Worldwide ERC on why diversity needs a new definition for the future

Worldwide ERC's President and CEO Peggy Smith reveals how diversity and inclusion initiatives are becoming increasingly critical to attracting, engaging and retaining talent.

Worldwide ERC is a trade organisation committed to connecting and educating workforce mobility professionals across the globe on behalf of the world’s employers and their workforces.

If Peggy Smith could wave a magic wand, there would be a common definition of diversity backed by better awareness.

The traditional, overarching description for diversity and inclusion speaks to empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin.

 “If we were to sit ten people at a table and ask them to write down their definition of diversity, it would be very different,” she says.

Peggy believes that, for the past ten years, diversity has been applied in too broad a context within organisations and that a new definition is required for the future.

She explains: “It’s also lending itself to the perspective of independent views, regardless of how an individual presents or looks, or their preferences in life choices. If we were operating behind a blind wall and could not physically see each other or understand each other’s preferences, imagine how rich that conversation would be.

“My feeling would be to embrace the individual for their contribution, their richness of life experiences that you might not have the privilege of knowing and understanding.”

As President and CEO of Worldwide ERC, Peggy is in a good position to see how diversity and inclusion are handled in companies around the globe. Worldwide ERC is a non-profit trade organisation that supports international hiring and helps to ensure social integration for employees when they arrive. Headquartered in Washington DC, the organisation has been around for more than 50 years. It currently has 10,000 members who represent companies moving individuals across borders.

“It’s a fun area,” she enthuses. “It’s an area within HR that’s getting a lot more attention, largely driven by global work for talent, record unemployment levels and nothing on the horizon that suggests that’s going to change immediately. As a result, organisations are recognising that to achieve the best business objectives, they need to have a robust approach to mobile talent.”

E is for equitable

Peggy is particularly encouraged by the fact that, although there is a long way to go with diversity and inclusion, it is being discussed much more and organisations are increasingly making it part of their culture. The challenge was to make sure that diverse groups are not isolated by labels. An important part of the mix is E for equitable.

“There’s so much more work to be done, but I’m super excited because it’s now talked about in a very strategic and compassionate way,” she adds. “The barriers around the world are lower; we all have to get along as a community and organisations serve a great platform for that to occur.”

However, Worldwide ERC has noticed a rise in nationalism with some countries more wary than others of new arrivals. At the same time, there are countries actively seeking overseas labour. For example, Canada wants to attract a million workers to its technology sector by 2020.

Worldwide ERC is adding more value by staying on top of immigration issues around the world and monitoring elections to assess the impact of a change of leader.

Social integration

Once people move to a new country, helping them adjust to their environment is crucial. That means providing proper support to enable them to integrate socially. Destination services are one element of that. That includes providing information about everything a person, and their families, likely need, from schools and doctors to places of worship and hairdressers.

“This is a set of services that a company can offer to somebody to help them get to know, from a geographical perspective, the location within which they are,” says Peggy. “Everything from sensitivities around holidays to what’s appropriate and inappropriate.

“The second element is the community network. While a company can say where your children will go to school, where the hospital is, there’s another component around inviting people to be part of a community. Anything that an organisation can do in benefits or experience to help somebody feel they are part of the location they’re going to is what we would encourage organisations to think about and make that investment. It shows them and their family that you care deeply about them.”

Failure to do this can have a negative effect all round. If the family is unsettled, the employee is less productive and may even leave. In that case, the business will have lost a valued employee that they spent months recruiting.

Look in the mirror

What advice does Worldwide ERC offer to organisations seeking to attract diverse talent?

Peggy believes that companies must first understand that individuals are assessing them, so it was important to consider what their brand is saying to the outside world. Does the brand say that the environment is inclusive in practice and not just on paper?

“Social platforms provide such great access to information, and you want to go out internally first and be sure that your social brand is attractive,” she states. “I would tell any diversity leader to go and look in the mirror first. Does your organisation stand up? If it doesn’t, you won’t get access to that talent anyway because they’ll be able to look and say, ‘what do the leaders do, how do they behave’?”

Finally, Peggy is keen to emphasise the importance of social integration as being part of a global community. She adds: “Organisations have a role and individuals have a role. Companies provide the perfect environment for that to come together because they can align around a business objective that truly they are tapping into the talented people at the core who have individual and complex lives and experiences.

“Go and learn, become a lifelong learner, and you can learn through such richness of input that you may never have ever come across or thought about.”
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