How can a company bring in diverse people and get them to work together effectively?
Paulo Bolgar shared Baxter Latin America’s experience in developing “inclusion” at the 2010 kickoff of WorldCity’s HR Connections series, a breakfast meeting attended by more than two dozen human resource directors and managers working for multinationals in the Miami area.
Some lessons learned: Involve top leadership upfront. Make clear to all how “inclusion” helps the company grow and profit. And start teaching staff about those benefits first, before trying to recruit and promote more diverse people, said Bolgar, HR vice president in Latin America for the healthcare giant.
“One of the big problems we found is that everyone is very busy,” Bolgar said. “And their question is: ‘How does this add value to my business?’ If you can link inclusion to business results, you have much greater attention. And our link: If you have different people and ideas and involve different customers, we can create more products and more ideas and new customers.”
Baxter, a pharmaceutical and medical device maker with more than 45,000 employees worldwide, began pursuing inclusion on a global scale in 2008. In 2009, it held nine focus groups in Latin America to develop the program regionally. Bolgar facilitated talks, involving a wide range of staff from diverse business functions and locations and of different ages, gender, ethnicities and social classes.
The task was tough. Many staffers had no idea what inclusion was, Bolgar said. Even after his team distributed materials to read, some focus group members came to meetings and asked if new salary raises and benefits could be “included” in the compensation package.
But the focus groups uncovered key issues. For example, they found in Latin America, inclusion often faced different hurdles than in the United States or elsewhere, often focusing more on class and education levels than say, race or age. Also, awareness of the disabled tended to lag.
Now comes the hard part: implementation. Bolgar said Baxter Latin America aims to bring women into senior leadership in proportion to their ranks. Women now account for about 60 percent of staff in the region but just 40 percent of leaders. The company also seeks to hire more of the disabled, he said.
Implementing “inclusion” is far easier said than done, HR managers at the breakfast agreed.
Howard McCarley of resort company Club Med said ingrained corporate attitudes can undermine newer efforts towards diversity. Many organizations “kind of expect people to live for the company after a certain level of management,” neglecting work-life balance, he said. That culture hurts chances for women to move up the ranks. Men in power may chide: “We can’t really promote her, because she’s not willing to work 60 hours a week,” said McCarley, talent director for North America.
Miriam Urquiaga, who works for Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion, said companies may also need to back up inclusion programs with investments. “Do you provide child car facilities on site, for example?”
Carlos Hernandez of American Airlines said employees also need clear channels to raise inclusion issues with management. At American, those channels include authorized “affinity” groups, such as U.S. Hispanic, gay and “Generation Now.” When management recently sought to ban iPhones at work, the younger employees balked, saying “This is what we use.” The airline relented, eager to keep communications flowing among its employees, said Hernandez, managing director for international HR for Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Cultural norms and traditions outside the company also weigh on internal efforts, managers added.
Cindy Oliver, of Miami-based telecom company Terremark Worldwide, said women in Latin America typically have not been encouraged to pursue math and sciences. So, technology companies operating in the region often find it hard to recruit enough women. Terremark’s staff in Latin America includes roughly 80 percent men and 20 percent women, the HR director said.
Carlos Ariza of insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida noted that measuring success also can be tricky. His company looks at diversity efforts against the background of its community, so a majority Hispanic area such as Miami would seek a workforce more representative of its area. The proportions for staffing would vary widely by market, said Ariza, director of international markets.
Bolgar said Baxter’s experience shows the importance of early buy-in by senior managers and upfront education for all employees to tackle the myriad challenges and extend diversity beyond just hiring. “It’s not just bringing in diverse people,” Bolgar said. “It’s learning how to work with them.”