Companies Ramp up Diversity Efforts

"If you're sitting in Moline and trying to put together a global strategy, you're in a lose-lose situation" unless you fully connect with employees and affinity groups worldwide, Taylor says.

Finding global talent. With torrid economic growth in China, India and Russia, the global workforce in the 1980s doubled to 3 billion by 2000, according to research by Harvard University economist Richard Freeman.

Multinationals know they can no longer rely solely on the U.S. hiring pool, where the growth rate of engineering and science students has slowed. That means the hunt is on for international talent. Now recruiters from Fortune 500 companies are courting top management, financial, engineering and sales talent at elite universities in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

"Before, companies could pick and choose who to recruit," says Effenus Henderson, chief diversity officer at Weyerhaeuser. "Now, if we truly want to attract the best and the brightest, we've got to look at immigrants around the world."

Why is global diversity getting hotter? More capital, labor and business ideas are flowing around the world than ever before. Whether anti-trade forces like it or not, economic power is steadily shifting abroad, say diversity managers and consultants. And U.S. companies seeking double-digit revenue growth are looking to emerging nations with fast-growing industries and middle-class consumers.

Obstacles to movement

Companies face many obstacles, though, including anti-American backlash, stronger competition for talent from foreign companies and the sheer complexity of doing business overseas. Another problem: the failure of myopic companies to see that diversity strategies must be multifaceted enough to work around the world.

China sees sharp regional and dialect differences. Latin American countries may focus more on class and income-level distinctions among people. In Japan, businesses worry about the age and knowledge gap between older salarymen and younger generations.

Gender issues in the workplace also vary widely. The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark have strong workplace policies for women and mothers, while some Third World countries treat women workers harshly.

"One size does not fit all," says Anita Zanchettin, director of diversity at consultant Aperian Global and author of Global Diversity: Winning Customers and Engaging Employees Within World Markets. "It's a very different reality in every country … the business environment, the languages, the needs of the marketplace and consumers."

Companies must adapt more quickly than ever before to overseas cultures and regions. The European Union alone has 27 nation-states with dozens of languages and 500 million people.

Freeman at Virtcom Consulting says that corporations active in the Czech Republic, for instance, must seek ways to integrate into their workforces the Roma Gypsies, an impoverished and segregated ethnic group. The group is protected by the European Union's Article 13, a legal directive that bans discrimination by race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities.

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