Four Critical Global Workforce Diversity Strategies

By Ted Childs September 23, 2008

Shortly after leaving IBM, I met with the CEO of a major company. He said his company’s workforce diversity strategy was “to identify the key external constituencies and ensure they view our company as a superior member of the business and social community.”

My facial expression must have indicated how underwhelmed I was by his words. That’s when I outlined what I believe are the four goals of a diversity strategy, whether it’s global or U.S.-based:

  • Identify, attract and retain the best people of each group.
  • Create a workplace where that talent can perform at their best to respond to your customers and maximize your shareholder value.
  • Assess and understand the diversity of your marketplace and ensure that you are responding to your customers as they are, not as you want them to be, and that they see themselves in your vision, actions and workplace.
  • Use external contributions to eliminate disadvantage and increase the diversity of the candidates in the talent pool.

After explaining these goals to this CEO, the entire tone of our discussion changed because we were able to have a strategic discussion focused on business.

Why Goals Matter

These goals are important because globally, and within individual countries, we have many people differences: racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, geographic, religious and philosophical. Employers naturally want the best people, but in most countries the best people will represent all of those differences. For example:

  • In the United States, 49 cities have at least 100,000 people, and an ethnic minority population is the majority of that city.
  • In 18 of America’s top 50 cities, and in nine of our state capitals, the mayor is a woman or ethnic minority.
  • In the U.S. Senate, there are 16 women, two Asians, one black and three Hispanics. In the House of Representatives, there are 71 women, four Asians, 42 blacks, including the first Muslim member of Congress, 27 Hispanics, one Native American and three gay and “out” representatives.
  • The 100 million ethnic minority population of the United States is larger than the population of many nations, including all European nations, and they have a collective buying power of $1.8 trillion. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has a buying power of $513 billion, and the differently abled community has a buying power of $461 billion.
  • Sixty-nine countries have some form of workforce diversity legislation intended to define expectations of corporate conduct, and 24 of them require the submission of reports.
  • The United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries are being influenced by immigration. New people, different colors, new cultures. The workforce of tomorrow will not look like the workforce of yesterday.

Globally, and particularly in the United States, there are two core issues: talent and customers. That the United States is no longer “the world’s manufacturer” is evident. The United States is competing with nations that can produce more workers and more buyers of products than we can.

What the United States can bring to the table is talent. But for global companies, the debate is not about the quality of the U.S. workforce; it is about the workforce in each country where they do business. A global company requires a network of thriving local economies to be successful.

The key to that success is talent. Ensuring that all of the people in each nation have the ability to aspire and receive a quality education and the resulting opportunities for employment access and advancement is essential. Doing so will enhance the taxpayer base and customer community.

Unfortunately, the U.S. discussion of equal opportunity—which has evolved into a conversation about workforce diversity—has been largely limited to race and gender. This is somewhat natural because, historically, those issues have been the cornerstone of the United States’ civil rights debate.

But the focus on race and gender has resulted in two outcomes: management that did not address race and gender satisfactorily and wanted to hold on and “get it right;” and management that was unable to accept the emergence of other, new, “people-oriented” diversity issues, such as the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, as well as those who are differently abled.

Some experts concede that we have not solved any of these issues and are not close to doing so. Generation after generation of employees and managers come to the workplace with questions about, and biases toward, people who are different from them. This means we are not passing on the lessons we have learned by interacting with people who are different from us—lessons learned in classrooms, sports, battlefields and workplaces—and we are passing on the biases of past generations.

The business result is that organizations spend too much time and money in work-related classrooms addressing core equal opportunity issues—that is, race and gender—that were also addressed in the 1960s.

This rich menu of unsolved “people” issues has been joined by other “people-important” issues. Among them are education, age, faith, language, life/work integration and its unique blend of issues (such as culture, flexibility and dependent care) and, perhaps most importantly, poverty, as seen through the lens of health, housing, hunger and the environment.

Communities with bad air and water, poor living circumstances and inadequate schools cannot contribute to producing their fair share of the talent pool nations require to compete in the global marketplace.

And then we have the emergence of the global company’s acknowledgement of its “business-important” diversity issues of thought, culture, geography and immigration. While some will argue that these issues are the business community’s effort to sabotage the focus on the “people issues,” particularly to diminish the focus on ethnicity and gender, these business issues are a critical component of a global workforce diversity strategy and, if omitted, will doom that strategy.

Ted Childs is the former vice president of Global Workforce Diversity at IBM and the founder of Ted Childs, LLC.

Excerpted with permission from The Linkage Leader August 2008 Edition

© (2008) Linkage. All Rights Reserved.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs

Earn a SHRM Talent Acquisition Specialty Credential.

Do you have what it takes to win the war for talent? Find out.

Do you have what it takes to win the war for talent? Find out.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.