The intersections of various types of diversity take different forms around the world. Discerning expatriates will begin to notice some connections between these factors—for instance, ethnicity, regional background, and religion—and how they influence everyday workplace patterns:
- Who gets hired and who doesn’t
- Who leads and who follows
- How decisions are made
- How compensation is determined
- Who sits with whom in the cafeteria
- Who is assigned to more menial office or factory tasks
- Who is given greater responsibilities and promoted
- Who is laid off in a financial downturn
- Who is deemed to be a high-potential future leader
Every culture has its own forms of bias, and humans all too quickly create in-groups and out-groups. International assignees are typically under pressure from headquarters to get up to speed quickly and complete key tasks, meet objectives, or roll out new initiatives. At the same time, assignees often face choices, whether they like it or not, that will either reinforce or counteract local status quo forms of marginalization and exclusion. These could be relatively obvious, such as not hiring people from a particular ethnic or religious group, or more subtle, such as prioritizing English language skills as a promotion criterion without recognizing that these skills might reflect a particular class or caste background.
Some expatriates identify an aspect of their host culture that they find objectionable and undertake a massive change effort in direct contradiction to local customs. These large-scale efforts are difficult to implement, and could lead to unwanted attention and even retribution from government authorities who feel threatened by the proposed changes. Nonetheless, there are nearly always potential areas for change that lead to greater inclusivity—for example, increased promotion opportunities for women—that have a greater chance of gathering more widespread support. Assignees who tap into such efforts have the opportunity to make their organization an employer of choice and a champion of welcome reforms. Local employees and administrators may also grant some expatriates the latitude to implement changes precisely because they are foreigners and are seen as occupying a prestigious role.
Here are examples of changes expatriates have supported over time that have broadened inclusion with enthusiastic local employee support—of course leading-edge inclusion issues vary country by country, and even from one region to another within countries.
- Hiring practices that minimize potential forms of bias
- Greater pay equity for women and marginalized groups
- Training and development opportunities for people from economically disadvantaged groups or regions
- Meeting facilitation practices that balance participation and solicit input from all team members
- Promoting members of underrepresented groups who become role models for others
- Consulting with a wider range of community stakeholders, including minority ethnic or indigenous groups, regarding key decisions
- Setting up new regional operations that provide good quality jobs for members of previously marginalized groups
- Expanding supply chain operations to invite and upskill new suppliers
- Collaborating with other multinationals to avoid corrupt practices that benefit local elites
Expatriates must learn to adapt to a different set of cultural norms, but they are often positioned to serve as local inclusion champions as well. Rather than unwittingly reinforcing local biases, forms of marginalization, or one-sided power structures, assignees can become champions of social justice in a way that engages the aspirations of employees and benefits the whole organization. Insight into the host culture’s key diversity factors enables them to learn how and when to broaden their company’s “in-group” through more inclusive workplace practices.
Learn more about how Aperian can enable expatriate success through the whole assignment life cycle.