Gaining strength through diversity
Diversity is a fact, inclusion a choice. A winning corporate culture must include both, says Melody Panayiotou, selfdescribed culture- catalyst and assistant vice- president of culture t ransition at Manulife, a 2015 winner in Waterstone Human Capital’s annual Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Culture Awards ( Enterprise category).
“It’s about embracing the diversity of thought, experiences, cultures and backgrounds of our approximately 34,000 employees worldwide and reflecting them back to the customers we serve,” she says. “And it’s about creating an inclusive environment where employees, the organization and the communities in which we live and work all benefit.”
Creating a diverse and i nclusive workplace has become part of Manulife’s strategic agenda, which has generated a wealth of initiatives and programs that support diversity and empower employees to share ideas with confidence, regardless of their position within the organization.
Employees also benefit from opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from different countries and cultural backgrounds through secondment and relocation, as well as internal virtual communities, to help broaden perspectives and enhance skill sets.
With Manulife’s introduction of a workplace transformation program in 2013, employees were in part enabled to work remotely from home or another business office. Since the introduction of this program, the number of employees participating has continued to increase and expand. Employees began to find new ways to use tools provided, and virtual communities emerged to help break down physical and personal barriers.
These communities include a 16- chapter Global Women’s Alliance (known as Women@Manulife in Toronto) that supports the attraction, development and advancement of women across the organization; a Pan-Asian Community for Employee Success that is committed to increasing the presence, influence and leadership potential of Pan-Asian employees; and Professionals Reaching Out for Unity and Diversity ( PROUD), which promotes an inclusive workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ( LGBT) employees and allies.
In 2013, PROUD began as a grassroots initiative in Toronto. Jaishal Kotak, assistant vice- president, strategy and business administration, Manulife Asset Management Private Markets, and cofounder of PROUD, says he and two colleagues set out to determine whether there was a need for a support group within the organization. Word of mouth brought the community to 20 and today, PROUD boasts six chapters and 550 members, thanks, in part, to unequivocal seniorlevel support and Manulife’s social collaboration tool called MFConnect.
“While I was apprehensive about approaching senior leaders about the subject initially, I found that the absence of an LGBT- focused group at Manulife was not an indication that it lacked support. It was simply that no one had started something,” says Kotak. “The company is very forwardthinking when it comes to diversity. The support we received reaffirms that this is the right place for me and I can say that I have never felt more comfortable in my personal life, and successful in my work, than I do today.”
In t he United States, where Manulife operates as John Hancock, programs such as the Association of Multicultural Professionals ( AMP) provide a network and i nsights i nto career transition and mentorship, deployment and community outreach for employees. The organization is also highly supportive of the veteran community within its ranks. Military Employee Community ( MiLE) is building a legacy of inclusion by providing opportunities for pro- fessional development, mentoring and networking that will bring career fulfilment for those who have done so much for their own country and others around the world.
While MiLE began as a grassroots organization to support the veteran com- munity working i n John Hancock’s offices across the U. S., it is now being opened to the global community.
The wide range of diversity and inclusion practices, programs and initiatives at Manulife have had a significant effect on the way people
I T’S ABOUT EMBRACING THE DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT, EXPERIENCES, CULTURES AND BACKGROUNDS OF OUR 34,000 EMPLOYEES
perform and interact in the workplace. “It’s about being able to bring one’s whole self to work. The more people feel they won’t be judged for their sexual orientation, gender, disability or nationality, the more productive and inclined they are to participate and bring ideas to the table,” says Kotak. “Manulife has created a consistency in our culture that makes it clear that everyone is accepted for who they are and that discrimination in any form is simply unacceptable.”
When it comes to creating a better customer experience, Panayiotou says when employees can be their authentic selves they become more engaged and bring greater value to the organization, which reflects on both customer service and product development. “By embracing our differences, we are able to explore new ideas and products that would never have been considered before and that resonate with our customers.”
Manulife t akes great pride in its corporate culture and the recognition that it brings, acknowledging that everyone in the organization must do their part to make it work. “We are honoured to see the people of Manulife recognized for their commitment to collaboration, innovation, accountability, empowerment and diversity,” says Manulife president and CEO Donald Arthur Guloien. “This culture leads directly to high performance, and our ability to deliver for customers around the world. I would like to congratulate and thank all of our leaders and employees for making this [ Waterstone Human Capital award] happen.”
Manulife recognizes that cultures change over time, and as such, reviews its diversity and inclusion initiatives and adjusts and expands them along the way to keep them relevant f or both employees and customers.
THE COMPANY IS VERY FORWARD-THINKING WHEN IT COMES TO DIVERSITY. THE SUPPORT WE RECEIVED REAFFIRMS THAT THIS IS THE RIGHT PLACE FOR ME AND I CAN SAY THAT I HAVE NEVER FELT MORE COMFORTABLE IN MY PERSONAL LIFE, AND SUCCESSFUL IN MY WORK, THAN I DO TODAY — JAISHAL KOTAK, ASSISTANT VICE-PRESIDENT, STRATEGY AND BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION, MANULIFE ASSET MANAGEMENT PRIVATE MARKETS
As part of Manulife’s volunteer efforts, employees helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity Nov. 24, 2015, in the Greater Toronto Area.