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August 14, 2013For the final installment of our three-part series, Catalyst’s Global Issues Specialty Team (GIST) invited three cross-cultural experts to discuss dimensions of diversity. In Part 1, we asked our experts to share how business managers can successfully adapt when working in another culture. In Part 2, we discussed managing cross-cultural teams in one’s home country. Below, we discuss talent management across cultures.

Catalyst’s latest research shows that women are less likely than men to be asked to take on high-profile, global relocation assignments. What can women do to secure these positions, and how can companies support women who wish to do so?

Andrew MolinskyAndy Molinsky is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. He is the author of the book Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process (HBR Press, 2013).

If this is what the research shows, that’s a bit depressing! It seems less about changing behavior than about changing attitudes—in particular, outdated attitudes about who is fit to take on a high-profile global relocation assignment. But here’s the good news: since global dexterity is something people can learn, we can work hard to educate and train those women who are chosen for global assignments so that they are as successful as possible. That way, over time, their success can help pave the way for future generations. 

What considerations and adjustments should a company keep in mind to successfully acknowledge, adapt, and leverage diversity programs (including networks, mentoring/sponsorship, and leadership training) in regions outside of its home country?

Cornelius GroveCornelius N. Grove and Willa Z. Hallowell are the partners of GROVEWELL LLC.

This question is grounded in the assumption that, if we consider how best to adjust our “home culture” approaches, then our diversity programs will be embraced in other regions, leading to the changes that we deem desirable.

Is this thinking occurring only in the headquarters’ nation? It appears that the recipients of our desired changes have no voice. Isn’t all this effort about diversity and inclusion?

Willa HallowellDiversity programs exported to other countries entail two dilemmas. The first is ethical.   Diversity programs advocate respect and tolerance for the values and ways of life of others.  But consider this: people in other countries and cultures have time-honored ways of managing intergroup relationships. These traditions arise from unique historical contexts, yielding behaviors toward subgroups that authentically express local norms and values.

What are we advocating? We’re advocating that everyone show respect and tolerance for local norms and values. Does “everyone” include us? Apparently not. For if “everyone” included us, we’d be role-modeling respect and tolerance instead of being bearers of change for distant others via our home-grown diversity programs. 

The second dilemma is practical. Diversity programs are grounded not only on the assumption that they are morally good, but also on the assumption that they lead to improvements in overseas productivity. But this is not necessarily the case. Urging people to make fundamental changes in the deep norms and values shared within their societies, and in their daily behavior, is at least as likely to be profoundly upsetting as it is to be a productivity enhancer. What often happens among some target groups abroad is that employees go through the motions of acquiescing…but in the end, few deep values or behaviors are transformed.

Two questions to ask ourselves: what would “diversity and inclusion” look like if it were to encompass our respecting other people’s solutions to their internal relationship issues? And what would be our reaction if representatives from a distant country came here and began instructing us on how to improve our relationship patterns?