Vietnam: Employers Move Beyond Diversity to Target Workplace Inclusion

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By Lien Hoang

Diversity is great, but companies need to go a step further by focusing on workplace inclusion, panelists said at the Innovation Through Inclusion forum in Vietnam Jan. 31.

From common-interest clubs to monthly rap sessions, speakers shared methods to make offices more inclusive for employees of different backgrounds.

“There's a difference between diversity and inclusion,” Paul Huynh, KPMG director of people, performance, and culture, told Bloomberg Law on the sidelines of the forum in Ho Chi Minh City. “You can recruit diverse people, but it's the steps you take every day to be inclusive, that's the harder part.”

The Long View

Companies have long extolled the virtues of having variety in the workforce—from improving financial performance to averting the disasters of groupthink—but the more recent trend of inclusion kicks things up a notch by taking the long view on diversity.

“This is an area where I think we still struggle, with retention of diverse groups,” Guy Margalith, a diplomat at the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, said at the forum hosted by MB Market Makers, a business development firm focusing on the LGBT market. The event centered on inclusion of women and minorities like people who have disabilities or diseases or who identify as LGBT.

In some ways Vietnam is at the forefront of LGBT equality. With little influence from the religious conservatism seen in places like the U.S. and the Philippines, the communist country is generally tolerant and is a contender to be the first in Southeast Asia to legalize gay marriage.

There can still be friction, however. Huynh said that when his company started an internal LGBT support group, a Vietnamese colleague worried they could get pushback from local authorities. The one-party state is wary of independent organizing or associations. That gave Huynh second thoughts until he received an anonymous note from another colleague, who was grateful to now have the group.

‘A Very Friendly Office'

There are other ways to show support. Thanh Huynh Dang, sales team leader at Intrepid, described his first experience with the travel company in Hanoi. His new boss took him out to coffee, saying if he ever wanted a place to talk about private matters away from coworkers, they could use the cafe.

Back at the office, Intrepid has “monthly birthday moments,” which they use for celebration but also for informal dialogue. Each month staff can pick a topic or two they want to open up to general discussion, Dang said, recalling when someone suggested women's rights. The idea is to get people engaged and give them a platform for issues they care about.

“We promote a very friendly office, we joke with each other,” he told Bloomberg Law. “Even when the general manager comes around we poke fun and there's nothing wrong with that. This is the environment we try to promote.”

Legal Channels

Panelists at the forum also floated some legal approaches to encouraging inclusion, such as writing inclusive principles into a company's internal labor regulations or contracting out to suppliers with shared values.

Vietnam is expected to revise its labor code by 2019, which presents opportunities to strengthen protections for a diverse workforce, says Catherine Phuong, assistant country director at the UN Development Program.

“There's still another year for us to advocate for provisions on discrimination,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

For more information on Vietnamese HR law and regulation, see the Vietnam primer.

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