Taiwan Strives for an Inclusive Future

Bilateral and public-private collaboration can unlock Taiwan’s potential to be a leader in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA).  

“A more inclusive Taiwan is a more included Taiwan.”  

Those were the words of AmCham Chairperson Dan Silver during his opening remarks at the AmCham Taiwan DEIA Celebration Forum. Taiwan’s commitment to inclusivity positions it as a beacon for progressive corporations and like-minded nations, Silver noted, adding that “a robust DEIA framework is a soft-power win.” 

The forum, organized in collaboration with the American Institute in Taiwan, is part of AmCham’s efforts to discuss pressing societal issues that affect business performance. DEIA’s impact extends beyond individual empowerment to the very core of economic success. When DEIA is elevated, it ensures that companies and governments mirror the diverse customer bases and society they serve.  

Taiwan is a regional leader in human rights, freedom, and equality. It’s ranked first in Asia in the Human Freedom Index and was first in Asia to legislate for marriage equality in 2019. While bills mandating quotas for female legislators and listed companies ensure that women are included in decision-making, other branches of government are also on their way to achieving gender parity. Still, only 37% of the SMEs that make up more than 90% of Taiwan’s economy are led by women, showing more remains to be done.  

AmCham Chairperson Dan Silver stressed the importance of DEIA in achieving corporate and societal success.

“Over the past decades in Taiwan, huge progress has been made,” said President-elect Hsiao Bi-khim during her special remarks at the forum. “When I was in the legislature over 20 years ago, we often heard comments made on gender-based prejudices. Those comments are no longer acceptable on today’s floor – they will be condemned.”  

In Taiwan, Hsiao continued, “men are increasingly willing and supported by employers to take parental leave” and Taiwanese society “joyfully cheers and celebrates individuals who choose to stay true to express their gender identities.” 

A number of Taiwan’s equality efforts have been spearheaded by Minister of Digital Affairs Audrey Tang. As Taiwan’s first openly non-binary cabinet-level official, Tang is deeply familiar with the challenges of belonging to a minority, and has strived to leverage innovative technology to promote inclusive government decision-making.  

The Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA) collaborates with leading AI companies to uphold AI ethics principles. In response to the shortcomings of early generative AI technologies, MODA engaged over 400 citizens to evaluate AI responses. The project revealed that cultural nuances often remain unaddressed by AI developers. For example, early versions of generative AI programs would confuse Cantonese and Mandarin, highlighting a gap in cultural understanding that cannot be bridged by homogeneous development teams. 

This realization prompted MODA to join the Collective Intelligence Project (CIP), an international NGO aiming to align AI models with diverse global perspectives. CIP has already shown promise, with new AI models like U.S.-based AI startup Anthropic’s Opus performing significantly better in nuanced tasks. 

In other efforts to refine AI alignment, the government invited 450 people across Taiwan to join discussions through the Stanford online deliberation platform, a video discussion platform designed for small group discussions, ensuring more structured and equitable participation in public discourse. 

These initiatives are part of “constitutional AI” models, developed with community input to ensure they reflect a wide array of human experiences and biases. 

Sarah Shabbir, special advisor for DEIA at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs under the U.S. Department of State, traveled to Taipei from Washington, D.C. to participate in the forum. During her remarks, Shabbir stressed the role of government in promoting accessibility and equal opportunities for people with disabilities.  

Gilead Sciences Taiwan General Manager Cathy Su is the first Asian woman to hold her position.

“For people with disabilities, it’s a culture, it’s a community, it’s an identity, and it also envelops how other people see them and how that affects their place in the world,” said Shabbir. Addressing the business community, she encouraged efforts to increase inclusion, stressing that inclusivity is financially beneficial for both companies and society. In contrast, “the cost of excluding persons with disabilities can represent an annual loss of 7% of a country’s GDP,” Shabbir added.  

The United States Rehabilitation Act, enacted in 1973, includes prohibitions on disability discrimination in federal agency programs, programs receiving federal financial assistance, federal employment, and federal contractor employment practices. 

In 1990, protection was strengthened through the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.  

The Act also provided a simple yet profound example of how inclusivity unleashes innovation by mandating what are known as curb cuts. The introduction of these small sidewalk ramps at street intersections had a surprising ripple effect on society, noted AmCham Chairperson Silver during his forum remarks.  

“When the wall of exclusion came down, everyone benefited,” said Silver. “Parents pushing strollers headed straight for curb cuts. So did workers pulling heavy carts and business travelers with luggage. The curb cuts also made skateboarding possible in every neighborhood, ultimately leading to its inclusion in the Olympics. This is the power of DEIA in action.” 

For its part, Taiwan enacted the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act in 1980. The Act has since been amended several times to enhance the scope of protection and services for people with disabilities, safeguarding and enhancing their rights and interests and ensuring equal opportunity to participate fully in society.  

Taiwan’s legislation also requires that large companies employ a certain percentage of people with disabilities. Specifically, any government department, public school, or public business agency with a total employee count of 34 or more must ensure that at least 3% of its workforce consists of people with disabilities. For private schools, associations, or private business agencies with 67 or more employees, the requirement is that at least 1% should be individuals with disabilities.  

While businesses are actively seeking to diversify their workforce by hiring highly skilled professionals with disabilities, companies report that accessing this talent pool remains a challenge. Further government intervention to facilitate connections between companies and job seekers with disabilities could help companies overcome this hurdle.  

AmCham’s Human Resources Committee proposes several measures to overcome this challenge. For example, the Committee suggests that a comprehensive talent pool platform and accessible guidance would ease the recruitment process and support businesses in developing disability-friendly policies. Furthermore, providing professional career counseling services to people with disabilities would enhance their job retention and competitiveness.  

The company role 

Corporates play an important role in promoting inclusivity through strategic partnerships between governments and businesses. And a growing number of companies are actively working to create environments where diverse talent can thrive. 

American technology company Dell Technologies is among companies leveraging new technology for DEIA purposes. By connecting communities in remote places globally to the internet and teaching young people digital skills, the company hopes to increase access to opportunities. In Taiwan, Dell supports rural schools with its latest hardware and drives digital learning initiatives in under resourced areas.  

Another focus area for Dell is enabling an inclusive workforce, for example for employees who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, says Jerry Liu, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Procurement at Dell. “According to the World Health Organization, over 5% of the world population has disabling hearing loss,” he notes. To promote autonomy and integration in the workplace for deaf or hard-of-hearing employees at Dell’s Brazil factory, the company developed the Language Interactive Support Assistant (LISA), which uses machine learning, AI, and image analysis technologies to serve as a virtual interpreter between deaf and hearing users.  

At Micron Technology, workplace inclusivity has also been instrumental in enabling innovation. While the American computer memory and data storage producer has yet to reach its gender parity goals, Micron’s 25% outperforms the global industry average of 20% female representation in technical roles. Taiwan stands out as one of the high-performing markets in this area.  

“Taiwan is Micron’s biggest site,” says Debra Bell, vice president of DRAM Engineering at Micron. “We have a really big win-win opportunity here, and it’s because of the cultural fit and the technology fit that exists between Micron corporate culture and Taiwanese culture.”  

Bell stresses the importance of removing bias in the hiring process to ensure fair opportunities. A simple first step is removing names from resumes. “We make a lot of assumptions about who somebody is based on their name,” she notes. To overcome this challenge, the company has launched an AI tool that anonymizes resumes.  

Kenvue’s Ravi Bordia says he is impressed by the younger generation’s expectations of inclusive work practices.

Ravi Bordia, general manager for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar at Kenvue, an American consumer healthcare company, agrees that equitable recruitment processes are crucial for company success. Bordia says he’s encouraged by the younger generation’s expectations of inclusive work practices. 

“About two years ago, I was interviewing a candidate,” he says. “At the end of the interview, they asked about our LGBTQ policy, which is amazing. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to ask a prospective employer those questions at a young age. That’s a clear reflection of who our consumers and our people are, and it’s a prerequisite for how companies compete in today’s market.” 

Bordia further stresses the importance of bridging generational gaps to foster innovation. To this end, Kenvue has implemented a reverse mentorship program encouraging knowledge exchange among individuals from diverse generational and cultural backgrounds. Such programs not only enhance learning and understanding but also contribute to the professional development of both mentors and mentees, says Bordia. 

Transparently sharing statistics on pay equity, representation, and supplier diversity is another way for companies to hold themselves accountable, notes Bell. “Micron is committed to equitable pay and inclusive benefits. Each year, we use technology to analyze and understand pay variances and, if any statistically significant differences are discovered, we make adjustments to eliminate them.”   

For companies in the healthcare industry, DEIA initiatives are instrumental in developing effective treatments for diverse populations. International pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences is advancing patient-centricity by integrating inclusion and diversity into its core strategies, an approach that extends to ensuring diverse participant representation in clinical trials. 

“Just 10 years ago, we couldn’t find a sufficient Asian population for some of our clinical trials,” says Cathy Su, general manager of Gilead Sciences Taiwan. “That presented a lot of hurdles in Taiwan in terms of registration and reimbursement,” and spurred the company to rethink its clinical trial programs.  

Diverse clinical trial groups were a prerequisite when Pfizer developed its Covid-19 vaccine, says Catherine Lee, Pfizer area head of Global Site and Study Operations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The American multinational pharmaceutical company carefully constructed the clinical trials to test the effectiveness on various ethnic groups.  

The initial phase of the pandemic highlighted healthcare disparities that prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update its guidance on enhancing the diversity of clinical trial populations in November 2020. The updated guidance provided detailed recommendations on eligibility criteria, enrollment practices, and trial designs to ensure that clinical trials represent various populations.  

Lee says this example of how industry initiatives and government efforts can effectively bring societal improvements is great news for patients worldwide. By promoting best practice sharing and cooperation across sectors and governments, Taiwan and its industries could act as a role model of DEIA.  

“We all know that resource constraints present challenges,” says Lee. “But if we all strive for the same goal and work together, we can definitely drive a bright future for Taiwan and the world.”