This piece is from The RES Forum’s research paper – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in post-pandemic global work, written by Dr. Benjamin Bader and Professor Michael Dickmann.
You can download the paper here.
Build the business case for DE&I
DE&I strengthens the generation of ideas through a greater diversity of thought within the organization. This allows it to be more innovative, as well as shaping its products and services more closely to the preferences of its customers and clients. Beyond market factors, the employee value proposition is likely to be enhanced through ethical and fair approaches, making the firm more attractive. For employees, good DE&I approaches augment motivation, commitment and engagement. There is a strong moral and business case for DE&I – and due to its inherent touchpoints with different cultures, GM is a great platform to build your business case upon.
Join Forces across the entire organization
Organizations with the most successful DE&I collaborate across the entire organization. This sounds trivial, however, to achieve the best results, siloed-thinking and solo-runs are detrimental. In this regard, communication is key. Instead of falling for (cheap) actionism, successful organizations sit down together, come up with a joint strategy, and implement DE&I practices with one voice. This ensures two things: 1) everyone on board is involved in the development, and 2) it provides a holistic view, avoiding redundancies and allowing for specific solutions where needed.
Broaden support of and engagement in DE&I
When we say “involve everyone” we mean that literally. A good start is to invite all employees to join employee resource groups. Once they are established, sit down together and listen to your employees. What do they have on their minds? What is working well and what is not? Where do they see potential and what should be the priorities for change? It may be advisable to get external guidance when running these sessions. Even though an internal facilitator may have the purest intentions, there can be suspicions of driving an agenda or playing political games. Also, there may be “a history” among employees and it can be hard for the people steering the conversation to ignore that. External experts bring an unbiased and fresh perspective. Once the employee resource groups produced their first outputs, you should form HR / GM pressure groups to directly translate the topics identified into your GM programme.
Champion true diversity and inclusion across many different characteristics
Many organizations focus on one or two aspects of diversity – often these are gender, race and sometimes sexual orientation. As Gardenswartz and Rowe’s model demonstrates, there are many internal and external ways in which individuals vary. Understanding diversity holistically and becoming a truly inclusive organization is a great challenge that promises many rewards.
Re-Think how DE&I is seen in your organization
DE&I is not supposed to be an “HR thing”. As it affects everyone, it should be an “Everyone thing”. Relying on HR to take care of DE&I has two major problems. One: it is dependent on HR. If the people in HR care about DE&I, they may drive it. If they do not care, or if their power is limited, they won’t drive it – and nothing will happen. Two: relying solely on HR creates a false sense of responsibility. DE&I is not HR, it is the job of everyone to ensure a discrimination- free environment that is open and welcoming to everyone. This is important for leaders at all levels in the way they think about people, are sensitive to their particular issues (e.g., the pressure of the manifold family obligations on women (although this does not mean that sometimes men might not be in a similar situation) or the tensions that some assignments can bring for the LGBTQ+ community) and, therefore, need to ‘live’ sensitive approaches. Successful DE&I organizations engage everyone in the organization and create a culture of belonging!
Value diversity & create as well as commit to an inclusive organizational culture
Organizational culture is essential for successfully leading in DE&I. If the culture is not receptive to and fully behind these practices, they are likely to fail. While your current organizational culture may not be quite there yet, this does not mean you cannot do anything to change it. Apart from hiring people with the right attitude, you can commit to DE&I with written statements. These, of course, must be clear, precise and concrete. They must go beyond platitudes like “we value diversity”.
In terms of GM, clearly formulate a no-penalty policy if someone turns down an assignment. Sometimes people may provide you with reasons, sometimes they may choose not to. Think about employees who have chosen not to share their sexual orientation at work for personal reasons. If these people were offered an assignment to a country where they could face capital punishment simply because of their sexual orientation, it should not be surprising if they decline. However, a safe and trustful organizational culture does not force employees to give a reason. They rejected the assignment, and they should not receive any penalty, no questions asked.
Forget one-size-fits-all in GM
As outlined in the report, it’s tempting to develop a single DE&I policy and apply it universally. However, this often falls short. Also, it tends to focus on limited factors and ignores specific needs. For instance, think about managing the relocation of an employee who is a single parent with two school-aged children, or somebody who relies on a wheelchair. Every organization has a Duty of Care and fulfilling this duty throughout an international assignment has many different dimensions and implications. Overall, while companies would be wise to determine globally applicable DE&I principles, the actual policies and practices must consider local and contextual variations. A one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. By choosing it anyway you risk negative consequences.
Be pro-active and put your assignment practices to test
For five decades academics have puzzled why so few assignees are women. Yet the situation has not substantially changed, with three in four assignees still being men. Other diversity elements – be they colour, race or nationality – also show a lack of diversity. It is time to tackle this imbalance of diversity and inclusion and the current pandemic provides a good platform for targeted action. GM professionals would do well to analyse historical trends in their organizations and to develop approaches that focus on addressing such imbalances.
Link talent management and GM activities
Effective DE&I in GM demands concerted and coordinated efforts from both the talent and GM functions. The pandemic has created more opportunities for local talent to be spotted and more need for the organization to delegate and empower employees in far-flung units of its global operations. Assignments are only one element that firms use to develop their high-potential employees. Working with the same DE&I principles and liaising intensively will help workers become more insightful and more capable global employees.
Evidence-based management is key to monitoring and improving DE&I efforts in GM
Finally, as in many other aspects of business, data rules. Only when we define goals and make them objectively measurable, can we assess their success. Therefore, DE&I champions develop appropriate KPIs and measure progress against them. Even though DE&I is not simply about “getting the numbers right”, not looking at the numbers is not an option. For instance, if an organization aims to increase the number of women on international assignment, simply collecting and tracking data allows them to objectively and unambiguously evaluate whether the goal has been achieved. Not using data and associated KPIs is a missed an opportunity, because without evidence success is undefined and open to interpretation.