Finding Your Place In The World

Global diversity has become a corporate catchphrase. But does the concept of inclusion mean exclusion of African American workers in the U.S.?

When the CEO of Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG offered to promote Michelle Gadsden-Williams from head of diversity in the U.S. to vice president and global head of diversity and inclusion, it meant having to move thousands of miles away to the company headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. It took her only 24 hours to accept.

“My husband, David, and I talked a lot about the likelihood of working and/or living abroad on several occasions prior to the opportunity actually being presented to me,” explains Gadsden-Williams. “So we talked about it overnight, David decided to give up his 20-year career at AT&T so I could realize my goals, and we began preparing to actually making the move.”

After accepting the position in June 2006, Gadsden-Williams commuted to Switzerland every other week until moving to Europe last January, where she is now responsible for developing strategies that integrate diversity and inclusion into all aspects of the business from consumer marketing to talent recruitment.

From concept to implementation, many companies still grapple with how to successfully create an environment that is diverse and inclusive. But the mechanics are not the only issue today. The definition of diversity also seems to be changing. For decades the focus had been on recruitment efforts and talent management programs related to African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color as an effort to create not only equal opportunity but a more vibrant and competitive organization. Even though corporations concentrated on race, those issues helped open the doors for discussions on gender, age, and most recently sexual orientation and gender identity.

Today, however, the competitive field is global and the work environment is broader and much more expansive-and so are the efforts to attract and retain the best and the brightest for a given job. The definition of diversity has expanded to include different cultures, communication styles, educational backgrounds, and work styles. Chief diversity officers are now charged with the role of plucking potential employees from a wider pool of candidates in order to remain competitive and help boost their company’s bottom line. “The reality is that a greater percentage of the revenue of major corporations is coming from outside of the U.S.,” explains Ron Adderley, vice president of consulting for Minneapolis-based ProGroup Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in diversity and inclusion work. “So that means companies have no choice but to be paying attention to what is going on in the world and making certain that whatever their products and services are that they really conform to the needs of different groups of people.”

Adds Adderley: “The best way to do that is to have people who are in your organization that clearly understand the culture, the needs, and that have the awareness of what it takes to be successful operating in different parts of the world, and sometimes that means going outside of the U.S. to find people who can make that happen.”

So, what does all this mean for African Americans and other people of color? Will they be casualties of

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