It’s no secret that inclusive workplaces are better for employees and the bottom line. However, cultivating a culture-centric organization takes thought and planning, and when you lead a dispersed team, the challenges of creating inclusive work spaces are magnified.
When companies have offices in different geographic locations, it’s easy to become siloed, with each office focusing more on local concerns rather than the company as a whole. Fully remote employees can feel excluded, overlooked, and left out of important decisions. And when colleagues are in different countries, obstacles like inadequate technology, different time zones, varied languages, and unfamiliar cultural norms get in the way. How can champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ensure everyone – whether they work in person, remote, or hybrid – feels seen and included?
We spoke with DEI leaders at three multinational companies to discover what practices they’ve used to promote belonging for their geographically dispersed, culturally diverse teams.
Conquer logistics to host inclusive team-building events
By its nature, DEI programming has to be inclusive; everyone in the workplace should have equal opportunity to participate. But what if your workplace consists of 13 locations across North America and hundreds of employees, many of them working different shifts on different days? For its 2023 Black History Month celebration, organizers with Novozymes’ African American Culture Network for North America didn’t let complicated logistics get in the way of their inclusive event.
Novozymes, a biotechnology company headquartered in Denmark, focuses on research, development, and production of industrial enzymes, microorganisms, and biopharmaceutical ingredients. The company has operations around the world, including in China, India, Brazil, Argentina, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.
“Because we're a science company, we made a Periodic Table of Black History,” says Ellen King, Micro Lab Group Leader and DE&I Manager at Novozymes North America. “Instead of the elements on the Periodic Table we put the initials of famous African American authors, scientists, actors, actresses, singers, and inventors. Each space had a QR code that you could scan and read information about the person.”
The Periodic Table, which was displayed prominently at each North America location, also included spaces for Novozymes employees who had been with the company for 15 years or more. They had their own QR codes so everyone could get to know their colleagues a bit more.
Along with the educational component, the Black History Month event involved a catered lunch for employees across several locations. Food trucks and musicians helped everyone experience Black culture in a fun, approachable way. Along with supporting Black-owned businesses, the event allowed employees to enjoy a variety of cuisines from the African diaspora, like Haitian and Jamaican food. Employees across the continent were able to participate, at sites like Blair, Nebraska; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ottawa, Canada; Salem, Virginia; and the company’s North America headquarters in Franklinton, North Carolina. While people ate, trivia contests tested their knowledge of Black scientists, inventors, and other luminaries from the U.S. and Canada.
“A lot of times people fear what they don't know,” King says. “We tried to help people understand the culture, and one way to bring people together is food.”
Create belonging at work with everyday acts of inclusion and empathy
While big events get a lot of attention, a culture of belonging and respect is also built through many small acts of inclusion and empathy. Julie Rousseau, Director of People Management at Allegro MicroSystems, says something as simple as taking time to learn about another culture can strengthen a geographically dispersed team.
“Allegro is globally dispersed in several countries, and cultural awareness can be a challenge,” Rousseau says. “Respecting others and being patient are two really important qualities. Empathy plays a big part; listening skills are very important. DEI really comes down to treating people like human beings, treating people with respect, but understanding that not every human is like me.”
Allegro MicroSystems, headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire, is a global semiconductor leader in sensor and power integrated circuits and photonics. The technology company has design and applications centers located across the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and a manufacturing facility in the Philippines.
Rousseau describes an “eye-opening” experience during the company’s recent celebration of International Women’s Day. A company-wide forum was planned to discuss challenges women face in the workplace and efforts that Allegro was making to create equity, particularly its success in reaching gender pay equity. Standard practice for the company was to schedule two sessions: one for Europe and the Americas and another later in the evening for Asia. The morning event is usually held live and recorded for the later presentation; both have live question-and-answer sessions.
In contrast, the two Women’s Day presentations were both held live. The morning session went off as expected, but Rousseau was surprised by the Asian audience’s level of participation during the second session.
“When I've attended those forums at night, because I'm on the Q&A panel, they’re quiet. The Asian teams are reluctant to ask questions, and sometimes there are almost none,” Rousseau says. “This time, when we held the session for Asia, they were so talkative. They were so excited to celebrate the day, and the women were almost put on a pedestal. It was a whole different experience than just being there for them when they heard a recording.”
“I think they felt loved, if I can say that, because it was a live session for them. They were not an afterthought; they were the main attraction,” she adds.
It was important that the second presentation was equal to the first, but more importantly, the Asian audience appreciated that company leadership and the event organizers made the extra effort to hold a second event, just for them. The small act of inclusion and empathy drove engagement.
Support Employee Resource Groups as safe spaces to gather and learn
When thinking about cultivating belonging on dispersed teams, it’s often helpful to adopt initiatives that have already been shown to boost employee engagement. Danielle David, Chief People Officer at CRB, says investing in employee resource groups (ERGs) has enabled the company to engage people around common interests across geographic locations.
“They provide such great outlets for our employees. Many of the ERGs do what we call community conversations, where they discuss different topics and people dial in remotely. It's just a safe space for people to gather, to talk, and to learn,” David says. “They've been really positively received.”
CRB is a full-service facility design, engineering, construction and consulting firm for the life sciences and food & beverage industries. It has locations in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Germany.
The many disruptions of 2020, including the murder of George Floyd and the global pandemic, caused CRB to rethink how it was caring for its employees, cultivating an inclusive workplace culture, and creating a sense of belonging. The company soon identified ERGs as a mechanism for employee engagement. It adopted a framework for how to form ERGs, pledged financial resources, and provided other support as needed to employees who wished to establish ERGs. A racial equity group and an LGBTQ+ group formed fairly quickly. An informal women at CRB group already existed, so to establish some structure and align it with the other ERGs, a formal charter was created and objectives were set. Today, CRB also has an ERG for young professionals.
“The community conversations hosted by the ERGs have been really impactful. I've heard so much good feedback from people who are sitting in those conversations,” David says. “Our ERGs have been valuable for our employees and really have brought a good, strong sense of connection to a lot of our folks.”
Employee resource groups are a proven way for companies to cultivate belonging and inclusion, but the key to any successful DEI initiative is the support of leaders like King, Rousseau, and David. While their varied strategies have been matched to the goals and operation of their companies, each has placed belonging, inclusion, and employee engagement among their top priorities.
Building strong globally dispersed teams is much like cultivating any other high-performing team – the key is inclusive, empathetic leadership. TDM LeaderView enables leadership teams to identify, sustain, and build the core competencies needed to navigate change, develop a culture of collaboration, and enhance productivity. For global teams, in particular, the specific efforts at strengthening cultural competence have led to better group dynamics, ultimately fostering efficiency and creativity. Whether your workforce is in-person or geographically dispersed, TDM LeaderView can help leaders and their teams work better together. Contact us today for more information.