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Gloria Johns headshot

Rohini Anand Shares How to Lead on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Worldwide

Rohini Anand discussed with 3p the challenges of managing an international workforce while suggesting how to incorporate diversity within the workplace.
By Gloria Johns

Twenty years ago, planning for a staff meeting probably didn’t require coordination between time zones. Today, it might still involve a bit of snappy dressing—from the waist up, that is. Or, it may be a commute of only a few steps to the home office rather than a white-knuckle, twenty-mile drive on a crowded freeway. Logistics and manner of dress may have changed, but employers still want a cohesive workforce.

In her new book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), Rohini Anand, PhD., discusses the unique challenges of managing an international work force and provides guidelines for developing a successful “way-of-work-life” that incorporates DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) into the workplace.

Anand’s inspiration for the book came from personal experience. When, as a young woman, she moved to North America from India for school, and eventually career opportunities, Anand found herself a minority for the first time in her life. Not only was she subject to disparate treatment as a woman and an Asian, but she also discovered unconscious cultural assumptions of her own, including relying on a single-culture worldview to inform her interactions with others. “I didn’t recognize the privilege of majority status that I enjoyed until I came to America and was subject to the opposite,” said Anand.

With a long CV of executive job titles, awards, podcasts, blogs and presentations, and having solidified her reputation as an expert on the subject, Dr. Anand developed five principles of change that global businesses can adopt in the area of DEI. Her research for the book included interviewing 65 leaders across various industries, and it’s heavy on specifics.

Five overarching principles provide a through line for leading global DEI transformation in divergent cultures:
The five overarching principles provide a through line for leading global DEI transformation in divergent cultures. Image credit: Rohini Anand

There are two chapters dedicated to each principle in her book, beginning with formalizing a global change strategy and understanding race and ethnicity. Further in the process, Anand speaks of transformational leadership and dealing with resistance.

That Anand specifically addresses issues such as resistance and the often-slow progress of advancing DEI through each stage, adds validity to her methods. The process isn’t easy, and she doesn’t pretend that it is.

It is this resistance to change and the search for shared attributes that complicates the process. Finding that common denominator makes the difference between the employee who is merely task-oriented, and the one who sees their time as an investment in the organization and themselves.

In light of the challenges of the global work setting, and taking full advantage of Dr. Anand’s expertise, TriplePundit asked Dr. Anand to answer some of the more difficult questions that most organizations will face.

3p: How do you assure equity for your employee in Vietnam and your employee in Alaska considering language differences, different environmental challenges and cultural peculiarities? What does equity look like in that scenario?

Anand: The company values are what guides how a company navigates cultural peculiarities, regardless of the part of the world. These values are about ensuring that the workplace is equitable and inclusive and where all systemic barriers have been removed so anyone, regardless of their identity can succeed.

Global work is most effective when there is a transversal strategy: a global framework of values and accountability but allowing for local execution.

If the global strategy is focused, for example, on the representation of women, the targets need to be cascaded with an understanding of the local contexts, allowing for different ways to achieve this outcome.

For example, in Thailand, men who are recruited are asked if they have wives or daughters who would like to work. Viewed through a one-dimensional western feminist lens, this would be unacceptable and patronizing. But in patriarchal cultures, it is important to get the family’s buy-in. With a one-dimensional approach, the women would not be able to work at all.

3p: In one of your podcasts, you say that “Ultimately transformation happens at the intersection of the personal and systemic.” Is it appropriate to expect personal transformation in the workplace?

Anand: That’s a big “yes.” Yes it is possible. To lead DEI with purpose and passion, leaders have to internalize the benefit of DEI to themselves and their organization. Often this requires a disruptive experience that triggers deep introspection and a shift in their world view.

3p: What is meant by your use of the phrase “moving from corporate statements to disruptive and sustainable actions.” How disruptive?

Anand: Giving money to social justice causes and making statements are a good start, but that's easy. Much harder is making sustainable changes to make the organization diverse, equitable and inclusive. The 5 Principles in the book provide a through-line to make sustainable change.

Organizations can make disruption of the status quo part of normalized conversations, even when it is not breaking news. What this means is that leaders need to eliminate the harmful practices that have benefitted some. To do that they have to recognize how they got to their positions.

To be disruptive, organizations need to take a bold stand on social justice issues. Consumers, employees and communities are expecting this.

3p: “We’re more divided than we ever were” is something you hear frequently from various sources. Is there an undercurrent of resistance to DEI in America today?

Anand: Yes, there is a backlash against diversity. When some in the majority feel threatened and left out of the DEI discourse, they are being vocal. This divisiveness is a reflection of our society and is spilling into organizations.

Organizations need to allow space for dialog from all sides with clear ground rules and they need to ensure that everyone feels [they are a] part of DEI.

However, organizations need to be clear about their values and ensure that there is no disrespect or discrimination of anyone.

In spite of the national climate of divisiveness, initiating or strengthening a sustainable DEI movement within an organization can positively impact people, planet and profit.

For information regarding the purchase of Dr. Anand’s book, or to request a speaking engagement, visit Dr. Anand’s website.

Image credit: Christina Morillo via Pexels

Gloria Johns headshot

Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.

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