How can D&I leaders support a global strategy at a local level?
By Jo Faragher on 30 September 2020
By its very nature, the remit of the diversity and inclusion function encompasses a huge network of different factors and aspects of organisational culture. For a D&I team spanning a number of countries, with different cultural norms and legal frameworks, the challenge to demonstrate consistency and value can be even harder.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s 2019 report into evidence-based D&I cites examples of why this might be difficult in practice. A Danish multinational had identified that inclusion was well embedded in its headquarters, for instance, but had proven problematic in Saudi Arabia, where it felt there was a need to reinterpret how it looked at inclusion and its goals. At a Finnish company, gender diversity initiatives were well accepted but in some offices there was resistance to implementing new D&I practices around other types of diversity. “An effective global D&I strategy will take into account local level issues, challenges and opportunities,” the report recommends. “Employees need to see how diversity practices are relevant to local-level issues.”
Listen to employees
Sheree Atcheson, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at engagement company Peakon, has previously worked in global roles including at Monzo and Deloitte. She says the power of listening is crucial. “To work successfully in a global DE&I function, you must be able to listen to all employees regularly in a scalable approach. This means not relying on in person or one-to-one sessions but rather utilising a tool that allows you to regularly hear what is and isn’t working from your people across all regions,” she advises.
“You also must study the different cultural influences and potential biases which are prevalent in different regions to ensure your strategy and work answers to them authentically – a one-brush approach will not work,” she adds. “You should be closely aligned with your legal team, to ensure you are meeting legal requirements as needed. With these different tailored approaches needed, you should still have a common overarching theme so that regardless of where your employees are based, there is a common understanding of what embracing diversity and fostering environments of inclusion means to your business”.
On a very practical level, this means questioning whether D&I practices are even relevant to local issues: A study in the International Journal of Human Resource Management, for example, found that in China, diversity practices related to pay and progression tended to have a greater impact on behaviour than those relating to training. This was because pay issues tended to cause more labour disputes than training. Equally, a diversity charter or bold statement that gains traction at head office may be ignored by offices in other countries if it is not considered to be high on the agenda.
Marsh & McLennan Companies, which owns businesses such as Mercer and Oliver Wyman, has a global head of D&I and is currently recruiting for a chief diversity officer across its group of companies. This is “so that this agenda is represented directly at the most senior executive level in the business”, according to Michelle Sequeira, Principal and UK Diversity and Inclusion Consulting Lead at Mercer. Each operating company within the group has a talent and inclusion centre of excellence that sets D&I strategy and goals aligned to their particular business strategy, but in fitting with MMC’s global D&I vision. On top of that, there are Business Resource Groups (BRGs) that drive engagement, raise awareness and support the overarching D&I strategy, she explains. The BRGs have global leaders with local chapters, which then have their own executive sponsors who ensure their activities align with the overall values and vision of the business.
Sequeria adds: “The structure allows our D&I strategy to be effective as it drives global consistency whilst also taking into account any local laws and cultural nuances rather than a blanket one size fits all approach.” One example of this in practice is allyship training, which every country takes on board and updates to be more locally specific. “There are regular forums where best practices and collaboration on initiatives take place. A few examples where all UK sister companies are collaborating on initiatives are for Black History Month and we are also looking to launch a cross-business mentoring programme,” she says. “Furthermore, Mercer engages in local charters and initiatives to hold ourselves accountable and align with local culture and laws further.”
Clearly there is a balance to be struck – while a ‘grassroots’ approach may get the most buy in on a local level, this will obviously depend on resources and budget. Appreciating cultural and legal norms will be even more important if employees are globally mobile, as the CIPD points out: “An LGBT+ employee must be able and supported to make an informed decision on a work assignment in a region where their sexuality is stigmatised or even illegal. Employers can take a stand for equality globally, but at the same time must be flexible to uphold their duty of care for individual employees.”
The CIPD ultimately advises that organisations, where possible, adopt a ‘loose fit’ approach to their global D&I strategy – with the principles and values of the business at the centre, but flexibility to adapt to local needs. This also needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating success, with meaningful measures for local contexts against that country’s priorities, and ways to tie these measures to the wider goals of the company as a whole.
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