Achieving a global diversity & inclusion strategy


A global diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy is great for business and brings many benefits. But there are a few critical things to consider.

We previously shared four ways D&I benefits organizations. A successful diversity and inclusion program can pave the way for better financial returns and increased innovation. It can make your organization more attractive to the top talent. And, it allows you to connect more authentically with a global customer base.

But what happens when you want to expand your D&I program on a global scale? It’s challenging enough to make sure you’re doing things right in the country you work in every day. And simply applying the same, homegrown D&I tactics to other offices like India, Singapore, or Mexico isn’t going to work.

We've outlined some things to keep in mind if you want your D&I program to thrive worldwide.

One organization can contain many corporate cultures

Harvard Business Review analyzed over 12,800 responses between December 2017 and May 2019 to determine how corporate cultures differ around the world.

The survey found that:

  • Firms in Western Europe and North/South America were inclined toward a high level of independence. Western European and North American firms especially focused on results, goal-orientation, and achievement.
  • Teams in South America showed a propensity toward fun, excitement, and a light-hearted work environment.
  • In Asia, HBR found many firms that prioritized order through a cooperative, respectful, and rule-abiding workplace.

This just goes to show that employees from different cultures approach the workplace in different ways. This must be a key consideration before you expand your D&I program. An approach that works for one location won’t necessarily work in another.

"While it’s true you need leadership buy-in for your global D&I program to fly, your employees are what will make it soar."

Diversity & inclusion priorities will differ

You’ll need to tailor your D&I priorities based on where in the world you do business.

For example, a study by Diversity Best Practices shows that Asia Pacific is lagging behind when it comes to female board member representation, at only 10.2%. Compare that to 26.1% in the UK, 20.8% in the European Union, and 18.7% in the US. Based on that data, if you’re extending your D&I program into Asia, you’ll probably want to make increasing the percentage of female board members a D&I priority.

Another study found that women-focused initiatives dominate D&I programs in India, while ethnicity, race, and LGBT+ initiatives take a back seat. If expanding your D&I program in India, it would be worthwhile to explore why these haven’t been a focus, and possible ways to create programs specifically around ethnicity, race, and LGBT+ issues.

Important legal considerations

But just as your D&I priorities will differ based on culture and location, so will your approach. In some countries, certain groups of people do not have the same rights and respect as others.

For instance, 73 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships. While you want to be inclusive, you don’t want to put your LGBT+ employees or local business at risk of abuse or prosecution. So what do you do?

EY collaborated with the New York University School of Law’s Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging to develop three models for balancing LGBT+ inclusion with local cultural considerations. The three models are:

  1. When in Rome: Cultivate grassroots, local, and global leadership champions; focus on allies; and start raising awareness of LGBT+ inclusion.
  2. Embassy: Apply pro-LGBT+ policies and practices to the company’s own employees. Implement non-discrimination policies and provide benefits for same-sex spouses and domestic partners. Look inward, rather than trying to change external culture or laws.
  3. Advocate: Take action outside of the organization. This includes supporting local activists, securing higher budgets for LGBT+ activities, and lobbying the government.

Sometimes there can be multiple answers and approaches based on your objectives.

D&I is complicated, but essential, terrain to navigate when it comes to LGBT+ employees and the law in certain geographies.

Leadership buy-in is essential

Encouraging and embracing diversity and inclusion takes buy-in from all levels of an organization, especially the C-suite. Your global D&I program will never get off the ground without support from the senior leadership team.

To prevent gaps across C-suites in multiple regions, senior leaders should be aligned on the D&I strategy before anyone speaks. Consistent messaging is key—if employees are hearing different things from different leaders, your D&I initiatives will lose meaning and credibility.

A recent study shows that there are financial and reputational benefits to having D&I functions closely aligned with corporate business strategies. If your leadership team sees D&I as part of the overall business strategy, not just a standalone program, they’re more likely to champion it—and communicate it clearly.

Ready to expand? Start with your employees

While it’s true you need leadership buy-in for your global D&I program to fly, your employees are what will make it soar. Ensure that your employees are at the heart of your global D&I efforts right from the beginning. Some of the ways to encourage employee participation include creating a global network of employee resource groups, providing D&I training and education, and asking for input and feedback via questionnaires.

In today’s global workplace, we need to remember that while we can transcend continents and time zones with technology, navigating cultural differences takes real humans, and real commitment. But with so many advantages to your organization, D&I is worth the time and effort to take worldwide.