by Susan Johnson
Vice President, Strategic Talent Management and Diversity Leadership
Pitney Bowes, Inc
A new era of diversity management is upon us. globalization has transformed society, economics and politics, greatly influencing demographics within the workplace. Not only are today’s employees more diverse, with minorities constituting 40% of the U.S. workforce in 2009, the heads of state—Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Ellen Johnson sirleaf—reflect a sea change in perceptions of leadership. A multi-cultural, global workforce symbolizes a new way of thinking about diversity and inclusion efforts.
“…the definition of global diversity should encompass an understanding of the differences between countries and the internal diversity of each country.”
Even the term “diversity” needs to be redefined. Whether it is linked with race and civil rights in the U.S., languages and cultural sub-groups in european countries, or other cultural nuances in Asian and Latin American countries, “diversity” must encompass the innumerable differences found in the global workforce.
For many organizations, the definition of global diversity should encompass an understanding of the differences between countries as well as the internal diversity of each country. The scope must be global, and knowledge about the country’s customers, employees and suppliers is essential. Support from top management and clearly communicating the business case for diversity and inclusion practices are also important.
A diverse workforce alone does not equate to a successful global diversity management program. Inclusion programs and initiatives that bring a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to differences often provide employees with tools to overcome the potential challenges associated with diverse, global teams.
These challenges can exist from country-to-country or in cultural sub-groups of one country, but with the right mix of diversity and inclusion practices, successful teams often avoid the “group think” that can plague homogeneous ones. With a shared mission and common set of values, diverse teams can develop better, more robust ideas and processes based on a variety of viewpoints. And, with increased levels of innovation and an ability to attract toplevel talent, global diversity is a competitive edge.
In fact, diversity programs have had a positive impact on employee motivation and customer satisfaction for more than half of the companies that have implemented them, with a noted improvement in brand image for 69% of companies studied by the European Commission. In addition, Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on their board of directors had better financial performances than those with two or fewer, according to a 2007 study from Catalyst.
Clearly, a global perspective in diversity and inclusion management is an economic imperative. With the U.N. reporting that restricted job opportunities for women cost the Asia and Pacific countries between US$42 billion and US$46 billion in GDP growth annually, business impact is a reality.
So, what can a global organization do with diversity dynamics changing so rapidly? Here are some suggestions. To avoid any business consequences of an improperly managed diverse workforce, focus on inclusive efforts within an organization. In order to transform a business environment, inclusion practices must be imbedded into an organization’s bottom line and throughout its culture. Agree on a common definition of diversity that resonates within and outside a country’s cultural frame of reference. Once the culture of an organization shifts from a narrowly defined identity to one of cultural inclusiveness, a sustainable and successful model of global diversity is achieved.
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