International Diversity Strategies: Diversity Matters Everywhere

When considering diversity strategies, I am reminded of a project I did a few years ago. The project looked at strategies from different countries (in this case, Sweden and Norway in particular) which were designed to increase the number of women in executive or board member positions. It was interesting that, while considering that these two countries are quite similar in terms of ideology and efforts to be inclusive, they took very different approaches to the issue.

The approach in Sweden is meant to institutionalize inclusion from the beginning. Equality is taught to children in school, and the culture and values of the country support this equal treatment. This “softer” approach requires companies to have programs (primarily mentorship programs) which support the inclusion of women, but are not required to meet certain quotas. Currently Sweden is applying this same approach to diversity with visible minorities, sponsoring cultural sensitivity workshops, and taking a strong stance against discrimination.

Conversely, Norway took what could be considered a “hard” approach. In 2005, the government in Norway instituted a gender quota. The law required that for most boards, women must make up 40 per cent of the board directors, with a 2008 deadline for compliance. This law was initially met with strong resistance, but the majority of companies did comply (non-compliance would result in dissolution of a board, so they had quite a bit of motivation).

Looking at the results now, Norway does lead significantly in the percentage of women in their boardrooms. In Sweden, women represent about 25 percent of board members, while in Norway women represent closer to 37 percent.

As well, a study by the Northwestern Journal of International Law and Business has recently deemed the project in Norway a success, where the increased number of women in the boardroom has led to “more focused and strategic decision making, increased communication, and decreased conflict”.  The study concluded that quotas are the only proven method of increasing the number of women in boards, and should be considered in Canada.

But does Canada truly have an issue with boardroom diversity? Studies in Montreal and Toronto think that they do, but not necessarily as much with women as with visible minorities. Canada has followed a similar path to that of Sweden, and has achieved similar results. In Toronto, women account for about 28 percent of leadership roles, while in Quebec they represent about 31 percent. However when you look at visible minorities, the numbers become extremely low.

In the Greater Toronto Area, female visible minorities account for 2.6 percent of all leaders, yet they make up 25 per cent of the overall population. Similarly in Quebec, 5.9 percent of leaders are visible minorities of either gender, while making up 22.5 per cent of the population. These numbers represent a significant lack of visible minorities in leadership positions.

It seems that in Canada there is a strong case for the quota approach, especially in the case of visible minorities. However within a company the best option to increase diversity (and reap the benefits of doing so) is to ensure that the corporate culture is aligned with valuing diversity. This involves promoting awareness of different cultures and values, and encouraging employees to consider the worldviews of those in different cultures. Supporting diversity is most often done through training or mentoring programs, but it is important to ensure that the goals that are being demonstrated are also reflected in the corporate culture.

Achieving diversity is not an end, but rather a means to an end; the goal is to increase a company’s competitiveness and creativity through diversity by empowering all employees to contribute, regardless of race or gender. I think if we consider diversity in this way, we can see that corporate diversity strategies are truly necessary. The success in Norway is a good example of how a balanced team can result in a better corporate future.

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