by Michal Fineman and Elizabeth MacGillivray

ORC Worldwide

Global corporate diversity programs have ceased to be a new phenomenon. Many companies have been applying diversity and inclusion concepts in their operations around the world for a number of years now, and much has been learned since early, naive attempts to simply export American-style programs to other regions. If nothing else, we’ve realized that there is no single right way to take a diversity initiative global. Nevertheless, despite, or perhaps because of, the variety of approaches to globalization we have encountered in our research and work with multinational organizations, a number of lessons have emerged:

Global diversity strategy and structure work best when compatible with the company’s business, markets, and organization.

Progress can be difficult in diversity for lots of reasons, but structural barriers can be addressed by ensuring that the D&I structure fits comfortably with what is happening at the business level. because it is difficult to effect change from a distance, one leading organization devised a global diversity network structure with two company representatives from each region that help manage diversity in that region. In addition, each country has its own country representative to the network as well. another global company has established a D&I working group comprised of 30 individuals around the business and from their three regions (US, eMea, and apac) responsible for providing leadership and progressing on accountability in diversity.

The global diversity leader’s most important role is building relationships with local business and HR leaders.

She acts, as one of our research subjects put it, as the “cultural translator,” listening carefully to local leaders and working with them to make diversity and inclusion concepts relevant to the local situation. In the process, she builds a network of local stakeholders who trust her and, by extension, the corporation’s D&I efforts and brings the message to their peers.

Global diversity leaders also need to cultivate strong partnerships with other functions, such as talent management, recruiting, and corporate responsibility, at the corporate, regional, and business unit levels, since these are the individuals who control the processes through which diversity concepts are integrated.

Some companies take structural measures to encourage these partnerships, such as assigning diversity accountability to local Hr or employee relations managers or creating a community of practice that brings together local and corporate people with some diversity responsibility to share best practices and work together on corporate initiatives.

Diversity goals cannot be dictated to local leaders based solely on the rationale in the headquarters country.

Many of the companies we have studied have a global business case describing why D&I are corporate priorities. but most acknowledge that to capture the commitment of people on the ground, diversity and inclusion goals must respond to the strategic concerns facing each business unit and location. One company reorganized its diversity councils from a regional structure to one aligned with markets in order to ensure that diversity work is tied to relevant business and talent challenges. Another distributed its global business case statement to managers around the world and asked them to analyze it in light of local issues.

Local managers and employees should be involved in determining both the global vision for diversity and inclusion and local priorities and strategy.

Similar to the lesson above on setting diversity goals, setting strategy at the local and global levels must have local input to ensure that the strategy translates and is relevant. One financial services company uses regional and country-specific diversity councils that inform the corporate function on key issues for customers and employees, so that the strategy is responsive to both the local market and talent needs. Another vehicle for enabling local viewpoints to inform corporate strategy is through the use of affinity/employee resource groups that exist around the globe. Many companies are now sponsoring global employee networks that not only provide support to employees in those constituencies, but communicate the local needs of the employees and organization at various sites around the organization.

To make lasting change at every level, D&I must be integrated with business and Hr processes so that it becomes a part of the way decisions are made day-to-day.

ORC Worldwide (ORC) is an international management consulting firm offering professional assistance in the areas of global equality, diversity and inclusion; talent management; global and domestic compensation; labor and employee relations; and occupational safety and health. Visit for more information.