Multinational companies are struggling to effectively produce and embed effective equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) focused agendas, according to research from Durham University Business School.

Despite operating on a global basis and pulling in a workforce that spans multiple continents, cultures and languages, multinational companies are often disappointed with the progress they make with regards to EDI management.

According to research by Martyna Śliwa of Durham University Business School, Sylwia Ciuk of Oxford Brookes University, and Anne-Wil Harzing of Middlesex University, the difficulty often stems from having too narrow a focus when it comes to what matters in EDI provision.

Martyna Śliwa says,

“Multinational companies recognise the importance of the EDI agenda, but often struggle to implement it and leverage its strategic potential. Often, their focus lies on a small range of diversity and dimensions which fail to include other important factors, such as language.”

A lack of attention to the management of linguistic diversity is revealed to be of particular concern. Even though language based stereotyping and discrimination are recognised barriers to work and career outcomes for minority individuals and groups, the researchers say too little focus is paid to fostering linguistic diversity and inclusion in such organisations.

Their study seeks to address this by proposing a two-step framework for multinational companies to apply when creating and implementing their EDI agendas.

The first step seeks to change the way multinational companies think about diversity and differences.

Martyna Śliwa says,

“We need to stop viewing diversity and differences primarily in negative terms, or seeing them as challenges to overcome or work around. Instead, viewing diversity in a positive light, and differences as something fluid can allow us to act differently.”

To achieve such a shift, those leading teams or departments within multinational firms must recognise multiple languages and multi-lingual workers as a resource, and question the assumption that the non-dominant languages of the company are somehow inferior.

The second step concerns changing multinational companies’ actions.

Deliberate steps need to be taken to challenge expectations and norms that members of non-dominant groups – those who communicate at work in a foreign language – need to adjust to the dominant group’s way of communicating. 

Sylwia Ciuk says,

“Displaying positive attitudes towards language differences and an openness to non-standard language norms, as well as adjusting the communicative behaviour of all members of the organisation are all small, but vital steps to enhance inclusion.”

Reciprocity is key here. Anne-Wil Harzing says,

 “Successful interactions between those with different levels of fluency in the language of their interaction should not solely depend on the skills of non-dominant language users. Aside of putting additional pressure on such colleagues, there is a significant danger of miscommunications occurring.”

 The framework proposed by the researchers brings considerable practical implications for those operating in human resource management. Though the study displays the framework as a means of linguistic diversity in particular, the researchers state the framework can be applied to any other area of the EDI discussion.

The study has been published, and is available to read via the Human Resource Management Journal.

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