Views from the EEOC
Global Diversity: The Next Frontier in Human Capital Management
In this increasingly global marketplace, more U.S. companies are committing resources and personnel overseas than ever before. Unofficial estimates indicate that between one and four million American citizens live and work abroad – a trend expected to continue unabated over the next several decades. For example, of the more than 180 U.S. companies surveyed in the recent "Global Relocation Trends Survey," 69 percent reported that their expatriate population had either stayed the same or increased.1 When asked to predict the expatriate activity for 2003, more than 37 percent predicted that their expatriate population would continue to grow. Can managing a global workforce pose new challenges in the area of equal employment opportunity? You bet – both at home and abroad. Global diversity promises to be the next frontier in human capital management, and savvy organizations know that managing a global workforce requires thoughtful, proactive approaches that give all workers an equal opportunity to succeed and contribute to the success of an organization.
American workers employed by U.S. companies overseas enjoy the same broad protections of the federal equal employment opportunity laws as their colleagues on the home front. That is, coverage under these laws travels with the employee. Organizations must ensure, therefore, that their expatriates work in an environment that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability. This responsibility can pose real challenges for any organization – both because of cultural differences in host countries and geographic distance between expatriates and their organization's home headquarters.
To help bridge the gap, expatriates should be familiar with – and have regular access to – the organization's non-discrimination policy and complaint procedures.
Both the policy and the complaint procedures should be re-distributed to expatriates periodically, and open lines of communications should be a business imperative.
Formal equal employment opportunity training will help ensure that expatriates understand both their rights and responsibilities under the policy and will reinforce the organization's commitment to equality of opportunity in all its operations worldwide. Crosscultural training can set the stage for more harmonious and productive employee relations in workplaces where U.S. citizens work alongside locals in the foreign host country.
Organizations also need to bear in mind that the federal equal opportunity laws govern the selection of candidates for global assignments and, therefore, such selections must be made without regard to an employee's race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, or disability (the only exception to this rule being the rare instance when compliance with the federal antidiscrimination laws would cause an organization to violate the laws of the foreign country where the workplace is located). Organizations would be wise to ensure that unlawful stereotypes and prejudices do not operate to exclude certain workers from such assignments.
Respondents in the "2002 Global Relocation Trends Survey" reported, for example, that only 18 percent of their expatriate populations were women. Unfounded stereotypes can sometimes underlie expatriate selection decisions, such as stereotypical assumptions that married women or women with children are not interested in global assignments or that women cannot work as effectively as men in foreign male-dominated cultures.
Ironically, some researchers are now finding the opposite is true – that women express the same level of interest as men in taking on global assignments and that the biggest barriers to women involving overseas assignments come from within their own organization rather than from cultural barriers in the host country.
In today's highly competitive global economy, organizations would be wise to ensure that the best talent the marketplace has to offer is represented on their global team. The most successful organizations in the new millennium will be those that take full advantage of the creative synergy that results from mobilizing the best and brightest individuals of both sexes and a variety of ages and backgrounds. By contrast, organizations that fail to harness the diversity of talent in the marketplace will find it increasingly more difficult to compete both nationally and internationally and will impair their own ability to attract and retain top talent. Organizations can ensure a return on their investment in a diverse expatriate team by making sure expatriates receive the on-going support and training they need to complete overseas assignments successfully.
This support and training should help expatriates navigate the cultural landscape of their host country and, when necessary, overcome cultural barriers.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing the federal equal employment opportunity laws both at home and abroad, we are also your workplace partner. The EEOC offers outreach, technical assistance and training on all of the federal employment discrimination laws. You will also find specific information on the application of the federal equal employment opportunity laws to U.S. workers overseas on our web site, including a recently published fact sheet titled, "Equal Employment Opportunity Responsibilities of Multinational Employers" and links to our enforcement guidance on the subject. For more information, please visit our web site at www.eeoc.gov.
Cari Dominguez is chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Equal Pay Act; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. To contact the EEOC, or to get further information about the Commission and the FTC Initiative, please visit the EEOC's website: www.eeoc.gov.
From the November/December 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®