The Case For Global Diversity: Four Tips On What Works

Chief executive officers and top managers have been giving lip service to the concept of ethnic and sexual diversity for many years--with only scant results. Many boards have a token African-American and a token woman, but their presence has no impact on the organization. The number of women on boards and in the CEO job may actually be declining, at large publicly traded corporations.

But now the task is becoming more urgent because less than half of the U.S. market is going to be white customers. And the task of reaching international markets, in diverse languages and with diverse cultural messages, is also increasing. In fact, the two trends have meshed--the companies that know how to sell internationally also will have an advantage in selling to an increasing diverse U.S. population. In fact, Reuben Mark, CEO of Colgate-Palmolive (one of the companies that "gets" diversity), says his company reassigns executives from, say, Venezuela, to the United States where they continue to concentrate on selling and marketing to Venezuelans. There is a seemless interface between international and domestic diversity.

Here are key tips from my contact with CEOs and directors:

  1. Make sure the employee base reflects the populations they serve. That may seem obvious, but not many companies get that right. This is a key task for Human Relations.
  2. Make sure each ethnicity or nationality feels that it has channels open to them. Some companies create an Hispanic Council, say, to let Spanish-speakers have a forum to address issues of promotion and advancement. Others create a mentoring system. So a top executive or a board member who happens to be African-American might spend time with promising younger black managers.
  3. Create a system of measurement and rewards that is color and gender-blind. This is the key to what George David has created at United Technologies. Most of his direct reports are Canadian or European or Asian. They speak the language of results. If your results are good, you win. If your results are bad, you don't win. That eliminates some of the inherent tension from having a multicultural mix of managers.
  4. It has to be clear that the CEO is committed to global diversity. He or she has to walk the walk and talk the talk. Maybe that means trying to learn Spanish. Or perhaps it involves extensive site visits to markets in the barrios of Mexico City. CEOs can and should personally project a willingness and eagerness to work with people across traditional cultural lines.
What have you found that works for your company?