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Diversity and Inclusion: A Global Approach for Maximum Business Results

by Anita Zanchettin

The bottom-line business benefits of diversity and inclusion are increasingly well-established in global companies, including:

  • Attraction and retention of top talent through employer-of-choice reputation around the world;
  • Improved morale among employees worldwide;
  • Cost savings due to better leveraging of strengths and skills within the organization;
  • Stronger relationships with global partners and customers;
  • Increased productivity of diverse and globally dispersed teams.

As diversity and inclusion become more strategic components of achieving business results, the need to deal with these issues in a globally appropriate way increases. Too many diversity initiatives that are successful at corporate headquarters are then unsuccessfully exported to other global locations. What does it take to develop and implement an effective global diversity and inclusion strategy?

Global Approach: Three Key Elements

Diversity and inclusion strategies often jump directly to actions such as training, coaching, mentoring programs, and the development of diversity councils and employee affinity groups. While these activities may become critical elements of an overall plan, it is important to first ensure that the framework for diversity is in a global context.

A truly global approach to diversity and inclusion begins with a solid foundation in three key areas: Headquarters/Subsidiary Relationships, Local Business Context, and Multicultural Teams.

foundation of global approach to diversity

Headquarters/Subsidiary Relationships: Inclusion or Imposition?

In most cases, financial control and leadership direction for diversity and inclusion initiatives originate at headquarters. The quality of the global/local relationship across countries and the history of previous initiatives both factor heavily into the level of openness and acceptance to another headquarters-driven initiative.

A diversity leader at a global manufacturing company comments:

Even before we established the business case, developed a global plan, or created metrics, we received a lot of feedback about the potential fit of our company’s diversity initiative around the world based on employees’ previous experiences with our other global initiatives. In some cases, this was a real disadvantage, and we had to deal with the fact that employees were skeptical even before we started.

Key questions to consider:

  • What are examples of successful global initiatives in our company?  What are the factors that contributed to their success?
  • Who is included in the development of our diversity and inclusion strategy? Is there involvement of key people across geographies, cultures, business units, job functions, levels, and other diversity dimensions?
  • What are the non-negotiable elements of our global diversity strategy that we want to keep consistent across the world?  Why are they non-negotiable?  Have we fully considered the impact of geography, culture, and other diversity dimensions on our “non-negotiables?”

Cultures within Cultures: Diversity Variables in a Local Business Context

Cultures within Cultures refers to the diversity that exists within each country in a unique combination of variables that impact the work environment.  It is often a challenge to identify the diversity variables that make a difference through the eyes of local employees and customers.  A diversity council member in a global technology company provides this example:

Our corporate diversity council looked at the demographics in Japan and many of us determined that gender was a serious diversity issue. The representation of women in senior leadership positions was just not there. Fortunately, our diversity council included several employees from Japan and through conversations with them we discovered that the most important diversity issue from their perspective was age. A large segment of the employee population was retiring and the integration of young new hires into the company was having the most serious business impact there.   [continued]

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About the Author: Anita Zanchettin is the co-author of Global Diversity:

Winning Customers and Engaging Employees within World Markets and Chief Learning Officer and Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion of Aperian Global. She has more than eighteen years’ experience providing training and consulting for global corporations on the business impact of culture on job effectiveness, teamwork, and leadership.

Her book, Global Diversity takes into account the true variety that exists within each country while enabling every employee in a global enterprise to become an engaged and accountable contributor. Vital cultural insights are presented for:Individual managers selling their products and services in foreign markets; Expatriates working with headquarters and subsidiary operations; Leaders looking to leverage capabilities of their workforces in key growth markets; Diversity professionals extending corporate diversity initiatives abroad.

The final chapter presents a six-step approach to developing an effective global diversity strategy.