loon, Singapore and Asia Pacific Diversity Leader at PwC, shares how the firm builds a diverse talent pool that drives innovation in a global business environment.

Singapore and APAC Diversity Leader at PwC – Karen Loon.
Credit: PwC

How important is talent diversity at PwC?

KL: At PwC, we view talent diversity as extremely important to building our business strategy and driving innovation within the organisation. The ratio of women to men is higher in Singapore than the global average. PwC Singapore employs staff from more than 40 different nationalities and this helps us bring the best perspectives, experiences and support to our international client base.

We work in complex business environments and must constantly find new ways to leverage our talents to bring new service offerings to our clients. Uncertainty and disruption in the business environment today mean that we need our people to be very adaptable in the new world. 

This demands people who challenge and disrupt the current way of thinking, so we are looking beyond our traditional recruitment pools that centred around accounting graduates. Recruiting people from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of skillsets – not only in accounting – enables us to constantly evolve our service offerings and offer our clients new and innovative solutions.  

Our vision for the people side of our business is to become the world’s leading developer of diverse talent.

What initiatives do you have in place to build talent diversity?

KL: We have quite a robust framework in place that allows us to embed diversity in all aspects of our business, whether that is how we look at the leadership diversity of our people and the pipeline, how we embed it into our HR process, or how we deal with attracting, progressing and engaging our people. 

This framework spans three different areas. Firstly, we have various measures in place in our Singapore firm to ensure leadership commitment and accountability around diversity. We overhauled our governance structure, including appointing territory diversity leaders in PwC member firms. PwC has also adopted the Global Inclusion Index. 

We have a 2+1 strategy that focuses on two common dimensions of diversity – valuing differences and gender. In addition, we ask each PwC member firm to focus on at least one further dimension of diversity that is relevant in their local territory, which in Singapore is ethnicity.

Secondly, we focus on awareness and the education of our people, and make sure that our on-boarding training includes elements of diversity and inclusion. Our Global Diversity Week, for example, aims to create widespread diversity awareness across the organisation.

These and other such initiatives ensure that we embed diversity and inclusion within our thinking at all levels of the organisation.  

Can you share an example of how talent diversity drives innovation at PwC?

KL: Working with clients in Singapore requires quite complex solutions, and we often source the skillsets required to provide those solutions from our global network. This means that our people need the right soft skills and cultural awareness to work with their colleagues from PwC member firms around the world in a joint effort to come up with innovative solutions for our clients in Singapore. And with greater talent diversity comes greater cultural awareness.  

One way we help to develop this cultural awareness is to encourage mobility within the organisation. For example, our Singapore people often work in Australia for two-year periods. When they come back to Singapore, they have developed an Australian network and understand how to work with their Australian colleagues, in that they are aware of cultural differences, differing approaches to doing business and language nuances. 

We have many in- and out-bound secondments within Southeast Asia as well. Working cross-border helps the team understand cross-cultural differences. Those who come back from secondments often return with better intercultural understanding. They also gain different perspectives and many use this to better interpret and understand situations.     

This is also done in our other firms within the region and around the world, and demonstrates how we are building a strong global network with a diversity of experience and expertise that our people can call on to drive continual innovation.

Does doing business in Singapore offer any advantages for building talent diversity?

KL: Definitely. The Singapore brand is very international now, and the country works hard to promote itself as a business hub not only in the region, but also globally. This draws a diverse range of people to work here whether they are from outside Asia or within Asia – and that brings many different skills and perspectives to Singapore. This is extremely useful for multinational companies that are looking to expand in Singapore and Asia because the talent here thinks globally.

Within our global network, we have many global and regional centres of excellence that are headquartered here in Singapore. We choose to base these centres of excellence in Singapore because of the proximity to growing Asian markets, access to a highly educated workforce, ease of doing business and Singapore’s strong established rule of law and infrastructure.