Managing a diverse and inclusive mobile workforce Fostering workforce diversity, especially at the managerial level, ranks high in the list of priorities at many companies. Yet, all too often, the role played by global mobility to help companies reach their goal is underestimated. Moving talent between jobs and between geographies is playing a key role in fostering diversity and inclusion, and mobility management teams should be at the forefront in the fight to tackle this issues. This can happen only when there is better collaboration between the mobility and the diversity teams. What do we mean by diverse and inclusive mobile workforce? A broad definition of diversity should encompass all aspects of the employees from background, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and family status among other things. However, the presence of “invisible minorities” means that companies might not be aware of potential diversity issues. Furthermore, non-minorities can find themselves discriminated in some countries because of their marital status (unmarried couples) or specific situations (single parents.) Families of assignees can also be the target of discrimination even if the assignees themselves don’t belong to discriminated groups. These issues could be easily overlooked by the company unless they are flagged by the assignees themselves. Inclusion goes one step further to effectively integrate minority groups in the mobile workforce. The end goal is not just to increase the number of females or minorities but to ensure that this numerical increase translates into real participation at managerial level and contributes to breaking the career glass ceiling. The objective is to create an environment where the best people can bring their full selves to work. A clear business case for diversity and inclusion At first glance, discrimination issues might seem to only affect employees, but from a broader perspective, they are also extremely detrimental to the growth a company’s business and the larger economies or markets in which your company operates. Fostering diversity and inclusion is not purely a moral question, it drives significant business advantages for all parties. Leadership: providing more diverse thinking and innovation. Talent: expanding the talent pool to drive innovation and future growth. Customers: ensuring better fit and insight to reach out to increasingly diverse customers. Investors: diverse companies have better performance and lower risks. More generally, there is an urgent need for leaders and organisations to build diverse and inclusive workforces for the future as an effective solution to the growing challenges of market and technological disruptions as well as international talent shortages. Should talent mobility teams get involved in diversity and inclusion questions? During a session about diversity and inclusion at our recent Expatriate Management Conference, we asked participants if their companies’ global mobility approaches were integrated with their diversity and inclusion ambition. The responses were contrasted, illustrating that while mobility professionals are increasingly getting involved in these issues, there is not yet a consensus and they sometimes struggle to get their voices heard. To what extent are your company’s global mobility approaches integrated with your D&I ambition? Fully integrated 7% To a great extent 20% To a moderate extent 34% To a limited extent 21% Not at all integrated 17% Source: Spot Poll, Mercer 2019 Expatriate Management Conference Having international experience is a pre-condition to reach top managerial levels within many multinational companies. International assignments allow employees to develop essential skills and build a network that can boost their career. The low participation of women and minorities in the assignee talent pool can put a brake on diversity at leadership levels. Even at a more tactical level, a broader talent pool facilitates assignment success and cost control: one of the main mobility cost drivers is not related to pay packages and policies as such but to the fact that companies often have a limited choice of candidates for assignments. Broadening the internationally mobile talent pool is a way to provide more options to companies and indirectly to control costs better. What’s blocking diversity and inclusion in the mobile workforce? Managers might consciously or unconsciously assume that certain groups of employees would not be able to perform their jobs effectively due to the situation in the host locations (cultural issues, official or widespread discrimination, hardship conditions in general etc.) or simply would not want to go on assignment (due to hypothetical family constraints for example.) At the same time, female employees or candidates from minority groups might dismiss themselves due to the perceived lack of practical support and absence of role models. Even when there is a consensus in the organization about the need to increase diversity, the absence of diverse talent pipeline can limit progress. Companies complain about the lack of suitable candidates but the question of diversity must be tackled early on in the process by building diverse talent pools rather than try address the lack of diversity when the candidate selection has already started. How to make progress? There is a lot we can learn from companies that have successfully promote diversity and inclusion in their workforce. Schneider Electric is one of them. Case study: Schneider Electric Schneider Electric’s D&I Ambition is to “provide equal opportunities to everyone everywhere and to ensure all employees feel uniquely valued and safe to contribute their best”. The company has won global recognition (Catalyst Award, Bloomberg gender equality index, Equileap top 200) and is actively supporting global initiatives such as the Free & Equal initiative from the United Nations (LGBT support) and the UN Women HeForShe gender equality global movement as one of the 10 corporate champions selected in 2015 to accelerate the advancement of women in the business world. To ensure that all employees have the same chance of success, irrespective of their nationality or location, Schneider transitioned from a one-headquarter model (concentration of global roles) to a multi-hub business model, and relocated key jobs to these hubs to create a global leadership structure. A few years ago, most global jobs were concentrated in Schneider’s European headquarters, but the current picture looks remarkably different. This new disruptive model has turned out to be a great move for the company, and its talents. Schneider Electric has international assignees from 53 nationalities in 54 home and 60 host countries, and 20% of these assignees are female (above average for this industry sector.) Susanna Warner-Corbacho currently heads the Global Mobility function in Schneider Electric. She joined Schneider Electric in 2017 and has closely partnered with Talent, Diversity and Inclusion colleagues to implement mobility policies aligned with the Group’s Talent and Diversity strategy. She describes Schneider’s D&I strategy for the mobile workforce as built on four pillars: Empowered diversities: developing diverse assignees communities. Inclusive practices: multi-hub governance to ensure balance of sustainable talent at a local, regional and global level. Policy review (inclusive definition of family, support for dual career, single parents and elements of flexibility). Inclusive behaviors: leveraging company trainings and building a diverse global mobility team Advocacy: testimonials from women on assignments Here are a few more tips based on best practices from successful companies: Connect with the team in charge of fostering diversity and inclusion within the organization. If international assignments are instrumental to prepare key talent for leadership roles, the diversity team should have a say in mobility issues and the mobility team should be actively engaged in diversity discussions. Proactively market critical cross-business and cross-geography experience and communicate with diversity in mind by showing what support is available is an important first step. All too often employees are not aware of the support offered by the company. Talk openly about diversity in your policies and encourage internal discussion on this topic. Communicate about role models and success stories. Distinguish real barriers to international mobility from paper tigers. Alleged barriers to mobility include both real challenges and preconceptions. In many cases these barriers can be overcome through a mix of practical support, flexibility in policies, and communication. Are some assignments or locations really not suitable for female or minority groups? As discussed in a previous article about diversity in non-diverse locations, diversity policies pioneered by companies in their headquarters can sometimes be disconnected from the reality in hardship locations. Distinguishing objective barriers to mobility from prejudices and issues that be mitigated through cultural training, facilitation, and practical support is therefore important. Review mobility policies and relocation packages with diversity in mind: many talent policies were not designed with the specific needs of each employee groups in mind. Without completely changing your policies make sure that they include specific measures such as day care or spouse support to facilitate global mobility of women and minorities. Alternatively, provide the flexibility to re-purpose existing allowances or lump-sums that can used to address the needs of female assignees or minorities. Build evidence into your diversity and inclusion strategy to support changes. Use workforce progression analyses to measure the career progression of the different groups of assignees, employee attitude surveys to capture assignee feedback, as well as other indicators such as pay progression analyses that could indicate that there are gender gap issues in general. Despite receiving a lot of publicity over the past few years, diversity and inclusion remains unfinished work. Progress is real but companies still struggle to build truly inclusive workforces, especially at managerial levels. It is time for the mobility function to take ownership of this issue and implement practical steps to foster diversity and inclusion among international assignees and challenge the status quo.