Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Building a Diverse Workforce

"Infosys to Hire 300 US Grads"

"Infosys to hire from European Universities"

"Infosys Technologies said on Friday that it was recruiting 30 interns from 17 European technology and business schools as part of its Global Internship Programme — InStep.
"We firmly believe that the future success of Infosys lies in its ability to create an environment that is open to people from different nationalities and ethnicities," -- Infosys Chairman Narayana Murthy

"Talent is imperative in today's economy and the increase in globalisation means the competition for global talent is rife. At Infosys, we recognise the importance to invest in skills globally and provide opportunity for future business leaders to understand the changing dynamics of a flat world." -- Mr Nandan M. Nilekani, CEO, Infosys Technologies.

Above statements are the leading indicators that companies have a need to build a globally diverse work force. As companies expand abroad, they will need people with diverse skill sets and with deep knowledge of doing business in those countries. Employees from home country - say India for example will never be able to match the deep knowledge on Brazilian business by a Brazilian. This makes it essential for companies to hire talent from other countries.

Global IT giants such as IBM and Accenture have already built a multiethnic, multinational, multicultural work force. Indian IT companies are now starting to do the same. In my previous article I had written the benefits of having a diverse work force at all levels. In this article, lets explore the challenges of creating a diverse work force from the Indian perspective. (Also applicable to newly global/multinational companies)

Newly Global Firms

Companies that have traditionally operated in only one country or in one cultural geography - i.e., Europe, South Asia, Central America etc., had a uniform workforce. A vast majority of employees were from the similar background - same religion, culture, speak same language etc. But as companies expand abroad and go global - the demographics of its work force needs to change. Company’s need for talent and desire to hire the best - will force companies to look for people beyond their national boundaries.

India itself has a diverse group of people: Different Religions, Languages, Ethnicity and lifestyles. India is home to 50+ languages and 200+ dialects. India probably has all the world’s religions represented and also has people from almost all ethnicity (African, Caucasian, Aryan, Dravidian, Chinese, Polynesian). Yet a workforce of Indians alone is not enough. Firms will need people from other nationalities too.

A good thing about India though is that the country and its culture has been diversity friendly. This creates a suitable base for Indian firms to create a globally diverse workforce. A diverse work force can create diverse ideas which are superior and that can provide competitive advantages.

The challenge for the companies is to manage this diversity. The company will now have to create an environment that is based on appreciation and respect to different ideas, different points of view, different opinions - and at the same time minimize friction within the organization. Once a reputation of being "diversity friendly" organization is created, it becomes easier to attract talent from other nations and thus create a perpetually diverse organization. Thus a well managed diverse work force can create new growth opportunities and innovation that the organization had never imagined before.


The benefits of diversity are not instantaneous. Diversity creates differences and this differences often mean conflicts. I remember my days at Texas A&M University - where people from different countries tended to form their own groups and these groups could not get along easily with each other. The same is applicable to the work force within a company.

Differences in communication styles, work attitudes, or behavior can create friction within teams - and when these differences are not controlled, it can cripple a team. Research has found that a diverse teams often go through an extended period of time in the storming phase ( I am referring to 5 stages of team formation). It becomes important and essential for the management and team leaders to take concentrated efforts to integrate the team.

Managing diversity creates one of the biggest challenges to any organization - The need for skilled managers who can integrate diverse teams. Managers who skilled at this are not easy to find - and therefore existing managers have to be trained in diversity skills: Ability to mediate disagreements, ability to put down any form of intolerance, ability to understand different cultures and speak different languages.

These global mangers are very difficult to find - let alone hire.

To make diversity succeed, a strong and committed leadership is needed. These leaders who are from top management must understand the benefits of diversity. They must be committed to create a diverse workforce - by creating suitable staffing strategy and cultural integration plans.

Leaders must be able to standup to these beliefs and demonstrate their appreciation to different ideas. The best way to have such a leadership is to create a diverse leadership.
A weak leadership or if leaders show any signs of favoritism, inter-group fights will reign which results in low morale and high employee turnover. And over a period of time if the problem is not corrected, the company loses its image and that can turn away customers and potential good employees.

For example, Dillards - a departmental store in US was hit with racial discrimination within its work force. And when the news came out in public, sales dropped 8-10% points.

Integrating a diverse work force

Integrating a diverse work force is not easy neither it is instantaneous. Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Accenture etc., have created a high performing global work force by taking a series of steps over an extended period of time. The same will hold true for Indian firms.

The first and the most essential step in creating diversity is to have commitment from the top leadership. Leaders of the company should wholeheartedly endorse diversity and should also create a diversity in the leadership cadre. For example take a look at the leadership team (VP and above) at Intel, it consists of people from multiple countries - India, China, USA, Europe etc. The same holds true for IBM and Accenture.

Second step is to replicate this diversity in all levels of the organization starting from the top. This implies that the company will now need a global staffing strategy. Few firms have gone to the extent of having a policy that mandates it to have at least one woman, one racial minority employee in each level of the organization. Recently, my wife got an offer as Sr. Account Manager - because the president of the company wanted to have at least one woman account manager.

The third step is to set target for the entire organization. Targets for every group/division within the company in terms of workforce diversity has to be set. This will mobilize the middle management to take proactive steps to create a diverse work force. This should be followed by having a suitable employee rotation program - wherein employees are encouraged to work in different locations and with different sets of teams (these teams are diverse teams). A well crafted work rotation program can create a truly integrated diverse work force.

When I was working in Intel as Full Chip Integration lead, I had to work with people from multiple ethnicity, cultures and nationalities - and deliver results against a set target. The need to achieve targets will overpower any cultural differences between team members.

The similar example can be seen at US universities which have substantial foreign students. Most universities will have an International Student Day - where students from all foreign countries will join hands and present a cultural show. I learnt to appreciate and cook Ethiopian and Turkish food in one such event.

A important process in cultural integration is to have formal training classes for all employees. It is essential to have formal classes which explain different cultures and tell people why certain people behave the way they do. All employees must attend these training programs and these training programs must be held regularly.

Closing Thoughts

Diversity is not a case of representation of different nationalities or ethnicities. It is a process of creating greater wealth through increased creativity and productivity. Consistent internal communication and employee education is vital to gain support of all the stake holders.

In the early stages, promoting diversity is a sensitive issue among the employees. In Indian context, it may be confused with reservation or in American context it may be confused for affirmative action. And this can create a serious heartburn among existing employees. Care must be taken to explain the need, benefits and plans to create a diverse workforce. Ensure that the current employees have understood the management's plan to create a diverse workforce.

Create a diverse workforce at all levels of the organization. This involves having training programs, a recruitment strategy, and building a cadre of diversity aware managers.

Finally, creating a diverse workforce takes time. Reaping benefits of this diverse workforce takes even longer time. The company management and leadership must not lose focus and interest in creating a diverse workforce - due to the lack of immediate returns.

Also See:

  1. Leadership & Diversity
  2. Why have International work experience?
  3. Global Manager
  4. Women's day: A brief history and Implication to firms
  5. Developing a Global Mindset
  6. Leadership for a Global Enterprise
  7. Global Product Development Teams
  8. Value of International Work Experience
  9. Global Careers and Culture Shock
  10. Role of Leadership in Team building
  11. Building a company of Leaders
  12. International Staffing Strategy


nagarjun said...

Mr.Arun you have a done a brilliant job in illustrating work force diversity in companies...!!! Keep up the good work!!
Can i have ur email id or any other contact info so that i can keep in touch with you??


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