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At Sodexo, nobody gets left out

Chief of the food-services MNC says workers should not be stereotyped or pigeonholed into job types based on their social groups.

Mr Johnpaul Dimech (centre) says mental health and other forms of inclusion are important initiatives in his leadership at food service firm Sodexo.

INCLUSIVE hiring and fair employment practices are part and parcel of responsible corporate practice, says Johnpaul Dimech, the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific chair for food services multinational, Sodexo. (see amendment note 1)

For example, "we are very open to integrating people with disabilities into the workplace, and we will continue to do more because I think there is an untapped workforce", he said, pointing to how the company's staff include employees with hearing impairments or Down syndrome.

Mr Dimech, who has spearheaded company initiatives such as a taskforce to boost support for mental health in the workplace, told The Business Times that inclusive employment means that workers should not be stereotyped or pigeonholed into job types based on their belonging to certain social groups: "We don't look to recruit just specific roles for people, so this isn't a glass ceiling approach.

"We want to make sure that we look at all roles that we could recruit people into, from diverse backgrounds, and we want to make sure that if people come with certain, let's say, challenges, that we can support them, but we can also support our people who are going to be working with those people."

Despite calls from advocacy groups such as the Association Of Women For Action And Research and the Disabled People's Association, Singapore does not have laws on non-discrimination in the workplace - although the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices say that employers should pick workers without regard to age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability. (see amendment note 2)

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Roslyn Ten, general manager at Tafep, said: "Employers should apply objective and fair selection criteria consistently at all stages of the recruitment process. These criteria should be job-related, and stated clearly in the job advertisements. Job application forms should only ask for information that is relevant to assess a job applicant's suitability for the job."

Tafep added that there are businesses here that are moving beyond giving heavy weight to job applicants' resumes alone. One example provided by Tafep was manufacturer Acme Monaco Asia, which does not ask job seekers to disclose age, race or religion on application forms. (see clarification note)

Still, some other companies here do go far beyond the Tafep guidelines in their recruitment processes.

Ride-hailing firm Grab's policy also cites educational background and personal circumstances as factors to be disregarded during hiring. Its head of people, Ong Chin Yin, told BT: "At Grab, we owe our successes to our globally diverse team from more than 40 nationalities, as well as the varied talents and perspectives they bring."

Software engineer Giang Nguyen, who is originally from Vietnam, was recently featured in the media for his work building accessibility features. Such design elements can help seniors, as well as app users who, like him, are visually-impaired.

Meanwhile, IBM global policy spells out equity on the grounds of factors including gender identity, national origin and genetics. IBM Singapore's health benefits also cover employees' partners regardless of gender.

"I believe that everyone needs to be able to bring their whole self to work. And this cannot be done while fighting prejudice, or feeling like outsiders because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation," said Harriet Green, IBM's chief executive and chairman for the Asia-Pacific.

"We want to make sure that all our colleagues are supported and accepted in the workplace - anywhere we operate. That's also one of many reasons for our global diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives that we actively share and discuss with governments and businesses around the world."

A spokesman for the Handicaps Welfare Association, which represents people with physical disabilities, said: "People with physical disabilities, with adequate knowledge and skills, are no different from any other job seeker, as long as the nature of job or the physical environment does not create an additional barrier to them."

He added that some people may have difficulty acquiring certain knowledge, or may face functional limitations despite having the required skills. "These people need additional support or redesigning of jobs that complement or suit their abilities, to enhance job performance."

The association suggested, among other things, that potential employers be open to job redesign and even offer extra support such as mentoring or guiding new hires. Employers could also tap grants to retro-fit a more accessible and disability-friendly workplace.

Sodexo's Mr Dimech said: "From a corporate responsibility point of view and from a diversity inclusion point of view, it's the right thing to do. It makes good business sense. It's not, as I said, it's not a marketing exercise and it's not a tick in the box.

"When you can demonstrate that you are really doing what you say you're doing, it makes a huge difference in terms of results, in terms of performance, in terms of the safety of our people. For me, it's a no-brainer."

READ MORE: Diversity skills becoming management tools of the future 

Amendment note 1: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the company is named Sedoxo.  It is in fact Sodexo. The article above has been revised to reflect this.

Amendment note 2: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices is optional. Under the government's Fair Consideration Framework, all companies must in fact comply with the guidelines. The article above has been revised to reflect this.

Clarification note:  An earlier version of this article stated that a Tafep spokesman said that Acme Monaco Asia does not ask job seekers to disclose age, race or religion on application forms. Tafep has since clarified that the case study that it provided should not have been attributed  to its spokesman. The article above has been revised to reflect this.






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