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Inequality Ranks Low on Global HR's Concerns

Two businessmen pushing a pink ball up a mountain.

​Inequality and unfairness among global teams are low priorities for most HR professionals surveyed recently by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Globalization Partners, and they deserve more attention given global companies' ongoing struggles with inclusion.

"This is an interesting report that confirms much of what we've heard for years: Global talent can make companies more competitive," noted Lynn Shotwell, SHRM senior vice president, global outreach and operations. "But to fully realize this competitive advantage, companies must commit time and resources to facilitating communications across time zones and cultures to ensure all employees feel equally valued and included."

Survey Findings

The Spring 2019 SHRM/Globalization Partners Global Teams Survey was conducted in February and March, and the final sample of the survey consisted of 464 global HR professionals.

The greatest challenges for global teams were:

  • Collaborating across time zones (49 percent).
  • Different international laws (44 percent).
  • Scheduling work across time zones (38 percent).
  • Cultural differences (33 percent).
  • Difficulty managing teams in different locations (29 percent).
  • Language barriers (27 percent).
  • Unfairness or inequality among global teams (7 percent).

"Even small steps like rotating meeting times so one team doesn't always take the midnight conference call can go a long way to building a connected and productive global team," Shotwell said. "The other interesting issue is the cross-border legal compliance. As governments use technology to enhance their scrutiny of employment relationships and cross-border travel, things that might have gone unnoticed in the past, such as immigration and tax compliance, are a greater risk to companies today."

Inclusion Challenges

This survey, as well as a 2019 Global Employee Survey from Globalization Partners, found that global teams are still struggling with inclusion.

That survey determined that employees who don't feel like they belong were five times more likely to be pessimistic about the future of their companies. It also found that approximately one-third of employees in subsidiaries reported they felt like they belonged and are connected to their direct team (15 percent) or country division (15 percent) more than to the company globally.

In the SHRM/Globalization Partners survey, 62 percent of HR professionals said that people in headquarters have the most influence in their organizations. This finding reinforced the Globalization Partners 2019 Global Employee Survey finding that employees in satellite offices were 11 percent less likely to think their voices mattered than those at headquarters.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Global Human Resources Discipline]

Inclusion's Meaning in the Global Context

"Diversity means nothing if you do not include the voices of your entire workforce," said Nicole Sahin, CEO of Boston-based Globalization Partners. "Global teams that understand their common purpose are more motivated to come together and achieve great results."

That means including everyone, not just people at headquarters. Headquarters shouldn't be the only place where decision-making happens, said Maria Lewis, chief diversity officer at Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle.

Hold some leadership meetings in other offices around the globe, she suggested. This extra expense can improve morale and help inform headquarters employees about what's going on in other locations.

Communication Barriers

Poor communication can impede inclusion efforts.

Even if the team works in English, not everyone on a diverse global team will speak English at the same level. Also, if some team members speak a foreign language that is not the language in which the team does business, then team members not fluent in that other language can feel excluded from sidebar discussions, said Donald Dowling Jr., an attorney with Littler in New York City. "At the same time, it's insensitive and unrealistic to demand that, say, two Parisian colleagues or two Mexico City co-workers conduct all their chit-chat in English," he noted.

Cultural Differences

Be aware that cultural differences can be complex—and that while we think we know about cultural differences, we often don't know the extent of those differences. Suppose a company based in Mexico operates across Latin America. "That company's international work teams need to account for the significant cultural differences among, say, Argentines, Brazilians, Colombians, Dominicans, Mexicans, Peruvians and Venezuelans," Dowling said. "In the U.S., though, we speak of 'Hispanic' or 'Latino' as a single culture."

Inform employees about the business etiquette in different countries and provide cultural training, recommended Mary Ellen Connerty, director of diversity and engagement with O'Melveny & Myers in New York City.

Greatest Benefits of Global Teams

The SHRM/Globalization Partners survey notes that when asked what the biggest benefits were of having global teams, HR respondents were most enthusiastic about the exposure to global perspectives (81 percent) and greater diversity (72 percent).

More than half of the respondents chose creativity (54 percent) as another benefit of global teams, followed closely by access to talent anywhere (52 percent)—perhaps unsurprising given the growing war for talent.

"Companies in the U.S. face a growing skills gap, so access to talent anywhere is a benefit not only for global teams but also to their U.S. organization's headquarters, subsidiaries and affiliates," said Rebecca Peters, SHRM director of policy engagement. "Further, as the competition for global talent continues, it is the organizations with cultures of inclusion that not only will attract the best talent but retain it."

Plus, inclusion on global teams gives each team member a sense of ownership and belonging "and unleashes high performance," noted Ihuoma Onyearugha, a recently retired executive director of human resources and medical at Chevron Nigeria Limited in Lagos.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.