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Diversity: think globally for local success [Cont]

Defining diversity

Language is powerful. The “made in USA” label looms large on the term “diversity.”

A critical first step is to dispel the assumption that diversity equates to US equal employment opportunities laws or affirmative action regulations (a misconception still widely held, even in the US). Workplace diversity means more than race and gender. It refers to a broad range of differences that influence how people interact and achieve business results. The dynamic of differences is that people tend to be more comfortable with those who are like them. That can affect interactions and lead to favoritism or bias,

even when not intentional or conscious. This inclusion/exclusion, stereotyping/bias is a global, human phenomenon.

The differences that play out, however, change by location and circumstance – sometimes significantly. This may seem like semantics, but the definition must be broad enough to be relevant to all employees and to provide the flexibility required to address local needs. One company example that was created by a global team is: “Diversity is variety or difference among people including but not limited to factors such as age, business background, citizenship, communication style, culture, disability, educational background (degree/school), ethnicity, family status, function, gender, language, accent, national origin, physical appearance, race and color, regional origin, religion/faith, sexual orientation, social class, and thinking style.” This type of listing – with elements beyond race and gender and beyond demographics – is shared among successful definitions of diversity.

Successful global initiatives are designed to provide global continuity while respecting local differences.When we consider the local variables at the outset and throughout the process – and honor the outcomes – we are assured a powerful and successful strategic process in any given country and on a global basis. Indeed, this ensures relevance in any environment, business unit, industry, functional area, etc. ~ Click here to view the complete template.

It is this nuance in perspective that shifts diversity from an exclusionary concept to a global one at the outset of the initiative.

Acting locally

Many global corporations have discovered that unilateral development of and/or uniform dissemination of a diversity initiative is ineffective at best and causes negative reactions at worst. Never was the phrase “think globally, act locally” more pertinent. To act locally is to recognize the need for national strategies that take into account the particular location’s core diversity issues, business case for managing differences and utilize a culturally appropriate process for change.

These circumstances and dynamics vary greatly throughout the world. Because the ultimate goal of a diversity initiative is to maximize the productivity and effectiveness of all employees to realize the company mission and enhance business results, organizations cannot hope to achieve success without recognizing, respecting and leveraging these differences.

Considering local elements

A useful way to think about the relevance of diversity is: “What differences exist in our work environment that may have an impact on how we interact, conduct business and achieve results?” To determine this on a global scale, we conducted research in 28 countries to assess which elements of diversity were deemed most relevant in each location.

Around the world the issues of gender and, increasingly, age and disability are the strongest elements of diversity. Every country faces the underutilization of women.

The issue of the ageing workforce is also one for nearly every industrialized country. Maintaining an adequate labor force will increase competition for talent, and require organizations to retain older workers and tap into underutilized sources of talent – namely women, ethnic minorities, immigrants and people with disabilities. So the workplace will become increasingly diverse. If not managed well, this diversity will detract rather than enhance business results.