For many business leaders, diversity is a frightening word. These leaders (mainly white men) are terrified of the implications of putting a foot wrong and being accused of prejudice. While they may recognize the importance of public perception, they do not necessarily see the business value that a diverse workforce can bring. Thankfully, these “male, pale and stale” men are a dying breed – or at least we would like to think so. Can we say the same about Global Mobility? Is this still the bastion of the white, male expatriate? 

The Paradox of Diversity Initiatives 

At the heart of challenging subconscious discrimination lies a paradox: privilege is invisible to the empowered, and blinds the disenfranchised. Diversity initiatives are therefore driven by those who do not have the institutional influence to drive change. 

White, middle-class, educated men don’t see the benefit they have gained from the status quo, and therefore assume that all is well.

The Invisible White Bonus

As white men, our ambition is a positive quality, not unfeminine. Our complaints are justified arguments for improvement, rather than whining again about injustice. 

The privileged don’t think they didn’t get a job because they were attractive/unattractive or they might be considering a family; colleagues assume it was their professionalism that led to the promotion, not due to a rumoured affair with a senior manager. 

No one ever assumed that a white man was humourless, but good at maths, just because he was born in a certain country. Have many white men been mistaken for a waiter or a cleaner on “dress-down Friday?”

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity

The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

Attitudes to Race Are Not Changing

International business has changed: clients, customers and investors are more diverse than they have ever been before, and this means that “white” organizations must change too.

Despite the race equality movement, an African American is 2.5 times more likely as a white American to be shot and killed by police officers.

An unarmed black American is five times more likely to be shot and killed by police. These figures from the Washington Post are well known, but it’s worth reading them again. 

Many argue that racism is a social problem, and business does not have a discrimination issue. 

The Economist magazine cites research by the US Federal Reserve that found that Hispanic and Black unemployment is significantly higher than among whites and that when organizations let staff go, blacks are more likely to be made redundant than whites. 

This situation has remained largely unchanged for over 40 years.

What about Global Mobility?

You may think that, while regrettable, this is not a problem when we talk about international assignments. However, in reality, the problem has the potential to be much more serious.

International business has changed: clients, customers and investors are more diverse than they have ever been before, and this means that “white” organizations must change too.

Internationals Assignees have Changed

Traditionally, assignments followed a colonial model. An organization based in the developed Western world sent senior managers to lead the local office. 

These managers expected to be treated as a dignitary from overseas and received significant incentives and rewards. Packages were very generous and often were enough to set someone up for retirement.

The 21st Century assignee is much more likely to come from China or India, and assignments are now more concerned with either developing talent or putting talent where the business is.

The 21st Century assignee is much more likely to come from China or India, and assignments are now more concerned with either developing talent or putting talent where the business is. 

More importantly, African and Asian markets are now in a position to set their own terms of business, rather than have them imposed by the colonial powers.

Modern organizations need to be able to adapt the face of their organization to match these growing markets. Culturally and linguistically, the male-pale-stale assignee is not suited to developing aggressive markets. 

Talent teams that can overcome unconscious bias not only open up a wider resource pool, they have access to better language and intercultural skills.

It is a truism that we prefer people who are like us. This is behind unconscious bias – white men are not racist or sexist by nature, but often have (as do non-white men and women) an instinctive, evolutionary preference to deal with people similar to ourselves. This means that all too frequently white men appoint white men.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity

The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

Lazy Thinking

Modern business needs to push past this lazy thinking. It is no longer the simplest, most effective option to send a white male to manage key markets; especially when the market is full of clients and customers who are not white men. 

Research also tells us that interpersonal skills are essential for job success. In an international context, we must strive to be as diverse as possible to maximize our appeal to clients and investors. 

Moving beyond white male assignees will give companies a greater chance of developing better relationships with key stakeholders in the market, and will improve their image and reputation.

In an international context, we must strive to be as diverse as possible to maximize our appeal to clients and investors.

All elements of society are much more aware of the perception of diversity. Film-goers have become much more critical of the process of “whitewashing” ethnic roles played by white actors; the BBC has had to commit to reducing the number of all-male, all-white panel shows. 

Globalization has convinced societies that there is more to the world than white masculinity. 

The fastest-growing ethnic groups are in India, Africa and China – areas that typically are not white. These markets need their own role models and heroes, not an imperialist white man.

How Diversity in the Workplace is Key to Profitable Organizations

Globalization Needs Diversity

There is an important lesson here for Global Mobility leaders. The proportion of female assignees is significantly lower than men; similarly, non-white assignees are disproportionately absent. 

If organizations want to be truly global, rather than just have an international presence, their workforce, including their international assignees, must represent the geographical diversity of the world. A diverse workforce should be the objectives of all modern-day organizations. 

This does not require a change in policy; it requires a new approach to enforcement. Transparency in recruitment, transparency in policies and transparency in the application. 

The irony is that it is the privileged who must lead on this. The system is weighted against women and minorities, so it can only be changed by those who benefit most from the status quo. Study after study have shown that a diverse workforce make good business sense. So what is holding companies back?