Best Practices: Diversity Dimensions

The very definition of “diversity” varies widely between countries. This can present problems when designing a global diversity training program.

By Neal Goodman, Ph.D., President, Global Dynamics, Inc.

Not surprisingly, an increasing number of global companies are attempting to roll out their diversity initiatives globally. What does take many companies by surprise, however, is the relatively high failure rate they are seeing. Global diversity rollouts can—and should—be implemented successfully, but too frequently problems arise because the company’s original diversity initiatives, based purely on an American perspective, are merely expanded geographically without regard for cultural approaches to diversity. In fact, the very definition of “diversity” varies widely between countries, and the word “diversity” doesn’t even exist in some languages. So, what does the Training & Development department of a global company need to do when planning the global rollout of its organization’s diversity initiatives?

  • Understand that diversity initiatives that may make a lot of sense at home, in their current form, could lose their importance abroad, because other nations have different issues and experiences to consider.
  • Learn the meaning of diversity in each culture.
  • Read up on the current, recent, and historical issues each country is facing to understand how those events shape the countries’ approach to diversity and inclusion.
  • Prepare your team with an informed expectation of the way your diversity programs are likely to be received in all relevant cultures.
  • Include representatives of the countries where diversity training is to take place to be part of the planning, design, and implementation team.
  • Research the key demographics and trends in each country so the program can be tailored to the needs of the people.
  • Explore the way the dimensions of diversity vary from culture to culture in their relevance. For example, some nations may consider gender or class issues more important than race issues. So for each country, research what elements are most important—and why.

Here is a simplified snapshot of the way the dimensions of diversity are weighted around the world:

Nationality and ethnicity are perhaps the most commonly evoked components of diversity and inclusion. They have become more important points of discussion as countries see increases in their number of immigrants, and the perception of these components depends on the state of the country. For countries that have relatively open national identities and citizenship, such as the United States and Canada, immigration can be seen as having value. For other countries that view national identity as directly linked to national ancestry, the issue becomes how immigration can threaten a strong national identity.

Gender roles are changing throughout the world, and countries are finding themselves trying to adapt and keep up. For some, gender is the component they focus on most with diversity initiatives, but historical and legal differences make the transition for a more inclusive workplace more of a struggle.

Age and generational differences are other important elements that a number of countries consider, as the far-reaching effects of globalization often have shifted the mindsets of new generations away from their predecessors. Younger generations are often more technologically inclined but may lack in the wisdom and experience of their older counterparts.

Physical abilities and the inclusion of those with disabilities are another important component to consider.

Race often is linked to nationality and ethnicity. Countries that consider themselves racially homogenous, such as Japan or Korea, do not consider race a large issue as opposed to national identity, while European countries often consider race alongside national identity. Other areas such as Latin America have begun to consider race, but overall it is a sensitive issue.

Sexual orientation is a topic commonly included in diversity training in the U.S. and the West, but it would have to be approached with great sensitivity in cultures that continue to openly and legally discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Social class is often a forgotten component in U.S.-based diversity initiatives, but it is very important component—sometimes the most important—in some regions of the world, including Latin America.

To share your experiences, insight and best practices on global diversity training for inclusion in future columns, write to ngoodman@global-dynamics.com.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@global-dynamics.com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.

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