Embracing Diversity and Inclusion with Sumir Bhatia, Lenovo DCG’s APAC President

March 31, 20214:15 pm2820 views

Companies with higher levels of diversity are more successful at recruiting and retaining talents. And yet, diversity in the tech industry is far from satisfying. HR in Asia meets Sumir Bhatia, Lenovo DCG’s APAC President, to talk about the progress Lenovo has made in championing inclusion in the tech business, as well as what companies can do to promote diversity in their own organisations. Check it out!

Question: Mr Sumir, despite efforts to boost diversity done by leading companies globally, why is diversity in the tech industry still such a challenge? 

Answer: Female representation in the tech industry has shown improvement over the years especially in Southeast Asia which now has a higher share of women in the industry as compared to other sectors. The Boston Consulting Group has reported that in SEA, 32% of the sector is made up of women, surpassing the global average of 28%.

But despite the positive trend, it’s no secret that STEM fields are still largely male-dominated — and I’d argue that a lot of this comes down to how unconscious biases still exist, influencing the perception of fixed gender roles. For example, if I were to ask you to imagine someone working as a software developer versus a customer care officer, where does your mind go? Many of us have unconscious biases when it comes to specific genders for roles, and this type of thinking is the first thing we need to adjust.  

To create real change, building a working environment that embraces diversity is equally, if not more important than the numbers, percentages, and diversity targets. It is on the business to nurture an inclusive environment; as well as offering working practices that suit a diverse range of lifestyles, such as working parents, who may well need more flexibility.

At Lenovo, we have created a culture that welcomes diversity across all the different roles and levels throughout our organisation. And in addition to ensuring representation, we are also committed to supporting our workforce in both their professional careers and personal lives.

With our inclusive and family-friendly culture, our philosophy is about taking care of the whole employee so that they can continue to grow and progress in their careers in confidence, while also remaining committed to their families. In fact, the flexibility of our work arrangements and efforts towards creating a positive working environment have already been recognised by industry standards including Working Mother magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies.

Question: A survey noted that Southeast Asia has a higher share of women in tech compared with the global average. In your opinion, what makes tech firms here more welcoming to women?

Answer: As a predominantly collectivistic society, family and living structures in Southeast Asia are likely to be among the reasons why there are higher levels of female employment.

UN household data has revealed that almost 1 in 4 Asian households have grandparents living together with their grandchildren and the caregiving role that they play traverses a range of responsibilities as they help out at home. These intergenerational living arrangements can provide support to working parents, and particularly mothers, alleviating some of the caregiving burden and encouraging greater participation in the workforce.

The growing IT market in Southeast Asia has also created fierce competition for talent. With fewer traditional or legacy IT systems as compared to more mature markets, emerging countries have leapfrogged stages in the tech evolution process, embracing new solutions such as the cloud. This rapid adoption has opened up education opportunities for women as tech companies look to fill talent shortages.  

See also: There is Ability in Disability: Fostering Inclusion at the Workplace

Question: What is the business value of having heterogeneous teams, thus making it vital for companies to promote diversity?

Answer: When it comes to promoting gender diversity, it is not enough to simply increase the number and percentage of female employees in an organisation. Women also need to be included in management teams. Having female leaders positively correlates with agility and innovation, according to the Boston Consulting Group, companies with women making up 20% of their management teams enjoyed 10% higher innovation revenues than those with more males leaders.

However diversity is not limited to gender. Numerous reports have shown that companies with diverse greater representation in their workforce often perform better than others and are more profitable. For instance, in McKinsey’s Diversity Wins, organisations with higher ethnic diversity scores outperformed those in the lower range by 36% in profitability. In a region like Asia Pacific, businesses can definitely benefit from leveraging the variety of perspectives that this melting pot of cultures can bring to the table.

With access to their valuable input and unique perspectives, organisations are well-equipped to consider more alternatives, allowing them to make better business decisions and outperform competitors.

Question: Lack of mentors (48 percent) is cited to be the number one barrier for women in tech. What can companies do about this?

Answer: Mentorship is extremely important as role models can make a big difference to women seeking a career in tech. As tech has always been viewed as a career geared towards men, many women have never even considered or imagined what they too can achieve in this industry. With someone to look up to and emulate—male or female—employees can benefit from discovering what is possible, and learning of the potential steps that they can take to get to where they want to be.

While some women may be fortunate enough to have informal mentors they can rely on for assistance when needed, companies should consider instituting formal programs that are well-structured to help women stay and progress in their careers. In fact, I am honoured to share that I am personally mentoring women in senior positions across the marketing, sales, and worldwide functions.

As a result of Lenovo’s global initiative, the Women’s Leadership Development Program, many of our female employees have benefitted and 33% have moved into executive level positions. We know that having a reliable network for guidance and knowledge sharing is critical to helping our female workforce grow and develop, and this is something we greatly prioritise.

It is everyone’s responsibility to build diversity, so I would also like to encourage all women in technology, regardless of their level or position, to be role models for future generations. Even outside of work, these women have their own circle of influence — from neighbours to extended family members. Think about ways they can inspire those that will follow in their footsteps. The more voices we have to amplify the message, the sooner we’ll be able to enact change together.

Question: There is a misconception such as the tech industry isn’t feminine, or women have nothing to say about technology. As a leader, how will you debunk such myths?

Answer: The notion that women have nothing to say about technology is absurd. We know that women have a lot to contribute to this industry, so the question is not about whether they have anything to say, and instead are we empowering them to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas?

Organisations must work on overcoming biases and be more open to considering, accepting, and implementing suggestions and input from their female talent. If businesses want to truly enjoy the benefits and advantages that female representation promises, there is no other way than to make sure that the opinions and voices of their female employees and leaders are heard loud and clear.

As an organisation, Lenovo committed to ensuring we offer this platform and diversify our leadership. In 2018, we announced a goal to achieve 20% of female executive representation worldwide by 2020; and we are happy to announce that we now have 21% of our executive roles globally filled by women.

That said, though we are proud of the progress we have made thus far, we know that this is an ongoing journey and our efforts are far from conclusion. Apart from the technical or trade skills women bring with them, they also offer valuable perspectives and ideas.

See also: Inclusion on Mental Wellness Benefits to Drive Consistent Employee Performance

Question: At Lenovo, what do diversity and inclusion initiatives look like?

Answer: Lenovo is committed to our vision of creating smarter technology for all and we have started initiatives that help us work towards our diversity and inclusion goals across gender, racial, and ethnic groups. We have made great strides and last year, our achievements in gender representation were recognized by Bloomberg’s 2020 Gender Equality Index. Knowing that employee education and engagement is necessary to build a strong foundation, Lenovo has focused on executing our Global Inclusion Training. We are happy to share that we now have a 92% worldwide completion rate of our training module on inclusive behaviour and anti-harassment principles.

While we celebrate these milestones, our ongoing efforts do not end. As we prioritise building a sense of community and safeguarding the wellbeing of our workforce, we have established a current total of 11 Employee Resource Groups (ERG) that offer support, a network, and a safe space for our employees. Our flagship ERG, Women in Lenovo organises forums and workshops for career advice, skills development, and provides opportunities for mentoring and networking. Some of our newly created ERGs include The ABLE ERG for individuals with visible and invisible disabilities, and Lenovo Interfaith, that promotes religious tolerance within our work environment.

Our work towards diversity and inclusion isn’t just limited to our internal stakeholders. To us, Smarter Technology for All really means everyone and our products and solutions are consciously designed to make sure they are inclusive to all our different stakeholders. We have comprehensive review processes in place for data centre, hardware, software solutions across our portfolio. With our Product Diversity Office (PDO) engaging with employees and advisors to get feedback, we have adopted various internal checks to inspect technology with potential bias, for e.g. facial recognition.

Question: Finally, based on your experience, what does it take to build an effective diversity, inclusion, and retention of women and minorities groups?

Answer: Our chairman and CEO, Mr Yuanqing Yang himself has always reiterated that diversity is the cornerstone of our business, that allows us to effectively adapt to the value, policies and cultures of our customers around the world. Similarly, I am also focused on building the Asia Pacific business with diversity and culture at its core. But this commitment and effort should not stop at just the leadership. Every manager and employee throughout our business also has a part to play in maintaining and improving our culture. 

This is why we have committed to official policies that help us to advance greater diversity across our workforce. Different voices from women, as well as various races and ethnicities, allow us to make better decisions and products, so our talent pipeline starts with diverse hiring. For instance, we ensure that a female candidate is considered for every open position.    

Beyond hiring processes, the day-to-day interactions between our employees matter and we remain focused on building positive relationships throughout Lenovo with our inclusive practices. By fostering the right culture, we have effectively created a working environment that empowers all our employees, including women, to feel safe and confident in their careers with us. Because when we all feel like we belong, and embrace our differences, we know it helps us to fuel innovation and develop smarter technology for all.

Read also: On Diversity and Inclusion: Why the Misfit May be the Best Fit

About

As President of Lenovo Data Center Group in Asia Pacific, Sumir is responsible for driving growth across compute, storage, networking, and services offerings. With more than 28 years of industry experience, and an exceptional track record in the APAC IT industry, he has held leadership positions across sales, business development, and marketing at top multinational organizations. Among other areas, Sumir’s expertise covers data center and infrastructure solutions, cloud and hybrid technology, and channel marketing and leadership.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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