A Critical Look at Global Approaches to D&I

Organisations with an international presence often talk about their ‘global’ approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I) and how they ensure that programmes are relevant wherever they are implemented. However, despite great efforts, a common source of frustration from individuals tasked to drive D&I in Asia is the superficial nature of these localisation attempts.

Localising D&I

D&I driven at a global level might include input from different markets, or might allow the inclusion of other focus areas as determined by local leaders. However, their priorities and overall direction often tend to be determined by leaders located where the company’s global headquarters are.

Efforts to localise might include:

  • Translation – This includes not just a simple literal translation of words, but also a recognition that certain terms and concepts might not have an equivalent term and would therefore need additional context. Certain phrases and words might also have local meanings and nuances that might impact how the intended message is received.
  • Local examples – Whilst the concepts discussed and guidelines put forward are kept standard, local case studies, examples and details are included to better illustrate the ideas communicated.
  • Reframing of concepts – This acknowledges that not all values are universally accepted and that the first two ways to localise might not be enough. For example, because of differences in historical context and experiences of activism, we have seen the BLM conversation land very differently across the different markets in Asia we work with. In fact, one of the starting points for the research on Race and Culture that Community Business is currently conducting, is that concepts of race, racism, and privilege are understood and play out differently depending on where you are in Asia and whom you speak with. Therefore, the designs of interviews, roundtable session and survey questions were carefully crafted to take local perspectives into account.
  • Local execution – In the implementation of any ‘localised’ strategy, local laws, regulations and norms need to be considered and the systems and processes put in place need to suit the way things get done locally.


Pitfalls in Localisation

Hidden traps, or even easily avoidable pitfalls, lurk at every stage of the process. For example, using language that might have a strong association with US issues, might cause people to immediately dismiss the speaker and create an impression that the topic is foreign and, therefore, irrelevant to the local context. Local examples featuring ‘locals’ might actually be only relevant for specific types of locals, e.g. those that were educated abroad. Also, whilst many organisations are highly cognisant of the dos and don’ts around local execution, most skip over the idea of reframing concepts or  taking new approaches to better suit local needs.

The main source of these issues might actually be in the way we accept the concept of how global strategy is crafted. Whilst global alignment is absolutely necessary, it is important to consider how much the strategy reflects the concerns of people far from where the company is headquartered. When we talk about a ‘global strategy’ are we instead talking about a US or European strategy that is simply implemented around the world? Or are we truly engaging local leaders – from Hong Kong, Tokyo, Manila, New York, Brussels – and valuing their inputs equally? If an organisation’s D&I strategy is not created through a representative, diverse, and inclusive process, how truly inclusive can that organisation be?

The Need for a Truly Global Approach

Over the years, we’ve heard managers wonder about the necessity of measuring ethnicity in India when the only option given in their global people survey is 'South Asian'. Or leaders in China scratching their heads when asked about what they are doing to increase African American representation. Essentially, engaging Asian managers and leaders in D&I activities that hold more value to their people in North America or Europe. At the same time, we’ve also seen good practice come out of Asia,with Hong Kong ERGs figuring out how to get better engagement around LGBT+ initiatives, Indian companies doing some groundbreaking work on disability inclusion, and many more examples.

As D&I discussions create a greater appreciation of the complexity of identity, culture, and social norms across the globe, it is clear that a country-by-country approach is needed if real inclusion is to happen. More than a strategy shift, a mindset shift is needed. Multinational companies ought to:

  • Reconcile themselves with the idea that a global strategy will look different across regions and countries
  • Understand that some priorities will not be viewed with the same level of enthusiasm and might even be viewed as irrelevant
  • Discover how global priorities might be reconceptualised in a way that matters locally
  • Raise local issues and good practice to the global level.

Otherwise, they run the risk of creating a ‘box-ticking’ mindset towards D&I and even reinforcing the misconception that D&I is not relevant in Asia.


About the Author: Tina Arcilla, Head of Diversity & Inclusion in Asia Network (DIAN) at Community Business