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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across cultures: key takeaways from our webinar

12th Feb 2021

On 26 January 2021, Creative Culture’s webinar on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across cultures looked to explore new perspectives from four different countries: Brazil, Japan, South Africa and the US. Our panelists, Kohtaro Kosugiyama, Pepper Miller, Seth Naicker and Ana Julieta Teodoro Cleaver shared their brilliant insights. Here are the key takeaways.

Marcomms as the incubator

It isn’t news that our industry has a lot of work to do in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. But given the central role of comms within organisations both with inward-facing and outward-facing stakeholders, we can actually play a critical part in promoting and normalising inclusive behaviour, using inclusive language and ensuring that DEI doesn’t become a box ticking exercise.

Brands play a vital role

Uniqlo has been leading the way in Japan. While the country is not particularly demographically diverse, the brand has been pushing for more diversity by rolling out adverts with different models from different ethnic backgrounds, thus challenging the traditional Japanese perception of beauty. 

In Japan, it’s not a question of whether diversity is here or not: the question should be if diversity has been acknowledged, embraced or not in the community. But the Japanese public isn’t asking the question yet. – Kohtaro Kosugiyama, Head of SDGs at The Adecco Group Japan

One size doesn’t fit all

Pushing the DEI agenda across international markets without considering local cultural sensitivities can lead to pushback and damaging consequences.

Nike’s recent The future isn’t waiting campaign is an example of the tricky terrain brands can come up against. It featured three young students experiencing racial discrimination in Japan and was received with mixed reactions. While the initial commentary online supported the concept of the campaign in a country where the focus on diversity and inclusion is minimal, those with more traditional anchored roots fought back as it unveiled complex historic and cultural references. A large part of the audience felt offended that such a sensitive topic was being brought to light, especially by a Western brand.

Furthermore, one of the actors was North Korean, which touched a deep political nerve running throughout Japan: there were multiple abductions of Japanese citizens from Japan by agents of the North Korean government during the years 1977 to 1983, so some felt that the ad overlooked an important historical context and dishonoured the memory of those lost to the kidnappings. With the best of intentions, a lack of cultural understanding will ultimately mean going two steps backwards rather than one step forward.

So how can businesses successfully implement DEI processes across international markets?

Know your markets

A staggered approach and setting specific KPIs per market that take into account the local cultural landscape are key to success. A logical first step is to gather insights on the local markets and identify the key topics to prioritise. DEI is a very broad topic and the range of experiences and key issues are likely to differ hugely across countries. 

  1. Reach out to local experts: they will be able to help you assess the current situation to define your strategy in each market.

If you are planning to roll out a global parental leave policy, it might be good for you to know that there is a stigma in some countries around men taking that leave. Japan, for example, has one of the most generous parental leaves: 52 weeks for men. Yet only 6.18% of new fathers took that leave in 2018, due to a fear of being judged and uncertainty on revenue generated during the period of time taken off. The government’s objective for 2020 was 13%: not only did they know they were unlikely to succeed but they also knew they could not expect anymore than that.

  1. Involve your internal teams by launching surveys (preferably in a pulse format) and organise interviews with key stakeholders to establish how your global framework will require localising and therefore design it with that in mind. Besides, what better way to promote inclusive behaviour than by involving the wider teams in the ideation of your policy and strategy?

“I” is for invitation

I think of Diversity as a variety of people. Inclusion is about the I for the Invitation: to be invited into the room, to have a seat at the table and to have your voice heard. Diversity and Inclusion should lead to Equity: equal opportunities for advancement, promotion, pay. – Pepper Miller, President, The Hunter-Miller Group

Diversity on its own is not enough: everyone should also feel included and welcomed to join the conversation and contribute, in order to create equal opportunities for all. And culture should also be part of the equation: by being aware of the local nuances, you will be able to develop DEI policies that truly invite everyone to the table, in line with local expectations, and not push a global agenda that excludes some populations.

Be authentic in your inclusivity

Integrate your DEI framework within your current corporate culture and values. A sudden 180 degree shift could be seen as a superficial effort to comply with expectations and quotas. This is a marathon, not a race and taking the time to truly think through a strategy that is true to your company’s values and considerate of the different local markets involved, will lead to real effective change and results in the long run.  

Diversity and inclusion should not be about publicity, but about actual policies that power inclusive behaviours in companies and social responsibility building a more just society, because it benefits us all. Senior leaders of local and global companies are accountable for that.Ana Julieta Teodoro Cleaver, Public Policy and Management Officer at the Brazilian Ministry of Economy

A step-by-step approach to mindset change

What seems like the right thing to do, from a Western perspective, is not necessarily the case in all local markets. While there is a lot of merit in trying to help countries with more restrictive or conservative views to open up, ultimately it is all about finding the best way in and getting your message across.

You cannot expect one initiative to change mindsets that have taken hundreds or thousands of years to shape. Instead, call upon the right experts in each country to understand the endemic challenges, the reasons for each and how you can best get your message across, perhaps working in phases. What can seem like baby steps will get you much further than trying to push hard and get pushback in return.

Diversity might be about the number game, but what’s the use if you are just balancing the number game, calling people diversity or equity candidates, yet they don’t feel the belonging of inclusion and equitable human engagement and dignity. – Seth Naicker, Managing Director, indiAfrique training & development

Agree on different sets of KPIs per market with local stakeholders

In order to be successful in your approach, you will also need to set KPIs to measure your progress. Think of working collaboratively with local stakeholders to set up different objectives per country or region, as they might not be at the same level of maturity, and implement different timeframes, staggering them per market.

To create a global DEI strategy that covers all regions, it’s very important to have the global strategy as the milestone, and the local strategies as the concrete actions that can be taken. Global strategies shouldn’t be about telling each country what they should do, it should be for each market to decide. – Kohtaro Kosugiyama, Head of SDGs at The Adecco Group Japan


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