The title of our newest book is Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact, something we chose to address this critical question: Are race and ethnicity universal issues that employers should be addressing with a common approach?
We chose to address this issue after the worldwide movement for social justice in 2020—particularly after the George Floyd murder in May that reverberated around the world. We saw a coming together of people in anger, with social demonstrations worldwide. That cross-border scope of the movement caused many organizations to take a fresh look at how to address issues of race and ethnicity on a global basis.
The result is that many companies found out that they have a lot of work to do.
This might sound familiar to your organization (in fact, you’ve probably typed out a version of this for a company-wide statement of values or ethics, for example): you want your organization and your world to continue to make all individuals feel valued, heard, and respected. That’s an admirable goal, but here’s the thing: what might be right for one region of the world might not be for another. Things can be very different when we talk about going across countries and cultures.
Let’s take, for example, this word cloud from the United States:
This is a U.S.-centric word cloud addressing major issues across the country such as race, gender, and intersectionality. Most Americans would recognize most of these terms, like BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color).
However, right “across the pond” in the U.K., that BIPOC term is less well-known. Something analogous to BIPOC in England would be the term BAME (Black and Asian Minority Ethnic) communities, which highlights in part the relatively larger presence of South Asian immigrants from Commonwealth nations as well as their descendants in the U.K. The former Great Britain was a large colonial empire that has influenced past and present patterns of immigration. This includes the origins of the black population in today’s U.K., many of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants from the Caribbean or who have immigrated directly from African countries such as Nigeria or Kenya.
Due to such differences, a diversity and inclusion program in the U.K. that focuses on U.S.-centric issues and terminology may not have the same intended impact or perceived relevance (and might even lead to confusion or ridicule). As a result, “inclusion irony” becomes a real threat: ironically, the well-intentioned effort of a diversity and inclusion program could lead to a company Imposing one country’s framework (based on its own distinctive history and culture) on other countries in the name of “Inclusion.”
So, what’s the bottom line? Global organizations cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to their social justice efforts. Instead, consider these three recommendations when developing your programs:
Take a Broad Approach to Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity and Inclusion involve much more than just one or two factors. In order to make your organization truly culturally inclusive, you need to take a broad approach—considering a wide range of possible aspects of diversity. Race, gender, age, or culture, for example, may or may not be the most critical issues; there are more. How about ethnic differences, which are crucial for understanding enormous countries such as India or Nigeria? Or what about regional background, socioeconomic gaps, educational opportunities, languages spoken, or religion? How about a person’s cognitive style (how the person thinks) or their job function within the office? How about disabilities? It’s only when an organization considers a variety of factors (read more about them in this guide to the types of diversity in the workplace) within their key markets and prioritizes those that are most relevant that employees can discover unexpected similarities along with differences.
Look for Marginalization. Marginalization—excluding certain segments of society—is universal; we’re all human beings, and human beings have insider-outsider dynamics. Along with those dynamics comes the use and abuse of power and privilege and the “marginalization” of those we think of as “others.” Of course, institutions tend to reinforce the status quo. Negative consequences of marginalization can range from more limited access to education and jobs (and subsequent economic opportunities) to even physical danger in many places. Marginalized people typically receive lower pay, poor nutrition, and inferior health care.
So, marginalization and its negative consequences are very common worldwide, though they can take many different forms across different countries. Our suggestion? Take a look at marginalization from the standpoint of “who is marginalized?” What are the ties to your business in terms of employees, customers, suppliers, and the local community, and how can you respond at the individual or organizational level? Considering marginalization is an excellent way to get a handle on a place you’re not familiar with—and avoid seeing this new location through your own lens, and not the lens of people in that country.
Consider Equity. For many organizations, adopting more inclusive behaviors prompts taking a new look at how to approach equity. Depending on the company, industry, and country, there are a variety of different approaches to equity, and it’s important to be clear about what your priorities are and what you’re doing with equity.
For instance, equity might take the form of hiring and equal-opportunity recruitment—through job announcements, the interview process, and so on. But hiring itself is seldom a complete solution for addressing equity. Other questions to ask could be:
The following spectrum presents a range of sample approaches to equity, moving from “equal opportunities” to “equal outcomes.” We recommend keeping this in mind and establishing clear priorities as you evaluate your organization’s approach:
Dr. Gundling has worked with numerous Fortune 500 firms and is a sought-after keynote speaker and executive coach. He has lived in Asia and Europe, including six years in Japan. Dr. Gundling holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from Stanford University; he also serves as a Lecturer in the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of six books, the latest titled, Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact.