Diversity, and How is it Rooted in a “Glocal” context?
In a world in which the only thing we can predict is the existence of change and uncertainty, we must evolve ourselves, our workplaces, and our communities to the needs of the moment. While the past few decades have boasted global interconnectedness through innovations such as transportation and digital technologies, Covid-19 has demanded an increasing focus on localization due to a lack of international travel and an emphasis on empowering local contexts. Thus, we derive the term “glocal.” Carrying a world vision and broad perspective, while bringing our attention back to the immediate moment and context, allows us to thrive in this rapidly changing world. So it is in this new “glocal” world that we ask ourselves, what does diversity really mean? Answering this may require that we challenge our preconceived notions and begin to seek new ways of interacting with those around us. Today especially, diversity can either hinder or accelerate our strive toward creativity, adaptivity, and unity. Holding onto a standard, narrow-minded definition that we may have of diversity compromises our ability to respond and adapt to the needs of the moment. Placing ourselves in positions of positive discomfort, on the other hand, allows us to break out of our bubble and embrace diverse perspectives. I argue that we must dive deeper into what diversity means, and what it looks like in our workplaces and communities.
So What Does Diversity Mean In This Context?
Diversity means including different perspectives.
With businesses increasingly focusing on diversity, there has been a common trend of filling ‘quotas.’ Workplaces have placed emphasis on ensuring that X number of women are on their executive board, or that they hire X number of people of color each year. However, when the effort stops here, these businesses are given the false impression — and false recognition — that they are ‘diverse.’ Creating workplaces that are racially diverse, gender equal, or multigenerational means truly understanding people of color, marginalized women, or youth. It means understanding experiences and perspectives that are different than our own, while acknowledging that different does not equal wrong. This realization is critical in improving conflict resolution and problem solving, which in turn leads to greater productivity in the workplace. By being able to express our own values and beliefs, while holding space for those of others’, individuals can work together to develop new ideas that are rooted in collaboration and open communication. The moment we strive to truly understand others’ perspectives is the moment we can work toward greater unity and efficiency. It is the moment that we have taken a step toward true diversity.
Diversity means creating equitable opportunities.
As international organizations juggle the demands of regional and/or country offices, universal, top-down approaches are often adopted. Offering the same thing for all might be equal, but it is not equitable.
Equitable means responding to the specific needs and filling the specific gaps of local contexts. For example, an international organization may design a project to strengthen female teacher training programs in order to increase girls’ enrollment, retention, and completion of schooling. While this may be a pressing need for the organization, local offices may have specific, unmet needs or barriers that hinder the impact of the project. If in rural India, the distance to schools creates unsafe conditions for girls, then even the most qualified female teachers will not improve girls’ education. On the other hand, in a community in Ethiopia, if the language of instruction is different from students’ mother-tongue languages, strengthening teacher training programs will not lead to the intended impact until and unless the language barrier is addressed. Creating equitable opportunities would mean addressing threats to girls’ safety in India and language barriers in Ethiopia so that the organization’s project of strengthening female teacher training programs can have its full intended effect in each context. In this regard, diversity demands equitable — not just equal — opportunities and initiatives.
Diversity means adapting workplace strategies to cultural contexts.
Businesses and organizations are built on theories of change, which inform the strategies that are used to create change. This process of developing methods that inform how change will occur must be included in thinking about diversity since they are context specific. Strategies that have proven to be effective and have a positive impact in one workplace may not prove as much in another workplace. For example, according to Hofstede’s (2021) cultural dimensions, power distance is defined as “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.” While India scores high on this cultural dimension (77), the United States scores fairly low (40).
Power distance plays a role in workplace strategy, such as in the way team meetings may be organized. A brainstorming meeting in the United States, in which employees and managers alike are asked to offer input may be deemed as culturally inappropriate in India, in which hierarchy and structure is highly valued. Thus, recognizing and appreciating a range of strategies that work best in each local context to achieve a common goal is a form of striving toward a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
Why focus so much of our time and energy into thinking deeply about what diversity truly means in our “glocal” world? Diversity has often been a measure of a gold star, a box that businesses and organizations check off. But doing so poses danger — to individuals, workplaces, and communities. Whereas onboarding youth, women, people of color, or other often marginalized groups onto our teams may be seen as a marker of creating diverse workplaces, it does not mean much unless we dig deeper and think about what it means for a manager to incorporate the ideas of a 22 year old, to replace universal approaches with differentiated and context-specific approaches, or to highlight collaboration in one office while appreciate the predictability of hierarchy in another. When we begin to question and rethink our own perceptions of diversity, while embracing global perspectives with local insights, then we will start appreciating the significance of diversity in a “glocal” world.
Written by: Alisha Parikh
Eager to make an impact in this world, Alisha is a passionate, fun-loving educator and activist for gender equity. Raised in the U.S., relocating to Belgium, with strong roots to her Indian heritage, she lives in a multilingual, multicultural world. Her experience of teaching in low-income communities, research on girls’ education, and role in advocacy efforts within nongovernmental organizations has motivated her to spark global change.
As a multi-awarded social enterprise, our aim, at ila, is to champion a purpose-driven and socially aware workforce. Our innovative tailored programs and world-class advisory team have extensive experience working with HR professionals, leadership teams and employees to champion a diverse and gender equal culture in the workplace.
Visit ila at https://www.ilageneration.com/home to find out more about us, the work we do and how we can help you in taking the first step towards a new way of working.