In recognition of International Women's Day and Women’s History Month, we present a special installment of our Inside Edelman series. Here, Yuliani Setiadi and Marta Guasch share their unique perspectives, they discuss the significance of belonging, the impact of cultural diversity, and the continuous fight for gender equality in the workplace.

Can you share a moment in your career where you felt particularly included or excluded? How did that impact you?

Marta Guasch: Joining Edelman London was a turning point, introducing me to a culture deeply rooted in valuing diversity and inclusivity. The tech team’s ethos, led by our Managing Director, Satyen Dayal, emphasizes the importance of embracing cultural diversity, fostering a sense of belonging, and encouraging creativity. This inclusive atmosphere has helped me feel valued and supported, reinforcing my belief in the transformative power of cultural understanding and acceptance in creating dynamic and innovative teams.

Yuliani Setiadi: The 1998 anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia were a pivotal moment for me, underscoring the stark reality of being targeted for my ethnicity and igniting my commitment to diversity and inclusion. My 17-year career journey across Amsterdam, Jakarta, Singapore, Shanghai, and now Hong Kong, as a third-generation Chinese Indonesian, has been a testament to navigating through biases and microaggressions. Facing challenges and skepticism, especially being told that as a woman, my ultimate role was predetermined by traditional expectations rather than my professional aspirations, has been a recurring theme. These experiences have not only underscored the importance of my active engagement in societal issues but also solidified my commitment to fostering an inclusive work environment.

What does belonging mean to you within the context of gender equality, and why do you think it's important in the workplace?

Yuliani Setiadi: Belonging is vital. It's about being valued for my skills and contributions without judgment based on gender or ethnicity. Diversity and inclusivity aren't just beneficial; they're essential for creativity, innovation, and, ultimately, business success. For example, I was once on set where initially, all the major talents featured were men. It highlighted a simple yet profound oversight: women, who make up half the population and are key financial decision-makers, were not represented. Creating a diverse and safe space is imperative, especially in our field of communication and marketing. We must mirror the richness of the populations we serve to truly connect and resonate with the public. Failing to do so means we risk being disconnected from the very people we aim to reach.

Marta Guasch: For me, belonging means everything. It represents the freedom to be myself, to express my thoughts and show who I am in a safe space. This sense of safety and acceptance is crucial for operating at my best. Belonging also fosters a sense of community, making me feel part of something larger and contributing to a collective goal. It brings an emotional sense of safety, empowerment, and wholeness, making one feel welcomed into a space or community.

The importance of belonging cannot be overstated. Without it, we may find ourselves questioning our purpose, our place, and our value, which can hinder us from reaching our full potential. Thus, fostering a sense of belonging is not just important—it's essential for enabling us to be our best selves.

What are the significant barriers to achieving gender equality in our industry, and how can we address them?

Yuliani Setiadi: Addressing gender equality is challenging due to deep-seated stereotypes and biases ingrained from a young age. Overcoming these isn't easy, as it involves changing long-held beliefs and confronting biases, whether they're recognized or not. Initially, I found it difficult to voice my concerns on these issues, but I've grown more confident over time. I believe it's crucial to speak up for myself and others, advocating for change through education, awareness campaigns, and inclusive policies. These efforts shouldn't be limited to specific times of the year but should be a constant focus to truly make a difference across all spectrums of gender and diversity.

Marta Guasch: A key challenge in achieving gender equality is the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Despite progress, more work is needed to ensure everyone feels represented. Another hurdle is the perception of motherhood as a professional setback. However, many returning mothers bring valuable perspectives and skills, debunking this myth. Additionally, feelings of doubt and impostor syndrome can hinder women's career progression. Creating a supportive environment that boosts confidence and values individual contributions is crucial.

To address these challenges, we must cultivate a culture that champions equal opportunities and recognizes the strengths of every team member, ensuring a supportive and inclusive workplace for all.

How do you personally try to foster an inclusive atmosphere within your team or our organization?

Marta Guasch: I strive to promote a culture of respect that values diversity in all its forms. This involves learning from each other's differences and seeing the benefits of diverse perspectives. A critical part of this process is active listening, combined with empathy, which I believe is essential. It helps everyone feel heard and understood, fostering an environment where we can all learn from one another. Creating an inclusive atmosphere means making sure each team member knows their voice matters and their contributions are valued. 

Yuliani Setiadi: As a leader and manager, my aim extends beyond meeting business KPIs to creating a safe space where every team member feels heard, valued, and respected for their unique perspectives. This environment encourages everyone to thrive and be their authentic selves. On a personal level, I'm dedicated to continuous learning and improvement. This includes being more attentive to the correct pronunciation of names and using appropriate pronouns, acknowledging the importance of respecting individual identities. 

Can you share a book, article, or event that significantly changed your perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Yuliani Setiadi: One book that profoundly impacted my perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion is 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity' by Katherine Boo. It's a non-fiction work that offers a vivid portrayal of life in the Annawadi slum, near Mumbai's international airport. The author's detailed observations of the residents, from young trash pickers to a female slumlord, reveal the complex human stories behind the struggles for a better life amidst deep-rooted societal inequalities. This book opened my eyes to the challenges of overcoming societal structures that perpetuate inequality and limit social mobility. It's a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggles for equality and inclusion faced by communities around the world and underscores the importance of continuing to push for social progress.

Marta Guasch: A book that significantly shifted my perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion is 'The Culture Map' by Erin Mayer. This book has been a constant reference for me, shedding light on the vast cultural differences in communication, leadership, decision-making, and feedback, which are crucial in a multicultural environment.

Working across various cultures, the insights from this book have helped me understand and navigate the nuances of global teamwork effectively. For instance, it taught me the importance of tailoring feedback styles to match cultural expectations—direct in some cultures like Russia, France, and the Netherlands, and more indirect in others like China and Japan. This understanding fosters a sense of belonging and is essential for anyone working with diverse teams across different geographies.

As individuals and as a company, how can we inspire inclusion and belonging in our broader community and industry?

Yuliani Setiadi: We're fortunate in our industry to have the opportunity to not only advise and counsel our clients but to also lead by example in fostering inclusion and belonging. Our work, such as the Dove #LetHerGrow campaign in Thailand to challenge forced haircuts for female students, showcases our commitment to making a positive impact. Similarly, the HP Street Code campaign aimed at uplifting underprivileged youth in Indonesia exemplifies how we can use our influence for social good. These initiatives reflect our values and the change we strive to inspire not just within our company, but across the broader community and industry.

Marta Guasch: I believe in the power of continuous learning, openness to new ideas, and making connections. I constantly encourage my team to expand their Edelman network because it enriches our understanding of cultural nuances and differences. Participating in employee groups like GWEN, for example, plays a crucial role in making a tangible impact on diversity and inclusion. Additionally, mentoring and coaching not only offer personal fulfillment but also allow us to contribute positively to the broader network.

Reflecting on these efforts reminds me of the importance of treating people as they wish to be treated, acknowledging and embracing cultural diversity. This approach not only makes us more empathetic but also helps in making the world a better place. Embracing our differences makes our work and lives more enriching and enjoyable.

Yuliani Setiadi is Head of Digital in Hong Kong and Marta Guasch is a Director in our Technology team based in London.