Notions of diversity and inclusion vary widely across the globe – and the approach to making progress within moving businesses must take account of this. In this three-part feature, FIDI Focus hears first-hand experiences of just one of the various forms of discrimination; about global and local challenges and benefits of improving a company’s DEI, and the role of certification and mindset change in doing this
Bias and prejudice – some experiences
We spoke to three non-white members of the FIDI community, about their experience of discrimination or bias within the moving industry and the wider world. We have changed their names for this feature.
At a European university, Kaya, from Africa, says she experienced prejudice against students from the continent. ‘I remember a group assignment with four classmates, who didn’t invite me to certain meetings because they didn’t want my opinions and contributions.’ She says she understands the foundation of these biases – ‘as there is still a large African population that don’t have access to education, especially young girls’.
‘I strongly believe I was racially profiled by law enforcement in the last quarter of 2021 while crossing the border from one EU country to another,’ says Daniel. ‘One of the people I was with expressed to the officers that they were acting in an inappropriate and racist manner.’
Jude, meanwhile, adds he has noticed a ‘reproduction of global power dynamics’ since joining the moving industry.
‘Generally, people of the global north – and generally white – hold more power, are more visible in the industry media and will be more prone to be passively condescending to people of the opposite nature,’ he says. He adds that this includes people imitating accents, which is usually done in a joking manner. ‘I am always taken aback by this,’ he says.
He adds that while he may be projecting his own discomfort onto these situations, he believes ‘the affected people just rather not speak up, as it is not a “big deal”’.
What needs to change?
‘Change starts from within,’ says Daniel. ‘The ones with power need to provide opportunities for those less represented to advance themselves socially and economically. Some changes will happen naturally but mainly by managing it actively with global voices openly speaking out about it.’
Kaya says it’s about giving everyone a chance. ‘Allow women to make their own choices, allow young professionals to lead, among other things,’ she says. She also thinks diversity needs to be managed actively and isn’t something that will ‘happen naturally’ over time.
Jude agrees. ‘There needs to be intentionality and actions taken,’ he says. ‘How they unfold is the natural part – and that might be messy.’ Mistakes may be made along the way, but this is part of the process of progression.’
‘Moving businesses have plenty of help at hand to guide them through this process, he says, including diversity training and strategy specialists. ‘It is a worthwhile investment,’ he says, ‘to value every member of a team.’
‘It is a step-by-step process, intentional actions get the ball rolling,’ he says, ‘and before you know it you will look back and see just how much change has come.’
While tackling diversity issues is a global challenge, solutions will often come at the local level, according to Jude, who says: ‘Different issues will be addressed at the global level – but these will set a precedent for the most reluctant to change.’
Daniel adds: ‘It can be approached at the universal level, but then it’s a matter of how that works at the national, regional and local level that will have the positive impact.’
The challenges and benefits of diversity – three perspectives
‘Inclusion and diversity requires effort – it’s not always easy’
Aulina Mithal Sood, Director of Star Worldwide in India, says the concept of diversity is inherent in nature and in Hindu culture, too. ‘Hindu mythology and religion are filled with stories about all kinds of beings. Many of the gods of worship are not only “man” and “woman” but also animals, waterbodies, trees, and plants that give life.’
She adds that, accordingly, the history of India provides many examples of diversity, including ‘important and trustworthy positions held by transgender people in the Kingdom of Indian Rulers’, and, since independence, a woman prime minister, two female presidents (current president Droupadi Murmu is a woman from a tribal community).
Ensuring your business is equipped for diversity only has advantages, she says. ‘Having groups of people spanning different cultures, languages, religious beliefs, gender, age and so on, means having a larger knowledge bank at your disposal,’ she says. ‘This means having more solutions and experience to manage all kinds of customers – which is essential in moving.’
However, inclusion and diversity requires effort, she says, and often a change in preconceived thinking, which ‘is not always easy’.
There may be resistance, even hostility, from current employees, so education about the benefits of diversity is essential, she says. ‘Business owners should invest in workshops to sensitise their staff and create a support system to ensure success of such changes. And in the long run, employees and businesses will progress better due to the diversification of their HR.’
‘Acting local creates global change’
Juan Guillermo Díaz, President of Intramar Shipping in Colombia, says the process of globalisation, in bringing humans closer together has highlighted differences between cultures and traditions.
He says: ‘Diversity and inclusion is naturally an area of controversy, because of the ‘distinct viewpoints, religions, customs, histories, etc, that have shaped the different human communities all around the world.’
Indeed, the very meaning of the term may vary considerably around the world, he says. Accordingly, while we should be working to universal principles – creating a world where every human has a right to be an active member of society – in implementing these, we must be ‘very respectful of regional and local cultures.’ Acting at the local level in this way creates a bottom-up pressure to change things for the better on the global scale.
Guillermo Díaz says the process needs to start with ‘safe communication spaces’ where people can discuss this sensitive topic – and applauds FIDI for its work in tackling the issue to date. Next comes the implementation and policy formation, with the eventual goal of achieving a ‘shift in the consciousness of people in every industry, including this one’.
He concludes with a summary of the real advantages of diversity in the business.‘The shortest, quickest way to corporate success is the wellbeing and motivation of those who work with us. If a person feels accepted, heard and has growth and development opportunities, they will be more committed to the organisation and its goals.’
‘DEI is a journey’
As a global organisation that interacts with people of many different backgrounds and demographics, diversity and inclusion is a ‘core focus’ for Graebel, according to its global head of DEI, Valencia Culbreath.
DEI is a journey says Culbreath, and the company is continually learning and developing its capabilities and practices, alongside its clients, suppliers and staff.
‘Our goal is to create transformative change, for everyone in our network, toward a truly inclusive workplace and global mobility industry,’ she says. ‘That means inspiring strong cultural change to create spaces where people feel empowered to be their authentic selves, which we know can produce measurable business results.’
Culbreath says that while the principles of diversity and inclusion are the same around the world, just who is considered part of minority groups varies depending on region. Having employees that represent these people helps foster diverse viewpoints within the company. A Hindu staff member in Argentina where most people are Christians, for example, helps to broaden a firm’s perspective, whereas the same person in India would have less of an impact from this point of view.
‘It’s all about ensuring different perspectives or different lived experiences are valued, included and heard,’ she says.
She says good DEI policies bring specific advantages for moving businesses. ‘They help deliver an exceptional relocation experience. Moving is an exciting but sometimes overwhelming process for employees, and demonstrating you understand them and can support their unique needs goes a long way toward creating a smoother experience.’
In conclusion, Culbreath says a culturally aware workforce ‘benefits companies today and shapes the leaders of tomorrow. Employees who build global connections, broaden their perspectives, create new problem-solving skills and work with people from different cultures will have deeper understandings of the nuances of DEI. As those employees are promoted into management, they’re able to leverage those skills and learnings to create more inclusive workplaces.’
Certifying DEI and changing mindset
‘A standard for DEI measurability and comparability’
Silk Relo and its sister group Asian Tigers recently announced they have become the first international relocation companies to earn a new diversity and inclusion organisational certification, a ‘game-changer’ that enables them to measure their D&I work on the international stage.
Asia-based Silk Relo Ltd, Silk Relo Pte Ltd and KC Dat (trading as Asian Tigers Singapore) earned the certification from the Human Resource Standards Institute (HRSI). It demonstrates their HR processes align with ISO 30415 Human Resources Management – Diversity and Inclusion standards.
John Lim, managing director of Asian Tigers Singapore, says: ‘Over the past few years, diversity and inclusion have taken on prime space in everything that we talk about and do as an organisation’. Silk Relo CEO Kay Kutt adds: ‘Diversity was coming up as a hot topic in RFPs, but there wasn’t a standard or means to demonstrate D&I initiatives in a comparable sense.’
HRSI president Denise Caleb says: ‘Organisations see this certification as a game-changer in regards to their ability to apply for contracts with D&I requirements. It enables to them to say our diversity and inclusion efforts have been measured – and we have baselines to which they can be compared for continuous improvement.’
The certification is ‘a guidebook to the way [companies] should approach D&I work,’ she says. ‘Prior to this, it wasn’t the case. Ten different businesses might be doing things completely differently – so this gives a new level of confidence that diversity and inclusion work is being done in a certain way – and is measured against international standards.’
The standard checks D&I principles are being applied throughout a business, with more than 40 factors considered, such as workforce planning practices; recruitment, performance management, succession planning, workforce mobility, remuneration and so on.
‘There are advantages to employees from working in a diverse environment, and it offers advantages for business because you get a different level and school of thought,’ she says. ‘It gives you different opportunities to expand your market, and an inclusive environment increases your ability to retain people because you create an environment where people feel like they belong.’
To attain certification, organisations must provide tangible evidence of what they’re doing and discuss this with HRSI assessors. They also need to demonstrate that they are making progress on an ongoing basis. To measure this, companies will be reviewed against year one in years two, three and four, with the re-certification cycle beginning in year five.
With 30 countries involved in the creation and launch of ISO HRM D&I standard and another 10 having joined since then, Caleb says the name of the standard varies depending on region.
Kutt says: ‘In some countries, you don’t perhaps have the ability to talk about some diversity topics legally, or to demonstrate that level of inclusivity as demonstrated in the US, for example. In Asia, they only recognise he/she elements of gender. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t still be doing the right things for all our team members.’
In practice, for companies operating across different countries, this means having broad umbrella policies and then ‘either amplifying or quietening the LGBTQ+ voice’ for the parts of diversity that are not applicable or legally available in a particular territory.
With the help of its team members, Silk Relo recently rewrote its mission, vision and values, placing diversity and inclusion as one of its guiding principles. Overall, the process of improving the firm is ongoing, says Kutt, and this requires continual questioning, identifying blindspots or areas for development.
‘It’s a neverending learning opportunity,’ she says. ‘There are always opportunities to recognise that we may not have had something in our view before. And now, with our measurable goals clearly defined in the space of D&I, we have key performance indicators to help measure our progress and how we’re doing.’
With the company employing suppliers in different countries with different cultural norms, it’s important, she adds, to distinguish between regulatory compliance, contractual compliance (what has been agreed in an RFP and contract negotiation), and behavioural compliance, or what the company expects of its staff.
Practically speaking, this means not excluding working with certain partners ‘because they don’t conform to something that might be a US-centric element’, but at the same time, ‘looking to honour the behaviours and the words that are part of our mission values’.
From the point of view of certification, Caleb says every government will have different approaches that mean they either accept or reject components of the standard. What therefore counts most, she says, is that companies are asking themselves the question ‘Are you reflective of the communities you serve?’ ‘That’s really the core,’ she says, ‘and that’s what we’re trying to measure against.’
Lim adds: ‘D&I is unique because, unlike the other ISO systems, it cuts across the human factor. And when you cut across the human factor within a country, you have different races, different beliefs and different cultures. Our customers want to know that we recognise this and honour those differences both internally and externally.’
Changing mindset is essential
Andreas Schaal says the key to improving diversity and inclusion across differing regions of the world is simply a willingness – on the part of companies and the individuals within them – to explore the issue to find out where biases sit. He was introduced to the international mindset change business, the Arbinger Institute, while working for Shell on an internal transformation and change project – and was so taken by its approach that, in 2017, when he left Shell, he became the COO of Arbinger South Africa.
According to Schaal, companies who want to change and become more diverse do so with top-down approaches, mostly focused on compliance. Those who are merely box ticking or attempting to force behavioural change on their staff with prescriptive training courses, are likely to fail. ‘What’s often missing is an understanding of the deeper behaviours that create or negate real inclusivity, which are an outgrowth of the deeper issue of mindset,’ he says.
Mindset is deep seated, socialised from childhood, and can be unconscious or conscious. He says it informs ‘the way we approach challenges, see opportunities and ideas and, importantly, the way we see people’. ‘Unless we address the mindset that drives our behaviours, no fundamental and lasting change is possible.’
Last year, the Arbinger Institute launched a programme that aims to help businesses and individuals challenge and change the underlying perceptions holding them back with regards to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Using real people’s stories, the programme invites, rather than mandates, people’s participation and encourages them to be curious, and open, and ‘to become alive to other people’. This is particularly powerful when applied to those they have previously regarded as ‘objects’, defined only with an attribute such as skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.
Going through the training can be profound, says Schaal. ‘I realised I had been socialised with the messages I received growing up. “You are the man of the house”; “you are the breadwinner”; “you need to find work that supports your family”; and so on. These have shaped some of the biases I have.’
He says: ‘So the image I tried to portray was that I am the man and therefore I carry the responsibility and need to be the one that makes the decisions. Even if, for example, my sisters came up with a better solution, I felt that because I am a man, everybody should listen to me. I felt like I was better than the women in my life, simply because of my gender.’
Such forces can work the other way, too, says Schaal, who through the course, realised he had been reflexively concealing a part of his heritage because he believed it made him inferior to others. Shining a light on it all, he says, is the way to true understanding, and deliberate action, whatever your background.
The approach can bring powerful results in unexpected places, he says. ‘I’ve had strong South African men, convinced of their beliefs, break down in tears, because for the first time in their lives they’ve actually started considering that the way they treat people at home and work is negative and that they themselves might be a part of the problem.’
While such revelations are vital breakthroughs, understanding your biases is only the beginning of the tough process of changing one’s mindset from fixed and inward-looking to open and outward-looking.
The approach is applicable across different cultures, says Schaal, with an emphasis on people getting involved on their own terms and understanding their own views in the context of the culture in which they live. ‘It invites us to consider our part in the problem – and then asks us if we want to do something about it, or continue blaming others for all the things that we feel should change,’ he says
For those who consider the mindset-focused approach intangible or ‘touchy feely’, Schaal deploys a powerful statistic. ‘McKinsey research shows any organisation that identifies and addresses pervasive mindsets at the outset are 400 per cent more likely to succeed in any kind of diversity and inclusion change than if you overlook this stage,’ he says.
To find out more about this approach to implementing change, read: The Anatomy of Peace (4th edition) by the Arbinger Institute.