Gain­ing strength through di­ver­sity

National Post (Latest Edition) - - MOST ADMIRED CORPORATE CULTURES - Kathryn Booth by

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

PHO­TO­GRAPH COUR­TESY OF MAN­ULIFE

As part of Man­ulife’s vol­un­teer ef­forts, em­ploy­ees helped build a house for Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Nov. 24, 2015,

in the Greater Toronto Area.

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