When we talk about “diversity” we often think about the USA. Why? Because this is where you find most books, networks and magazines about...

by Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia

Owner of NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting

When we talk about “diversity” we often think about the USA. Why? Because this is where you find most books, networks and magazines about the subject. And legislation around diversity, or rather discrimination, came in to place as early (or as late, depending on the angle) as 1961. But diversity is everywhere and it is a subject in many regions and countries. The focus may be different, the laws may be different and the understanding of what “diversity” is may be different.

“Progress may not be at revolutionary speed, but we are coming to an understanding that diversity makes business sense and that the diversity of the world is at our doorsteps.”

When reading about legislative requirements on diversity in various countries, there seems to be one group that has prominence in most countries; people with disabilities. In large regions and countries like Canada, India and Europe, there is also attention around hiring and promoting women. Norway even has a quota of 40% women on boards for public limited companies. But from there on, which minorities receive the most attention vary like the world itself. In many places there is no legal steer, but there may (or may not) be an expectation – sort of an unwritten rule – of hiring minorities in both public and private sector. There are also different opinions on whether there should be a legal steer or not.

To give you an idea, I am inviting you to a brief journey around the world. Below you will find a selection of countries that have laws around disadvantaged groups of the population – other than women and people with disabilities (acknowledging that there may be more legislative requirements I have not come across in my search):

  • Brazil: Black and native Brazilians
  • Canada: People of Aboriginal descent, visible minorities
  • France: Obligation to accept a certain number of students from poor families (often from North-African descent)
  • India: Scheduled Castes (Dalit or “untouchables) and Tribes (two groupings of historically disadvantaged people); other underserved classes (“socially and educationally backward classes”)
  • Malaysia: Bumiputra (ethnic Malay).
  • New Zealand: People of Maori and Polynesian descent
  • People’s Republic of China: Certain public positions are distributed to ethnic minorities (non-Han people)
  • South Africa: Blacks, Indians and people of color
  • UK: Catholics/Protestants

In several countries in the Middle East, there are laws around hiring more local staff (e.g. Qatarization), as the oil industry has brought in large numbers of expatriates.

I don’t think we have a country that has it all figured out, but I would like to highlight Singapore as a nation that is rather successful in mixing minority/majority groups and religions. Most Singaporeans are of Chinese, Malay or Indian descent. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Within this little space (694 km2/268 sq mi) people practice Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism and Hinduism. They celebrate all the various religious/festive days and show a respect for each other that is rather unique. Not that there is no tension or discrimination, but generally speaking it is a peaceful nation that has embraced its diversity. Alas, these are best practice examples.

Why do we need laws to promote recruitment or student intake of certain groups? This is a big question, but we seem to have a tendency to create in- and out-groups, on micro and macro levels, and you find it everywhere around the world in various degree. I will not go into the psychological reasons to why we have this tendency, the good news is that as humans we adapt and we learn. The fact that so many countries have legislation around diversity, is already a step forward, it means we are aware of the non-balance. Progress may not be at revolutionary speed, but we are coming to an understanding that diversity makes business sense and that the diversity of the world is at our doorsteps.

Simply said, achieving diversity and respect for people is a challenge all over the world, but there is also good progress going on around the world.

This article has been sponsored by:
NORSUN Diversity & Cross-Culture Consulting

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia

Owner of NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting

A consultant, trainer and co-active coach. She has more than 20 diverse years of experience from the oil industry, recruitment and customer relations. Sunniva is a diversity specialist and inhabits deep knowledge on working across cultures (www.diversity-and-cross-culture.com).

  • Muller

    February 5, 2015 #2 Author

    why does diversity important to life?


  • Dan

    December 29, 2020 #3 Author

    Why is it that only white majority countries have to be diverse? Why are whites not represented in say India, the Middle East and other non white countries, when the white countries afford the others the privilege of being diverse. Whites do live and add to the Middle East and India. Also why are Christians not represented in other countries with a more popular religion. I guess why do whites who are the world's minority move heaven and earth for other races and religions when the same is not given…


  • Arup Biswas

    February 15, 2021 #4 Author

    I came across this article while searching for "Diversity across countries" as my MBA research topic. I am non-white from India and believe the question you put here is quite relevant today as it was before. I have seen throughout my 45 years of staying in India (City of Calcutta) how the white community (Includes the former British descendants, anglo-Indians etc.) slowly but steadily disappeared.
    Our locality being a former British cantonment (Named – DumDum) had quite a few of those families staying in harmony with the newly independent Indians (India became independent in 1947 and I was born in 1971). Most of them worked in the Teaching profession, working in Christian missionary schools and I as a student felt priviledged to have had come in contact with them. During my childhood days I could sense the general perception of these people being a priviledged class was gaining steam, that we would gain from mixing with them was a common attitude. On their part most of these people used to avoid us for some reason that is still not comprehensible.
    Things started changing for the worse as I became older. The former English families having had lost their control and power over the administration gradually started failing economically too. The local boys / men started creating problems with these groups, particularly during the Hindu festival seasons, it appeared as if they and their generations to come would be perpetually held responsible for the perceived high handedness of their ancestors. To make matters worse these people could be easily identified from their fair skin, european sharp looks. The result was inevitable, slowly most of these families left the city for more comfortable locations like Australia, New Zealand, HongKong, the teaching standards in the schools dropped, the occassional voices of resistance in news paper columns, the ability and attitude to call a spade a spade, started to fade away and I started getting worried about the future of my next generation.
    Finally thngs came to a head with the rise of militant hinduism also popular in the country as hindutva. It not only affects the white people but also Indians who tend to think differently, who are of different faith, of different race and language. To me every next door neighbour appeared to be a new Hindutva convert, I could not take it any longer and decided to try and migrate, it wasnt easy for me to get a MBA offer and student visa for France at 48 years age but maybe I am just lucky enough, only future would tell if thats true.
    However, coming back to your point I could now comprehend how and why the migration has become one way traffic, very few former colonies actually encourage and strive to provide a comfortable environment for white european families to stay in those places, let alone allowing to migrate the other way. Most of the countries that do still encourage this trend are East Asian, South-East asian, the UAEs and the new world countries in America's.
    Being a person of Indian descent it is not difficult for me to understand our point of view for the events that are happening. I list some of them below.
    1. The major reason is the perception that we are not equal to the europeans, that we would never be equal. We can either be below them or could be above. This later part of the perception is gaining ground in recent years bolstered by success of some indians abroad, it gives a sense of false self-belief a pseudo deja-vu and is being actively promoted by current regime in the country for cheap electoral gains and is being gradually imitated by lot of other secular political entities.
    2. On their part I still dont comprehend why the white people avoided the local majority population during the early periods. That was an ideal time to mend fence during the post Independence time, there is a possibility (and I say possibility as I feel now I might have noticed only one side of the coin during my initial observation of the white families) the attitude of local population was not conducive for proper mixing. Unlike most other countries I mentioned in my examples India is a hugely majority Hindu country with a very small Christian concentration in pockets like North East India and Kerala/Goa (and these places still have a culture of warmly welcoming white foreigners). With religious divide comes cultural divide, difference in perception leading to misplaced opinions about each other. That was a good possibility I feel now.
    3. Whether we agree or not the Indian Hindu society is still being controlled by groups of people who sit in the top hierarchy of the caste divide. And probably rightly so. I found most of those people to be the most outward looking and progressive in thinking. However just as all communities are composed of different types of people many in these groups still take their position for granted and has an immense desire to keep things as it is, they are the ones who create problems, create an unequal atmosphere and prevent mixing with outsiders.

    What we Indians are missing is that the world has changed tremendously with tehnological advancements, now it is much more easy and comfortable to immigrate, to mix with different cultures, much more in our own interest to have foreigners come in.
    Historically also it had always been places which welcomed outsiders that developed as opposed to those that decided to live in a cocooned environment. Seems we have not learned from past history. 'History repeats itself', I think it is destiny of this country and its people to learn lessons in intervals of time.


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