Diversity is easy; it's just numbers — inclusion is a whole different thing. Even in diverse groups, there will oftentimes be some who tend to dominate the conversation and others who will feel silenced. Inclusion means everybody feels safe, and can contribute to their fullest extent.
Born in Singapore, raised in Malaysia and educated in Vancouver, British Columbia, Eddy Ng got used to operating in diverse environments from a young age. But as he began his career with a multinational bank in Toronto, he started noticing disturbing patterns in the diversity around him.
"When I first joined the bank, they sent us a directory with everybody from the CEO and president all the way down," Ng recalls. "I saw that Asian Canadians tend to congregate in accounting and finance, South Asians in IT, and of course, at the very top, those names tend to be Anglo-Saxon, and they tend to be men. I said, 'This is not good.' There seemed to be a lot of equality issues."
Ng was curious to know what was driving that apparent segregation in his company, and how he might contribute to rectifying it. After several more years in banking, he left his career to pursue a Ph.D. and concentrate on issues of diversity in the workplace.
Since then, he's authored and edited four books and more than 100 papers, reports and editorials on the topic. He has also broadened his focus to incorporate different types of diversity, examining migration policies and studying how workers from different generations — from baby boomers to post-millennials — approach their careers differently.
"It's really important for us to manage those intergenerational dynamics," Ng says of the last topic. "If we don't, it creates a fault line that causes conflict or tension in the workplace, but there are various positive benefits to it, too. Older workers tend to stay in jobs longer, and bring a lot of experience with them that they can pass down to younger workers, and of course younger workers have a lot to offer to older workers as well. It's not just a knowledge transfer; it's a knowledge exchange."
Bringing out the value that age and other differences can add to a workplace requires a manager with empathy — an attribute Ng nurtures in his students in Bucknell's Freeman College of Management. As the James & Elizabeth Freeman Professor of Management, Ng prepares his students to be compassionate managers who make their organizations more equitable, inclusive places to work.
"This is a college of management, not of business — and there's a difference," Ng says. "Business schools tend to focus on managing shareholder value, whereas we focus on stakeholders too, and prepare students for work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. It's a broader view that trains managers to be concerned with more than profit maximization."
Cultivating a mindset that understands and embraces the value diversity adds to organizations will benefit his students in the short and long term, because modern workplaces will become more diverse over time, Ng says.
"Part of it comes down to understanding how and why different groups of people may ask different questions," he says. "If you can ask those questions, the result will be greater creativity and greater innovation. When you manage it well, you can harness the benefits of diversity and turn it into a competitive advantage."