With the complex issues of race, ethnicity, and social justice emerging worldwide, global companies have plenty of pressing questions. There were a number of such questions in our most recent webinar on the topic. Here we’re pleased to bring you selected questions — along with answers from our Aperian experts — in the third of a three-part series.
Willing volunteers and champions are generally far more effective than what one organization refers to as “resentful hostages.” Targets for minority promotion, for example, are typically most welcomed when leaders and managers buy into these goals and when based on a realistic view of the pipeline of available candidates.
One way to enlist cooperation is through task force participation. For example, a task force could focus on retaining minority employees or increasing the number of minority executives. Leaders generally become more committed to a cause when they have been personally involved. Seeing other organizational counterparts engaged with the same task tends to stimulate their readiness to learn and succeed. Top executive commitment sets the tone for accountability at other levels, as people naturally look to the C-Suite for cues about priorities.
It is generally helpful to have a team of people representing different perspectives, keeping in mind the most critical diversity variables for each country. For instance, in China, it could be useful to stay particularly alert for bias based on a candidate’s Regional Origin; in India, likely sources of bias could be Language (including facility with English, which has social class connotations), Religion, or Gender.
From a headquarters perspective, indicators of high potential capabilities should not just be communication skills with colleagues from headquarters, but also success in working with local customers and employees. Sometimes candidates with a leadership style different from headquarters norms turn out to be the most effective and highly regarded within their own local or regional context.
It is often useful to refer to relevant corporate values or principles, which are likely to underline the importance of mutual respect and suggest specific ways in which team members could work together more successfully. There may also be risk factors (employee turnover, lawsuits, union action, negative press coverage, damage to brand reputation), and understanding these could help team leaders take cultural differences more seriously. We also recommend the use of the GlobeSmart Work Styles Profile or a similar tool to create a team profile and build greater shared awareness of cultural influences. A profiling instrument can help validate the perspectives of minority team members as culturally-grounded rather than being an individual issue, while also suggesting ways that team members can adapt successfully to each other in specific skill areas such as meeting facilitation, giving and receiving feedback, trust-building, and so on.
Data from within the organization can help identify the specific career points at which minorities tend to fall behind their peers; this data can also help shape a well-targeted strategy for addressing the issue. Many organizations have created successful mentor or sponsor programs and more formal coaching opportunities to provide support for minority employees where needed.
Another area worth looking at is the succession planning process — sometimes, the criteria for evaluating high potential leaders are unintentionally exclusionary. Please see a PDF from our Inclusive Leadership book on “Five Organizational Levers to Support Inclusion.” Lever #3 focuses on Coaching, Mentoring & Sponsorship, and Levers #4 and #5 address talent cycle and process issues.
One starting point is the saying, “If you see something, say something.” Individuals who have been speaking or acting in an offensive manner might not realize the impact of their actions and may be responsive to feedback that offered sincerely and with constructive intent.
There is often a risk mitigation aspect to this question, at least in the U.S. Senior management will pay attention almost immediately if they know that legal action could result from not addressing the issue. Often, the company’s internal legal counsel is quite alert to such possibilities. If they learn about the situation, they can make the risks clear to top management.
Although this is a grim topic, it can also be useful to share “horror stories” from other companies. These frequently demonstrate how issues that could have been resolved easily if addressed in a timely way have blown up into public controversies that cost millions of dollars as well as reputational damage.