08 Jun. 2012 | Comments (0)

Managing Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) opportunities across national boundaries is challenging. The ever-changing requirements of a diverse market and customer base require organizations to cultivate an agile, inclusive culture wherein employees seamlessly share a broad spectrum of perspectives, ideas, and ways of working. Such an environment enables a high level of employee engagement and commitment to enable the company’s mission. An inclusive culture also ensures that you attract and retain a workforce that understands the diverse range of customers you serve. By making the most of your mix of employees, you deliver better results for your global customers.  Your stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, partners, and investors) need your organization to draw from a diverse talent pool to create world-class workforces, managers, and leadership teams, and harness critical business opportunities by adapting sales, marketing, and customer support approaches to untapped and unfamiliar markets spanning the globe.

How do you combine multiple perspectives and ways of working together to generate positive outcomes? 

One frequently asked question is whether D&I strategies in a multinational context should be global or local.  My colleagues, who are charged with global responsibility for D&I, and I agree that D&I strategies need to be both global and local.  Finding the “glocal” balance in each organization is not prescriptive, but here are a few things to think about as you establish the best balance for your organization.

  • What enables global success in your organization?  Look at examples of other successful global initiatives in your organization.  Consider:
                    o How do they balance global and local concerns, and what characteristics foster their success? 
                    o How have they built a strategic set of networks and alliances within the organization? 
                    o How did they develop the infrastructure to connect people, provide support, and enable them to share best practices, tools, and lessons learned? 
                    o How can you apply similar characteristics to your global approach to D&I?
                    o Where can you integrate D&I efforts with other thriving global initiatives?
  • Establishing global consistency:  A global strategy will establish international consistency with an overarching vision, direction, and governance model.  Establishing consistency often means setting some non-negotiable aspects in a global strategy.  As these are established, ask yourself:
                     o Why they are inflexible?
                     o What assumptions underlie the decisions?
                     o Are you being mindful of the impact of location, culture, legislation and other    variables on your non-negotiables? 

Organizations that have designed these D&I strategies with an "imperialist" perspective have learned the hard way that exporting paradigms and approaches that work at headquarters might not work for all locations.  Instead, design these elements with a broad perspective that takes into account local variations.

  • Customizing for local relevance:  As you develop strategies and look for global and local harmony, ask yourself:
                    o Whose voice is not being heard and what could that be costing you?

We need inclusive engagement to consult with women and men from different countries and cultures, social groups, races and ethnicities, disciplines, functions and business units, as well as all levels in the hierarchy. Keep in mind that some countries, such as China, India, Brazil, and the U.S., have a great deal of internal or national diversity and multiple subcultures to consider.  Inclusive participation will localize D&I strategies in meaningful ways and can generate relevant business cases and action plans for each country, while maintaining alignment with the global mission. 

  • Providing direction without control:  Skills and comfort with setting global intentions that give direction without determining the exact path or the final outcome allow for local solutions to emerge. Foster local approaches and outcomes by asking the questions and facilitating the conversations that enhance a locality’s ability to achieve meaningful regional outcomes, which will contribute to the mosaic of global results.

Consider how these dynamics might play out in a global organization. Some global D&I visions establish gender balance as the primary or even singular component of their global diversity visions. Arguably, gender balance opportunities exist everywhere, but in some countries, other diversity dimensions such as age or socioeconomic differences present a larger set of likely benefits. Some countries are relatively advanced in gender balance but have significant challenges with nationality and religious diversity. Some regions might have more potential advantages from focusing on supplier diversity, others on diversity marketing, and still others on diversity talent sourcing.  Amidst this complexity, possessing a broad global D&I vision and inclusive input, while enabling localities to customize specific initiatives, can enhance commitment and results. 

What do you do to bridge local and global interests, and make the most of diversity in your organizations?

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  • About the Author: Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a senior fellow providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. She serves as program director for both the Diversity & Inclusion Executives and…

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