Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Are Global Challenges—But Solutions Are Local (Blog Post)
How to reimagine leadership and your global DEI initiatives.
By Lorraine Hariton
What does it mean to lead inclusively and reimagine leadership from a global perspective? How do you ensure that your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) objectives can be realized in different regions around the world?
For the last two decades, Catalyst has worked with organizations that have operations around the world to address and develop DEI efforts. And what we’ve seen repeatedly is that workplace inequity is a global issue, not an exclusively American one. However, the solutions often are regional.
Catalyst research surveying workers in 14 countries showed that inclusion is universally important. We also know that empathy is essential to addressing racism in the workplace, according to research conducted with business professionals and scholars in nine countries.
Still, DEI solutions are as diverse as the companies and communities that deploy them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
What works well for a hybrid tech team in Silicon Valley might be different from what advances women of color at a marketing agency in Montreal. Cultural context, public policies and societal norms all play a role.
Transparency and Women’s Representation in EMEA
“We see a growing urgency from organisations to make workplaces that work for women and all talent,” says Allyson Zimmermann, Executive Director for Catalyst in EMEA. “Organisations must work harder to attract the best talent, and this includes having transparent and progressive DEI policies. Employees are demanding this. They want to know what the gender pay gap is and the proportion of its senior leadership that are women and particularly women of different races and ethnicities.”
Europe is diverse, so the perspectives and priorities are not monolithic, but we are seeing an increased push for pay transparency and equitable opportunities for all women, even beyond equal pay and gender representation mandates. There’s an urgent expectation from employees that companies be transparent and get it right.
At Barilla, a 2021 Catalyst Award winner based in Italy, the focus on the gender pay gap and transparency led the company to achieve gender pay equality in 2020 globally for all employees. They also improved women’s representation at all levels. Over seven years, women’s representation increased for employees reporting directly to the CEO—from 8% to 28%.
Parexel, a 2022 Catalyst Award winner and global clinical trial company with operations in the EMEA region, is particularly focused on local nuance. Their Gender Partnership initiative began in 2013 after a few women executives in the organization had a courageous conversation with company leadership. They observed that the company had too few women leaders due to a lack of executive sponsorship.
After hiring its first global head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Parexel launched an initiative to increase its worldwide representation of women leaders at the highest levels by building a culture of inclusion from the top down. Representation of women, globally, in senior leadership increased across each job band level between 2014 and 2021. The increases for women at the senior vice president level from 13.3% to 38.8% and from 32.3% to 50.3% at the vice president level were especially noteworthy.
The Canadian Perspective
Catalyst’s own regional leaders have experienced these nuances firsthand. They know that meaningful DEI solutions must be specific to the region. Tanya van Biesen, Catalyst’s Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Engagement and interim Executive Director in Canada, has told me that the discussion of DEI in Canada must include the many underrepresented women we consider in the United States, and also, importantly, Indigenous women.
“These women are among the fastest growing group in our country and have historically been excluded from critical spaces, including workplaces, housing, and healthcare,” van Biesen said. “For Canada to thrive fully, we must address these inequities and seize on the power and contribution that these women bring to our economy,” she said.
When Catalyst Award-winning company Enbridge, for example, chose to voluntarily release its diversity data and goals for improvement, the Canada-based energy delivery company—which employs 11,000 people across North America—included gender representation across all levels and additional dimensions of diversity, including underrepresented ethnic groups. Since the launch of their Diversity Dashboard, Enbridge’s representation of women of colour in Canada increased between 2017 and 2021 from 2% to 8% at the manager level and from 2% to 5% at the vice president and senior vice president levels.
These examples are proof points that when we approach DEI initiatives from regional perspectives, we create solutions that are responsive to, and reflective of, the people and contexts they’re designed to serve. And they work.
Thinking beyond a blanket approach or the way things have always been done is what reimagining leadership looks like in practice.
Learn more about reimagining leadership and DEI practices with Catalyst’s resources and tools:
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Ask Catalyst Express (Curated Resource List)
- Three Inclusive Team Norms That Drive Success (Report)
- Why Leaders Must Connect More During Times of Crisis (Report)
- Getting Real About Inclusive Leadership (Report)
- Leading for Equity and Inclusion (Workshops)
President & CEO
Lorraine Hariton is President and CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit working with the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Catalyst’s vision and mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion has been a lifelong passion for Lorraine. She is…