Diversity Matters

Why diverse and inclusive workplaces are important, and what global mobility professionals can do to help implement them

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 edition of Mobility magazine.

There’s no shortage of evidence to outline the many benefits of diverse and inclusive workforces and teams: Increased profitability, improved employee productivity and morale, and greater levels of innovation are just a few. Whether organizations are motivated by competitive advantage and boosts to their bottom lines, a sense of corporate social responsibility and justice, a desire for global growth – or some combination of all of those things –those fully and successfully embracing a D&I strategy are reaping the rewards.

At the Worldwide ERC® Global Workforce Symposium in Seattle late last year, Sunday Rubenstein, CRP, SGMS-T, associate director, visas and immigration, with EY; Elena Anderson–de Lay, GMS-T, co-founder and lead strategist with At Ease Solutions LLC; and Sylvia Ehrlich, SCRP, president of Intrepid Relocation, conducted a 30-minute “speed round” session to help global mobility professionals begin to explore some of the key D&I policy implementation benefits and challenges.

Start With Identifying What D&I Means

The first step, noted Rubenstein, is to define what diversity and inclusion really mean to a specific company, recognizing that:

  • it will be different for every organization, and
  • what might be important priorities in one location may simply not work in others, requiring adaptations depending on cultural and organizational norms, laws, and expectations.

Once organizations have defined what D&I initiatives look like for their own internal goals and cultures, the next step is to learn how to best leverage them. Ultimately, when those two things work harmoniously together, they become the foundation for a successful D&I strategy. Rubenstein cautioned, however, that developing the strategy is just the beginning of the process, and it’s something that will require continual monitoring, adjusting, and growth over time. The investment pays off, she added, with organizations seeing that once a strategy of inclusion has truly taken hold, “the more people feel they are being heard and the higher the trust levels rise in an organization, the more that translates into better business performance, team collaboration, and innovation.”

Ehrlich then used the visual image of an iceberg to suggest that while many of us inherently understand diversity to include, on a basic surface level, different ages, genders, nationalities, and races, true diversity goes much deeper than that, with multiple components factored in that are not so visibly obvious. When we consider the vast variety of cultural and historical influences, lifestyles, schooling options, political views, and various paces at which things move within the different regions just within the U.S., she noted, we can begin to understand how a variety of things shape our individual perspectives and lenses on a much broader scale globally. A deeper consideration of diversity considers factors such as life experiences, value systems, personality traits, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental and physical abilities or challenges, languages, religious beliefs, family and economic status, heritages, and historical influences.

She pointed out that while the U.S. used to be considered a “melting pot,” with many immigrants changing or simplifying their surnames in an effort to “blend in,” the U.S. and other countries have seen a shift in recent decades to a much greater emphasis on and appreciation of individuals and the unique heritages, backgrounds, talents, and perspectives they collectively bring to their professional and personal lives.

On a global scale, there’s no question that these many unique considerations can create challenges when implementing D&I initiatives. But understanding all of the different aspects of people—and how and why they influence the ways in which we think, speak, and act—is a critical part of not only developing diverse and inclusive teams, but also building and fostering trust. How do we effectively onboard individuals into an organization, for example, when our perspectives, languages, lifestyles, economic status, education levels, housing expectations, value systems, and ways of perceiving the world are so different?

It starts with a level of understanding—and setting out some clear expectations. Equipping team members with information about the laws and rules that govern work and social behavior and expectations within different locations goes a long way, as does some team research into the various unique influences and perceptions that may be shaping other members’ behaviors.

As noted above, age may be one of the more obvious characteristics associated with diversity, but that doesn’t make it any less important, especially in our current workforce. We are experiencing one of the largest professional generational spreads across co-workers in history.

Employees in their late teens and early 20s to mid-60s and early 70s—and every age in between—are working physically or virtually alongside each other.

There are numerous benefits to bridging that generational divide and bringing associates together in work and social environments, to talk to and learn from one another. Ehrlich made the point that multigenerational connectivity makes for very strong companies and talent pools, noting that it typically results in “more adaptation, blending, and a ‘bringing of more’ to the table: The more people you bring together who are looking at things from different lenses, experiences, and perspectives, the much stronger vision you’ll have.”

Enter the Global Mobility Professional

The most successful D&I initiatives start at the top and work their way through the entire organization, and while talent mobility professionals may not typically be the initial “owners” of the process, they can and often do play crucial roles in facilitating it. As Anderson–de Lay noted:

“It’s important for C-Suite leadership to drive and have full buy-in of the process, and global mobility professionals should be invited in as strategic advisers.” She added that talent mobility professionals “are particularly poised to excel in this area,” for a number of good reasons.

For one, most bring specialized training and a unique blend of skills to the task. “Regardless of the function we perform within the organization, most of us have cross-cultural sensitivities, a strong awareness of different countries’ laws and regulations, and risk management capabilities,” notes Anderson–de Lay. Because most are well-versed in the flexibility that it takes to work with a variety of assignees and ability levels, for different roles in different locations, and with a number of unique service partners throughout various stages of the process, navigating different cultures, processes, and needs is nothing new to global mobility professionals. “We see diversity as more innate in our work; it’s more natural for us to have an agile mindset and look at diversity as just part of our day-to-day jobs,” she added, noting that “it’s not as big a stretch for us as it could be with some of the other professions we may interact with—we’re used to working with flexibility and across disciplines, regions, and personalities.”

Related: Inclusion & Diversity: How Global Mobility Can Help Move the Needle

At the same time, mobility professionals have the capacity to think on both the strategic and operational levels. “We’re comfortable with being on the front lines, approachable, and navigating workforce challenges, solving problems independently and escalating things where necessary,” observes Anderson–de Lay. “We have a natural ability to be the change agents for and critical to implementing D&I strategies on the ground level. There are many global and regional nuances to this process, and we can be natural advocates for those, articulating them in unique and sensitive ways.”

Read the rest of this article in the February 2019 issue of Mobility magazine.

Share your stories and questions about building diverse and inclusive teams in the dedicated “Diversity Empowering Diversity” Community discussion group.

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