Understanding global complexities

Diversity and inclusion strategies rolled out globally without consideration of the local context may face resistance, confusion, or lack of engagement. Effective global diversity management necessitates consideration of global variations in:

  1. Diversity issues: The unique legal, historical, political, and cultural environments of different nations and regions determine which diversity issues are relevant. Gender inequality is a global concern. Religion, caste and disability are the main issues in India. Religion and ethnicity are significant in the Middle East and Africa. In China, there is an urban versus rural division. Race is the predominant diversity issue in the United States and South Africa. Language is significant in Canada and Europe. And multiculturalism is a concern of countries with a large proportion of migrants, as in many Western European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. In addition, legally protected diversity issues in the West may not be legally or socially acceptable in other countries.
  2. Acceptance of diversity concepts: The concepts of diversity and inclusion are consistent with the cultural values of individualist countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Individualist countries encourage and reward individual achievement, autonomy, and uniqueness. In contrast, collectivist countries place greater value on group membership, cohesion, and compliance with group norms. Individuals from collectivist societies define themselves to a greater extent by their group memberships, and individuals who deviate from group norms or who threaten group cohesiveness by drawing attention to themselves are often excluded from the group. As a result, it may be harder for individuals from collectivist societies to overcome ‘us vs. them’ categorisations and associated biases. The notions of diversity and inclusion may be less eagerly embraced in these cultures. Even other Western regions may not be as open to diversity as the United States. Two-thirds of Europeans believe there is a limit to a multicultural society. In Nordic countries, diversity initiatives have encountered challenges simply because it is taboo to talk openly about differences. Similar challenges face other multicultural nations such as Australia, where shame rooted in historical racist policies as well as an assimilation approach to immigration discourages open conversations about race, ethnicity, and culture.
  3. Justification: There are problems with transporting the business-case perspective across borders: for example, in Japan, diversity initiatives have traditionally been legitimised with corporate responsibility arguments instead of the potential for increased financial returns.

Effective global diversity management requires adaptation to reflect different cultural contexts. At a minimum, adaptation should occur nationally, but regional changes should also be considered where relevant (for example, in China).

Advantages of a ‘glocalisation’ approach

Responding to local variations in diversity issues, some global companies have delegated diversity efforts to local offices. Local diversity initiatives, however, may lack the resources and commitment required from senior head-office management to succeed, or they may not have access to individuals with adequate training and experience in diversity management. The best approach is midway between the two; combining head-office expertise, resources, and strategy with local knowledge of and sensitivity to the specific diversity issues facing that office.


In creating a global D&I structure, companies should:

  • Build a global team that reflects the company’s diverse global employee, consumer, and shareholder base
  • Create a shared understanding of what the entity means by “diversity and inclusion”
  • Give responsibility and ownership to line employees and local organisations while providing centralised monitoring and support
  • Engage senior leaders across the business and hold them accountable
  • Establish employee resource groups and diversity councils with local chapters (as relevant)
  • Provide training to the entire workforce with a particular focus on leadership and cultural inclusion training
  • Foster communication channels for sharing and learning throughout the organisation
  • Develop assessment tools for measuring progress on an ongoing basis in each market