In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Bianca Stringuini gives us great insight into workplace wellbeing and how to foster and nurture it. It’s not the same as “home” wellbeing, but basically it boils down to three things: flexibility, tools, and learning opportunities.
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Max: Welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster, and today on the show I'm delighted to welcome Bianca Stringuini. Bianca is a specialist in inclusion and culture, and has worked for some of the leading employers in the world, some of the Fortune 500 companies including Visa, JP Morgan, AIG and has a unique global perspective on matters of inclusion, coming from Brazil and having spent most of your career in Asia Pacific, does that introduction suit you Bianca?
Bianca: It's very nice. Thank you Max. Thanks for having me.
Max: Thanks for coming. So we're going to talk about diversity, which I think you have a unique perspective on not just because that's your space but also because I'm always interested in the Asian perspective. I'm in Hong Kong and you're in Singapore. You come from Brazil. So we have a very, maybe different perspective than where our American colleagues, and I'd like to talk a little bit about that difference and to help our audience shed some light on what diversity means in different parts of the world. But before we get into these heavy topics, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in the inclusion space. Were you trying to right some wrongs?
Bianca: Now I don't think I had such lofty goals when I started. I kind of started to get into inclusion and diversity completely by chance. I was moving to Singapore, from Brazil. My background is in trade, and I was working for the Singapore government actually then the ministry affairs, and we were bringing Singaporean companies into Brazil and taking Brazilian companies to Singapore and I came here a couple of times, and kind of fell in love with it and decided to do my MBA here, and I had a friend of mine that worked for American Express at the time and said, oh there is this role here for the first inclusion and I think you should apply for it, because I think you really fit the bill and I was like 'Why me?' like I didn't even know what it was because in Brazil, in 2007, this was not a topic that people would talk about, and I had to google it for the interview. And it was such an amazing finding for me that there were people in the world that worked to really kind of improve employees well being and belonging, fighting against discrimination and all that, and as a woman that started my careers in the early 2000s in Brazil, I suffered all of that, as the only woman in a trading desk with 16 guys and all that so I was like oh there was a job like that. So I was kind of amazed about it and what I loved about the role itself was at Amex, I said to them 'Look I don't come from HR, I don't know this field', and they say oh that's exactly what we want and I was like 'what?', and they are like, we want someone with the business experience that can figure it out what diversity inclusion means in Asia and Asian countries of Asia, because they were an American company that had a global, probably a more American strategy around DNI for a very long time and it's very successful at it but wanted to really figure out what does this mean in this part of the world and that's kind of how I started my journey. So my question throughout all the other roles that I had in inclusion and diversity have always been, what does this mean here, what does this mean with this company, what does this mean this function because diversity is different everywhere and it needs to be locally relevant, if not, it doesn't work.
Max: Right. But it was an initiative that was started in the US, and then kind of spread out, and within that company into a global initiative. Of course, it doesn't really make sense from my side on the recruitment side. What we see is these job application forums where you have to self identify as a certain ethnic group, and then answer you're applying for jobs in China and you have to say whether you're a US veteran, or one of those things, these standardized forms. They just tell the audience that we have not localized. So, just at the application level there's plenty that needs to be done.
Bianca: I think on that point, I always ask, when you're collecting data, what are you collecting for and what are you doing with it? So I'm very very pro standards and processes that are consistent, but specifically with data we need to be very careful. Why are we asking these questions and what messages are being sent, because I am all forward to asking self ID questions when you have an application form where I am looking for candidates with disabilities for instance, you want to provide accommodations, you want to know what will be required for this process. You want to know if people need any kind of self declaration in the country where you were in, where you do have other kinds of self IDs that you need. But if you ask me from veterans everywhere in the world. It really doesn't make sense but then my question is, what are you doing with the data you're collecting, and that kind of data collection for me, kind of principle. So you have to think like why are you questioning the question.
Max: Before we started the call you said you like the word inclusivity better than diversity because maybe it's less political.
Bianca: No, I think the inclusion is kind of a secret sauce is what makes it work. Because if you have a very diverse workforce, but very low inclusion, it's just chaos. It's still a lot of people that don't give to each other, don't respect each other, don't work together and are not creative together.
Max: You can hit the quota, but everybody hates themselves, hates everybody else.
Bianca: There was no dialogue, there is no arguments that are constructive, there is no platforms for people to feel that they do belong to something because, at the same time, I think for me inclusion begets diversity. I think if you create an environment that is inclusive, you will attract a diverse workforce because they want to work in that space where I don't understand when people say to me, inclusions are hard to measure and so diversity is where you can get the measurements for success in a sense that you can have hard targets, I think you have can have our targets in inclusion as well, but they have to be more related to engagement, to kind of productivity, to leadership capabilities. I think that you will get diversity, if you have an inclusive place, but it's kind of like you always clean your house before inviting guests over. You don't invite your guests and say, Oh, the house is a mess and maybe you guys can help us fix it. I think that's a little bit naïve, because it creates, especially in a Goodman point it recreates a revolving door where the recruitment team is always trying to get more and more diversity into the door and people come in and they are now welcome, they don't feel like they belong, and they leave very quickly, because they have places to go, they have offers.
Max: Yeah. I mean there's no doubt some employers will specifically look for Chinese speakers, and specifically those will mostly be ethnically Chinese. There's a strong business rationale for it and it's supported and if we drop in somebody that doesn't speak Chinese in the middle of that environment, it's going to be a little bit awkward so they have to be ready for it. These kinds of pragmatic realities don't seem to translate well into North America and so they're not applicable right. So they just sense these obvious differences that require a completely different approach to this field as you move out of North America.
Bianca: Yeah. So the biggest difference between the US and UK to a certain extent, and Asia, is that the US has a lot of recognition around diversity. The US has affirmative action, which all federal contractors for instance have extreme regulations in terms of, so it's something that the government is highly involved with, and so these things are very different in Asia, where there is not a lot of regulation where governments are mostly pro employers. They don't want to exercise too much into HR practices as much as possible, although to be fair, I think that translate the Singapore government has an agency department that agency though looks at things like if I have a recruitment ad that says must be Chinese, doesn't really must be Chinese or is it a way of getting specific race in a sense of Singapore. But I do think that in Asia it came much more from the business, like I think that the focus in diversity and inclusion in Asia has come much more from the mere fact of the economic growth and the diversity that is coming to the market and just the diversity of the region itself and just having to learn various different millennial cultures that exists right. So you have to balance a lot of differences, whereas the opposite in the US, north from south, east to West is a very different country but it's regulated mostly by very similar federal laws that kind of dictate this diversity first inclusion following the agenda. Where in Asia, I think there has been a lot more pushing maybe it's because, a little bit of the Buddhist culture of harmony etc. of bringing like enthused belonging, all that has always kind of been intrinsic to Asian culture.
Max: I certainly like the connection back to Buddhism. Maybe at some point we can have a chief. Well, we have tons of Chief wellness officers but we don't have a specific Buddhist reference.
Bianca: Chief enlightenment officer.
Max: There was the Buddha of Zendesk at one point, which was a great
mascot, but I think it got taken down. Yeah, the regulatory framework in the US is what has moved the needle or has made that such an important industry in the US. But I think the rest of the world and you were just saying, how do you adapt a company for the millennials. I think millennials are more likely to be somewhat Americanized, and have a vision of the workplace, which is influenced by what they see and what they read is coming out of the US in terms of these particular debates around diversity. And so their expectations are that I'm walking into a diverse workplace which aligns itself with the global cultural standards set by America, itself set by the laws. And so maybe that's what you meant by being millennial ready?
Bianca: I think one of the things that we need to think about. I think millennials actually just care more, maybe because they have bigger problems, or they saw maybe our generation or previous generation not doing much about most of the problems that they now have to solve for. And i think definitely one of the biggest problems that they have to solve. And I'm not saying only the US has these problems, but definitely the US is coming to this crucial point of reckoning like we need to do something. So for instance, I think that the whole discussion around racism and anti-racist, what's happening in the US is really important because a lot of the discussion has been so regulated, and almost like, we must do this or we're doing this because it's the right thing. And I think businesses are coming together and saying, actually we must do this because this business is imperative because actually this is going to generate inclusive economic growth, which is kind of the take on from Asia for instance like why do you have a paradigm mostly in the private sector in China, in terms of gender. Women in the private sector have parody in China because there was economic growth that pushed the Half the Sky kind of motto. So I think the millennial what I mean by saying we need to kind of fix this and we need to be better, but we also expect better from our employers or our environment, and the problem that you say they are American, I don't think they are Americanized, as much as their Silicon Valleyanized in a sense. I think we have this vision of Silicon Valley as being the way that all American workplaces are, and I think it's not true. I mean, I can tell you I worked mostly in my career for companies based in New York. I worked for Visa based in San Francisco, there was a night and day difference in terms of culture, and that would be across the US so it's also a generalization to say America right as one thing. So I do think that the millennials have higher expectations. Because they do believe in work with purpose, I think a lot more than that, they don't want the money but they want the purpose, they want to say I'm doing something that's ultimately good.
Max: Yeah, well the purpose for most businesses is to increase shareholder value. And to do so by delivering great service, great products, and building wealth into the economy, but that kind of talk, not so hip with millennials. We want more direct impact.
Bianca: No. I think making profits to shareholders, I cannot imagine a company today that can make profits for their shareholders without having members in their workforce. I think that the lack of diversity in the workforce, proves itself on the lack of creativity, on marketing blunders, on not being able to do customer service to the level that people expect. So, I think diversity is sort of a business imperative but again inclusion is this important piece that kind of gels it all together. I think millennials care about that.
Max: I can help you imagine some businesses that would do well without diversity. I mean, you don't have to think very hard, there's plenty of great examples out there of businesses that are very profitable that have zero diversity. You could have a language class to teach, Portuguese, filled with Portuguese speakers native speakers, you could have Hooters, you could have a coal mining business, there they just don't have the kind of diversity. Every industry also has a certain profile, so, I don't know if you can make that statement.
Bianca: I feel that, yes you can make profit and be a successful company up to a certain level. If you want to be, my bias of thinking about global companies, I think when you want to get a business that scales, when you want to go broader than your neighborhood. If you want to be a big business, your clients, your customers are bound to be diverse and that will then change, look at a lot of the signals that come out of Facebook, I think, the starting group was diverse no.
Max: If you are consumer facing in particular.
Bianca: Yeah. When you start to like I need to broaden this up, I want to be global, you have to bring in diversity to your leadership team, if not you will face just, I think, creativity, block kind of thing.
Max: For people who want to leverage or who want to, what are some good examples, have you seen of companies who are good at communicating to millennials around inspiring themes around, I guess well being, and maybe inclusivity of, if we want to go there. I mean, for me, inclusivity communication is mostly around showcasing the groups, the underrepresented groups within your workforce, and putting them on your website and putting them in on your brochures and so on, talking about their success. But, I'm looking maybe for examples of other inspiring employers out there who are talking about well being.
Bianca: Well, look, I think to millennials, you cannot talk to them, you have to talk with them. So I do think that is like when you bring a topic like wellbeing or engagement, or I think it's a conversation, you have to ask people what they want to do and you have to find ways to build platforms for this kind of two way discussion. So for instance, in Visa, the young professionals, ERG(Employee Resource Groups) just phenomenal at creating, kind of campaigns and challenges and pictures and stories and people to send it back and engage in that audience but I do think that when you think about well being in general, you have to know, what do people care like you need to ask them, what is well being means to you because it's such a broad topic and it can be many things for many people and so you need to say, okay, what is my role as a company, and what is your role as an individual, and like what is part of you take care of yourself and my role in allowing that so I think companies that have been, just doing really well with giving time off or companies that are doing really well with making sure that people have flexible working, that's okay but you have time to also time to do other things. But what are the top three four things? Obviously, last year I think mental health was one, and I think that millennials are a lot more engaged in this conversation just because, to be fair, it does has a prevalence to happen in teenage and early adulthood, but also I do think that they are less worried about talking about this because they know that their generations are kind of tabooed, let's not talk about it.
Max: We don't want to come off as soft but younger generations are more open. You were talking about San Francisco culture beforehand. I've been in technology. I've made a few trips to the city. And I've heard many employers complain about how soft the people in San Francisco are and how they just expect so many benefits compared to other parts of the world because you know you really have to compete hard for talent there. So, they're just always competing for the new coolest thing that people can talk about, Oh I am at work, I don't have to wear shoes. I don't have to come to the office, I don't have to do any work. Wow, that's the best job of all.
Bianca: I just get paid, yeah.
Max: In a world where that is always looking for trends and counter trends. There are some companies that will stand out. Because, like let's say the Elon Musk companies, they're going to go counter current, they're gonna say well we don't care about well being. And that we're gonna, we're gonna work 80 hours a week because we're changing the world. Now, are you seeing a resurgence or come back for some of these trends. Are these are these competing trends, because for me like I was thinking about well being, like, well being for me would be a hyper competitive environment, where I work very hard and I perform well, and I get paid, that could be that could be my well being.
Bianca: Well that is well being for most people. I think that will be positive, are our synonyms, I don't think you can be productive if you don't feel that if you don't feel good, but obviously, I think that, well being doesn't mean rest or days off or things like that. I think what it means for you, which is, do I have a high functioning environment?, do I have safety?, do I have an environment that motivates me, gives me creative ways of expressing myself, but also, does my company kind of takes care of me, let's say, for instance. Do I have the training?, do I have the learning? So many people last year use their time to pick up new skills, how much does that involve, do I still have career progression? So I think that it's important to really think about how well being means productivity. But yeah, I think it's not self exclusive in a sense.
Max: That's a very good reminder. I must say, I've fallen into that trap of considering well being, to be time off, associated with time off, but really, is to be associated with time on and working well.
Bianca: Feeling wow right. So I think that what is good for my well being is mostly, Do I have flexibility? So for instance, how are companies or going back to work. I'm going to go full time into the office. I still have time to focus, there's a lot of people that picked up a lot of fitness for instance, and they want to have that 30 minute in between meetings to exercise so they can do that at home. So, it doesn't mean that they won't continue to work until 11pm But they want to build that into their schedule, and they need that flexibility. Do I have the tools and resources for instance if I want to learn how to set up my office and I wanted to be having the right economics like, do I have some sort of guide, do I have some sort of budget to how to set up an office, when I'm thinking about wellbeing, I'm thinking about learning right. If I want to learn for instance as a people manager how to have conversations about mental health, how to understand if an employee of my friends is feeling depressed or isolated. How do I do that, as a people manager before I didn't really have the skills or the skills, does my company provide me that learning. So I really think it's flexibility is tools and learning, if you provide that, then individuals are able to make their own choices to be as productive as they can.
Max: I'm writing some of these ideas down. I'm going to act on them as soon as this call is over. So that was super good. Thank you, Bianca. I would like to ask you, where can people get a hold of you if they want more of these solid advice on building an inclusive environment?
Bianca: They can find me on LinkedIn. I think you can add my bio to your podcast and people can find me there.
Bianca: Thank you, Max for this opportunity.
Max: Thanks Bianca and talk to you soon.
Max: That was Bianca Stringuini reminding us that wellbeing in the workplace. It's not like wellbeing at home. Taking a break, resting and meditating, wellbeing in the workplace is being productive and creating that wellbeing is something that we all should strive to as employers and as recruiters, we should talk about how we've created a hyper productive environment for our people. Hope you enjoyed it and if you did remember to subscribe and share with friends.
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