One size does not fit all – Adapting EDI Strategies for all

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Anyone travelling through one of the world’s major airports in the last five years will have noticed one of HSBC’s ‘Together We Thrive’ posters, advocating a global outlook adapted to local markets and cultures.  When I saw the posters for the first time, they immediately spoke to me.  They said that, although we might be different in many ways, we are part of the same world and want the same from life; that although we’re more similar than different, our differences matter and we benefit from embracing them; that while an idea can be global in outlook, it won’t work unless adapted to local differences.

This is how I think about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy. No matter how big the company – and how global its outlook is on EDI – its implementation needs to take into account local traditions, legal systems and economies. This is as true for international companies with offices across the globe as it is for national companies with offices across the country. One size does not fit all and EDI strategy and practices need to be adapted to take local culture into account. Just as general corporate values that reflect the overall company culture need to be adapted to the culture and behaviour of each office or even team, EDI strategy implementation also needs to be adjusted.

But what does this mean for organisations that are managed centrally from one region?  What do they need to do to appeal locally and achieve their EDI ambitions?

We have worked with a number of global companies that have grappled with these questions and we suggest the following approach:

1. Start with a broad-brush EDI outlook
A good EDI strategy underpins a company’s business mission and vision and reflects its values. In other words, the EDI statement (upon which the strategy will be set) should be as broad and encompassing as the business mission and vision.

Take Apple, for example. Its mission statement is to bring the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software and services.

Apple’s Diversity Statement supports this mission, as follows:

Different Together
At Apple, we’re not the same. And that’s our greatest strength. We draw on the differences in who we are, what we’ve experienced, and how we think. Because, to create products that serve everyone, we believe in including everyone.

From this, Apple might craft a global EDI strategy that focuses on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as a tool to (1) improve innovation and (2) better understand the user experience.

From this strategy focus, its top priorities globally might be: (a) to explore the user experience in top markets (in order to create the best user experience), (b) to improve diversity in its research and development (R&D) departments (in order to develop innovative hardware, software and services) and (c) to improve inclusion and psychological safety across the company (in order to draw on the differences and to benefit from the diversity of its people).

These priorities might then form the backbone of its global EDI strategy.

2. Adopt a ‘glocal’ EDI outlook
Once a broad-brush EDI outlook is formed and the global priorities are identified, it becomes important to identify how to implement them locally.

Continuing with the Apple example, then, and following the 3 suggested priorities, it would be important to understand how each of these 3 priorities is going to be implemented locally:

Priority 1: Understanding user experience in top markets.
This is an exercise that will need to be localised to each one of the top markets. For instance, it might involve understanding what products are selling in each of the top markets, what the most common use of those products is in those markets, and how local conventions influence this use. It would then be more feasible to identify any gaps between what users need or want and what the experience delivers.

Priority 2: Improve Diversity in R&D.
This priority will need to be adapted to the markets in which R&D takes place. In this case, the strategy may begin by understanding the R&D region and its demographic, and an assessment of the representation of that demographic in the R&D departments. This analysis will allow the company to put measures in place that are specific to the R&D region in order to improve the Diversity of those departments.

Priority 3: Inclusion and psychological safety for all employees.
This is a truly global priority that will be implemented very differently in each of the countries and even the individual offices of the company. This is also where most companies fall foul of Inclusion. In many cases, Inclusion and psychological safety are defined by the understanding of those concepts in the country from which they originate. So, in this case, these concepts might be defined according to the understanding of them in the US, where Apple is incorporated. It would, however, be a mistake to apply the same definition and ambition for this priority in each of its other locations.

Adapting Inclusion to regions, countries and even offices is an exercise in listening first. It’s important to understand how these concepts translate, what it means to people there to belong and how feasible some of these concepts are. For instance, it might be difficult to openly declare one’s sexuality in some countries as it might be punishable by law. In this case, insisting on certain Inclusion standards in the office might in fact put some people at risk! This policy, therefore, would need to be adapted by reconciling the global position with the local environment.

Similarly, in countries where most people look the same and have similar backgrounds, it would be difficult to impose measures to increase ethnic representation without additional efforts that may not be usually expected.

In other countries, it might be that people are more pre-occupied with basic needs such as food and shelter, and the idea that people are different and may need to be treated differently is not something that people may have had time to contemplate. In this situation, therefore, things may move more slowly in embracing some of the practices and policies that lead to Belonging.

In all these cases, global ambitions need to be seen through a local lens and be ‘glocalised’, just as implied by HSBC’s ad campaign. By localising global EDI outlooks, EDI becomes more meaningful to people. Bearing in mind that we’re all similar – and yet different – it will allow us to focus on our commonalities while respecting our differences. An approach that is adapted to each country, office and even department while staying true to the overall EDI company message runs the greatest chance of success.