Implementing D&I initiatives in a single country is hard enough. But implementing a consistent D&I approach at a regional or global level adds a whole new series of challenges.

We believe that around 70% of an organisation’s policies and procedures can be applied as best practice anywhere in the world. For example, a zero tolerance approach to bullying is global best practice. Some policies may need extra explanation; with sexual harassment for example, actions that are considered appropriate in some cultures are inappropriate in others. An employer may wish to make clear that expected standards of behaviour at work are different to cultural standards.

Other policies may be a legal requirement in some legislatures, yet illegal in others. This might include representation quotas or the ability to positively discriminate. Getting these wrong can be costly from both a financial and reputational perspective.

You may well ask whether centralising your organisation’s inclusion journey is worth doing. There are so many potential pitfalls, one may think it better to leave to in-country management. It’s certainly not unusual for us to see initiatives applied only in the Anglosphere, or just Europe, for precisely this reason.

Which brings us back to that approximate 70/30 split we mentioned at the start. Most inclusion initiatives involve universal principles; tackling unconscious bias, improving representation of a particular group, removing barriers to progression, all have a clearly defined objective. How we tackle these issues may change from country to country, but what we’re challenging and why we need to do so are constants.

Adaptation is crucial to the success of centrally driven initiatives. IBM, winners of the Global Diversity award at the 2020 enei Awards, has demonstrated this with its women’s development initiatives. Its programmes give local offices the frameworks they need to achieve centrally dictated objectives, however, the programmes can be adapted at a local level to meet cultural and legal needs. The programmes are also branded differently across the world for the same reason.

Our work with global organisations has identified three distinct models used by employers to overcome the challenges inherent in multinational operations.

We describe the first model as “When in Rome”. This approach involves following local laws to the letter, creating a bespoke working environment in each location and following national norms. This model captures many of the advantages of a diverse workforce, but the organisation may struggle to build a sense of inclusion across all its offices with this approach. Conflict between teams operating with completely different cultural values will always be present.

The second model we identified is the Embassy. The embassy is an outpost of the organisation, with an expectation that all employees, regardless of location, will work within the same environment and company culture, directed from the organisation’s home base. This approach, where policies are dictated by the cultural norms of the home nation, may cause resistance from some employees due to its ethnocentrism.

The third model used by global employers is the Advocate. Advocates are often (but not always) blue-chip multinationals whose presence in a country delivers such economic benefits that they have the power to influence policy. Advocates, like embassies, will expect employees to follow the organisation’s values and beliefs, but these values and beliefs are based on the world the organisation wants to build. This will go above and beyond any local requirements.

The advocate will often use its soft power to pursue change in the countries it operates in. This may be driven by customer pressure or employee pressure and is a sign that organisations can’t get away with saying one thing and doing another. This may include advocacy for LGBT+ rights, arguing for reform of colonial-era laws or raising awareness through marketing and advertising.

This is another ethnocentric model, but one where the culture and value are that of the global employee population rather than a single country. However, where employee power is concentrated in a small number of similar countries this approach may still be culturally imperialistic.

No single one of these models will be perfect for all organisations. The act of moving from Global to Glocal, where global objectives are balanced with local priorities, involves compromise.

Every approach to glocalising D&I has problems. Implementing a single set of values will involve imposing some values of the majority on a minority who hold a separate set of truths. On the other hand, operating value silos in different jurisdictions opens up an organisation to accusations of hypocrisy from its customers and critics.

But as all those who work in D&I know, no issue is binary. In individual countries, offices, teams, there are people who will disagree with an organisations approach to D&I. There will be those who think we should do more on an issue; others believe we should do less. Everyone, to some extent, will support or protest some issues, regardless of their support or ambivalence towards others. The dream of universal popularity is one that can never come true for a D&I professional.

Which model is right for your organisation? You’ll only find out through employee consultation and trial and error. Begin by extending your D&I strategy across an existing business region of similar countries to identify conflict points. Glocalisation is neither an easy or quick process, but it is one which will deliver great results for both your D&I strategy and the people in your organisation.

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