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The Metamorphosis of Global Diversity

  • March 1, 2013

iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchasedby Andrés T. Tapia –

In recent months, I’ve given in to my global wanderlust. In November, it was immersion in São Paulo, Brazil for our Diversity Best Practices Global Member Conference. In December, it was homecoming, visiting family in my native Peru.

There’s nothing like jet lag, the cacophony of different languages, new and childhood taste experiences, and newspaper headlines not about fiscal cliffs and sequesters to freshen up one’s perspective—and prompt these few thoughts on the state of global diversity today.

Global diversity continues to accelerate its rise in importance and, with that, it’s metamorphosing into something much more multidimensional and unexpected than the first wave of exported Made-in-USA diversity.

Take, for instance, three different invitations I have received in the past six months. The U.S. subsidiary of a Belgium-headquartered company calls asking for help on building out its diversity strategy. Then, a German company calls seeking help with getting its American affiliate to come up with a U.S. response to their global diversity imperative because they are behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. And last year, a Korean multinational asked me to present to 500 company leaders from all over the world on how they can be more inclusive in the various countries it is expanding to, from Vietnam to India to the USA.  

This is all part of a trend of non-U.S.-based multinational companies making diversity an imperative—not only in their countries of origin but throughout the globe. Now Not-Made-in-USA diversity accountabilities are adding to the rising calls-to-action that an increasing number of American business leaders are facing regarding diversity and inclusion.

This is just one way in which diversity is changing globally. A few others:

  • To be a woman is to be rising in opportunities. Women’s advancement is the most frequently cited diversity issue today. It’s the one global diversity issue that arises on all continents as the common and urgent issue we must address now. The challenges are often the same regardless of country. From Chicago to Shanghai, women are pressing to fulfill their ambitions for leadership positions and a growing number in profit and loss roles. And women, at all levels of the organization, no matter where in the world, yearn, fret, and fight for work life flexibility.
  • Socioeconomic disparities are masking the realities of colorism. The United States isn’t the only country facing race and class disparities. In a host of countries, societies are stratified based on one’s economic status. Yet, in countries such as India, Brazil, and Peru those with darker skin are more likely than their fairer counterparts to be members of the lower socioeconomic classes. This is far from a coincidence. While there’s a great deal of denial about this reality, it’s true that in many countries a preference for those of a lighter hue is blocking access to educational and employment opportunities for a significant percentage people. Until countries where colorism prevails recognize the impact of this form of discrimination, companies in these countries will continue to struggle to have true diversity in the workforce.
  • Millennials are civilization’s first global cohort. Whether they grew up in South Africa, Egypt, Romania, Laos, or Venezuela, many members of this generation shared the reality of growing up digitally and interconnected to the rest of the world. Global terrorism, global recession, global warming, and global social media have meant a common experience in many formative ways of how the world works. When a billion go “Gangnam Style” around the world in a matter of weeks, when the Arab Spring inspires Occupy Wall Street (and not vice versa), and when the Twitter-nation transcends all borders with 500 million users (making it the third largest population in the world), an unprecedented shared upbringing across the world’s 24 time zones is in the making.
  • Employment gains for people with disabilities. While in the United States the Americans with Disabilities Acts made it the law to make workplaces physically accessible to those with disabilities, there is a growing global trend to actually make it the law to employ those with disabilities. Brazilian law stipulates that depending on the size of your employee base, 2 percent to 5 percent of your workers must be people with disabilities. On Christmas Day 2012, a similar law went into effect in Peru. And in the United States, the Federal Government has put into place guidelines that those doing business with the government must have 7 percent of employees be people with disabilities.
  • LGBT rights on the march. The wall of resistance around LGBT rights is tumbling in countries across the globe. In 2009, the high court in New Delhi, India struck down the law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal. In 2010, Mexico City and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage while Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay all started to recognize same-sex relationships, such as civil unions. This is an enormous gain for the LGBT community in Latin America, which has long been characterized by its strong Catholic roots and machismo undertones. And putting an exclamation point on the importance of worldwide LGBT rights, in 2011, President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that LGBT rights would be a criteria for whether a country will receive U.S. foreign aid.

Just a few examples of how diversity and inclusion are playing out globally. This trend is unstoppable. Next generation diversity practitioners would be wise to track and then ride these trends for the good of their organizations.

When’s your next trip to another land?

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