Race and Colorism Alive and Too Well

by Andrés T. Tapia –39748906GlobalForum_50_150dpi

(The following article was originally published in Diversity Executive.)

Today, after nearly a decade of denial that race still makes a difference in
the United States, the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged in response to the shootings of unarmed black men Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and Walter Scott is not letting the country sweep race back under the carpet.

But the United States is not the only country that must reckon with the unfinished business of racism. Despite protestations by locals, race and colorism continue to play an inordinate role in social exclusion in Europe, Latin America, and Asia where people are unwilling to admit that skin color still plays a role in marginalizing those of darker hue.


Europe struggles with a dearth of darker skinned leaders in the corporate world. In various European countries I have worked in and visited, Europeans’ self-image of their own egalitarianism flies in the face of deep housing and social segregation.

This is evidenced by the low-income neighborhoods of North Africans and Muslims surrounding Paris who in the past decade have erupted in violent protest against racial inequality. The Council of Europe just this year released a report titled “France: Persistent Discrimination Endangers Human Rights.” But race is difficult to talk about not only qualitatively but also quantitatively since a law was passed in 1978 that specifically banned the collection and computerized storage of race-based data.

In 2014, according Spanish advocacy group Movement Against Intolerance, of the 1,285 hate crimes reported to police across Spain, 37 percent were motivated by race. In the United Kingdom, the amount of those who self-report that they have some prejudice has risen to 30 percent in 2014 from 25 percent in 2001, according to an article in The Guardian titled “Racism on the Rise in Britain.”

These headwinds must be in play when considering a report by an organization called “Business in the Community,” which focuses on specific aspects of campaigning on diversity. It shows that less than 1 in 15 ethnic minority workers in the U.K. hold a management position.


According to the 2013 World Values Survey, 43.5 percent of Indian respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race and, according to 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland, 27 percent of Indians still practice caste untouchability, the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate.

In a 2013 study by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg, 1 in 2 Singaporean residents do not have close friends from another race, and only 71 percent of Singaporean Chinese believe it is a good thing that Singapore is made up of people of different racial groups. This correlates with the fact that 1 in 10 Indian and Malay respondents (the largest minorities in Singapore) perceived being treated worse than other races when using public and other services.

Latin America

Various Latin American countries will bristle at the notion that racism may be at play in their societies. Yet, there is an unmistakable pattern: The darker one’s skin is, the lower they tend to be on the socioeconomic ladder.

In Brazil, which is about 50 percent black or mixed race, there is a lack of black representation among executives, senior managers, and managers. Spend time in the business district of Faria Lima, and they are not evident. Even at a recent corporate diversity conference by a reputable global diversity and inclusion organization, the highly committed participants from major corporations could not muster racial diversity even in the most token of ways.

Despite protestations that skin color does not matter, why does Brazilian Portuguese have a Crayola-like color scheme with 134 different terms to capture different skin color gradations? These gradations don’t just make for interesting conversation; they make an economic difference.

According to a BBC report, “on average, white and Asian Brazilians earned twice as much as black or mixed-race Brazilians … black Brazilians are much more likely to be poor and rarely reach the top levels of business or politics.”

The Work Ahead

Between the realities of racial profiling on the streets, to rising prejudice and distrust of those of darker skin, and the continued dearth of people of color in leadership positions, where does this leave diversity practitioners? That even as we rightly broaden the definitions of diversity to be about myriad dimensions of difference, race wherever we look — whether we like it — still matters.

TEDxIndianapolis Talk: Why Diversity is Upside Down

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Why is diversity upside-down and how do we with what that means for our lives and our companies? Check out my recent TEDx Talk in Indianapolis, IN. I explore just how much our world’s hyper-diversity has affected practically every aspect of our lives – in our personal relationships, in our communities, and in our companies.



The Metamorphosis of Global Diversity

iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchasedby Andrés T. Tapia –

In recent months, I’ve given in to my global wanderlust. In November, it was immersion in São Paulo, Brazil for our Diversity Best Practices Global Member Conference. In December, it was homecoming, visiting family in my native Peru.

There’s nothing like jet lag, the cacophony of different languages, new and childhood taste experiences, and newspaper headlines not about fiscal cliffs and sequesters to freshen up one’s perspective—and prompt these few thoughts on the state of global diversity today.

Global diversity continues to accelerate its rise in importance and, with that, it’s metamorphosing into something much more multidimensional and unexpected than the first wave of exported Made-in-USA diversity.

Take, for instance, three different invitations I have received in the past six months. The U.S. subsidiary of a Belgium-headquartered company calls asking for help on building out its diversity strategy. Then, a German company calls seeking help with getting its American affiliate to come up with a U.S. response to their global diversity imperative because they are behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. And last year, a Korean multinational asked me to present to 500 company leaders from all over the world on how they can be more inclusive in the various countries it is expanding to, from Vietnam to India to the USA.  

This is all part of a trend of non-U.S.-based multinational companies making diversity an imperative—not only in their countries of origin but throughout the globe. Now Not-Made-in-USA diversity accountabilities are adding to the rising calls-to-action that an increasing number of American business leaders are facing regarding diversity and inclusion.

This is just one way in which diversity is changing globally. A few others:

  • To be a woman is to be rising in opportunities. Women’s advancement is the most frequently cited diversity issue today. It’s the one global diversity issue that arises on all continents as the common and urgent issue we must address now. The challenges are often the same regardless of country. From Chicago to Shanghai, women are pressing to fulfill their ambitions for leadership positions and a growing number in profit and loss roles. And women, at all levels of the organization, no matter where in the world, yearn, fret, and fight for work life flexibility.
  • Socioeconomic disparities are masking the realities of colorism. The United States isn’t the only country facing race and class disparities. In a host of countries, societies are stratified based on one’s economic status. Yet, in countries such as India, Brazil, and Peru those with darker skin are more likely than their fairer counterparts to be members of the lower socioeconomic classes. This is far from a coincidence. While there’s a great deal of denial about this reality, it’s true that in many countries a preference for those of a lighter hue is blocking access to educational and employment opportunities for a significant percentage people. Until countries where colorism prevails recognize the impact of this form of discrimination, companies in these countries will continue to struggle to have true diversity in the workforce.
  • Millennials are civilization’s first global cohort. Whether they grew up in South Africa, Egypt, Romania, Laos, or Venezuela, many members of this generation shared the reality of growing up digitally and interconnected to the rest of the world. Global terrorism, global recession, global warming, and global social media have meant a common experience in many formative ways of how the world works. When a billion go “Gangnam Style” around the world in a matter of weeks, when the Arab Spring inspires Occupy Wall Street (and not vice versa), and when the Twitter-nation transcends all borders with 500 million users (making it the third largest population in the world), an unprecedented shared upbringing across the world’s 24 time zones is in the making.
  • Employment gains for people with disabilities. While in the United States the Americans with Disabilities Acts made it the law to make workplaces physically accessible to those with disabilities, there is a growing global trend to actually make it the law to employ those with disabilities. Brazilian law stipulates that depending on the size of your employee base, 2 percent to 5 percent of your workers must be people with disabilities. On Christmas Day 2012, a similar law went into effect in Peru. And in the United States, the Federal Government has put into place guidelines that those doing business with the government must have 7 percent of employees be people with disabilities.
  • LGBT rights on the march. The wall of resistance around LGBT rights is tumbling in countries across the globe. In 2009, the high court in New Delhi, India struck down the law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal. In 2010, Mexico City and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage while Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay all started to recognize same-sex relationships, such as civil unions. This is an enormous gain for the LGBT community in Latin America, which has long been characterized by its strong Catholic roots and machismo undertones. And putting an exclamation point on the importance of worldwide LGBT rights, in 2011, President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that LGBT rights would be a criteria for whether a country will receive U.S. foreign aid.

Just a few examples of how diversity and inclusion are playing out globally. This trend is unstoppable. Next generation diversity practitioners would be wise to track and then ride these trends for the good of their organizations.

When’s your next trip to another land?

The Obama Era Continues: Reflections on the Diversity Implications of Barack Obama’s Re-Election

by Andrés T. Tapia – Mixed group of nations behind the American flag.

Regardless of one’s political preferences, from a historical perspective, the first time Barack Obama was elected president was momentous. The second time marks actual culture change. If in 2008 the point was tipping, in 2012 the point has tipped.

A few years ago, as the U.S.’s first Black president began his maiden term, I published my book, The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity. As a student and practitioner of culture change, the work was inspired by a sense that we were at a tipping point of massive culture change. The election of Barack Obama was a defining moment that captured the zeitgeist of the times. The moment came to be known as the Obama Era, a period in history that was as much about the demographic changes in society that made possible the election of the country’s first Black president as it was about the man and leader himself, whose own diverse biography would come to further define the early 21st Century.

That first election was certainly historic. It was a massive break through the color line. But it was too soon to tell if it would be anything beyond a flash-in-the-pan stroke of luck due to an imploding economy so out of control that many millions were willing to take the riskier, what-the-hell bet of voting for a non-White person. While the insurgency of the 2008 Obama election brought us to the cusp of the tipping point of a new way of understanding a contemporary and diverse society, as the governing road got tougher and steeper, plenty of evidence mounted that Obama’s historic election could end up being an outlier episode rather than a transformative era.

As there always is when societies are at a tipping point, powerful countervailing forces emerged to keep the tip from happening. True to form, we saw this societal dynamic emerge through the fierce Tea Party phenomenon, which led to major setbacks to the president’s agenda in the midterm elections. Confidence abounded among opposition leaders. And pundits confirmed that the countervailing forces would make even further gains by denying the president a second term and leading the Senate majority to change from blue to red.

As changing demographics and new biographies of those leading and influencing policy brought different perspectives and solutions to major issues such as healthcare coverage, immigration status, gay rights, diversity efforts within the federal government, the 2012 election truly became a high-stakes contest about which way the point was going to tip.

This is why Obama’s second election—and the various state referendums on gay marriage and the legalization of pot, as well as the election of the first out lesbian senator, and the sending of the greatest number ever of women to Congress—ended up being a thunder clap announcing true culture change.

While many will disagree, even vehemently, with the merits or values behind these culture changes, for better or for worse, the point has fully tipped. It’s an announcement that the diverse demographic tsunami and all its implications to the economy, education, energy, immigration, relationships, individual freedoms, and collective responsibilities are irreversible.

This, of course, does not mean that the actual solutions to the various challenges within each of these major arenas are obvious or that they won’t require debate about how best to address. But when Blacks, Latinos, Asians, LGBT, youth, and single women decide the election for president for a second time, the agenda has been set for what needs to be addressed for the United States to remain economically competitive in a world where change is happening at warp speed.

Here’s how one of the poster children of the new economy, CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria, sees it as narrated on his show “GPS”:

“Growing up in India in the 1960s and 1970s, I always thought of America as the future. It was the place where the newest technology, the best gadgets, and the latest fads seemed to originate. Seemingly exotic political causes—women’s liberation, gay rights, the fight against ageism—always seemed to get their start on the streets or in the legislatures and courts of the United States. Indians couldn’t imagine embracing all American trends—in fact, some were rejected outright—because they were too edgy for a country like India. But we had a sneaking suspicion that today’s weird California fad would become tomorrow’s conventional practice. For me, Tuesday’s elections brought back that sense of America as the land of the future.

The Obama Era carries with it profound cultural implications, both in the United States and globally, that will affect not only personal, group, and institutional relationships, but also how we go about doing our work strategically and day-to-day. Among the populations most significantly impacted will be the emerging workforce that is becoming the New Mainstream. An increasingly multicultural workforce requires a deeper cultural understanding from many different angles—not only of what cultures are in the mix, but what individuals believe, how they act, and why.

In my book, I explored the impact of the Obama phenomenon from a cultural, rather than political, perspective. Sure, there were myriad political observations to be made—from an analysis of blue state/red state shifts to legitimate policy debates—but regardless of how such matters were hashed out politically, there was an undeniable, transformative story that seemed to be unfolding that included all of us globally. Regardless of one’s political preferences or passions, we all were willing or unwitting players in this culture-change drama.

This meant that for the past four years, as the Obama drama of his first term unfolded, I had the chance to test out some theories and observations from the position of Chief Diversity Officer at Hewitt Associates and then as the president of Diversity Best Practices. In both positions, I have had the opportunity to also serve as an executive diversity and inclusion consultant to the C-suite of dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

It’s through experiences with companies such as John Deere, Marriott, McKesson, Baxter, United Airlines, Discover Financial, and many other corporations as well as law enforcement agencies, not-for-profits, government institutions, and schools that I was able to test the eight cultural implications that I believed would be hallmarks of the Obama Era. In light of Obama’s re-election I believe these are still true:

  • Inclusion is a transformative force.
  • Whatever we do has global impact.
  • Diversity and inclusion require intentionality.
  • We’ll experience a renaissance of values-driven decision making.
  • We must have a heightened focus on results.
  • The bottom up is as important as the top down.
  • Both/and trumps either/or.
  • True diversity and inclusion require calling out our differences, not minimizing them.

Read more about each of these points.

Zakaria summarizes the change this way: “What the world saw this week was a picture of America at its best: edgy, experimental, open-minded—and brilliantly diverse.” And here’s how the architect of the Obama Era sees it as stated in his re-election acceptance speech in Chicago on election night:

“I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or White or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

My diversity leader colleagues, our work has never been more important or relevant. Many see it, but many still don’t. And like the U.S. president is doing, we must continue to be agents and leaders of change with confidence, facts, and compassion.

Globalization Boomerang: Making the U.S. a Destination for Offshored Jobs – and What It Could Mean for Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Sending American jobs overseas has lost its cachet. Not only for sociopolitical reasons but also for economic ones.

The case for offshoring and outsourcing jobs overseas has weakened as an increasing number of U.S. manufacturers are choosing to look stateside for labor, a move that creates jobs and helps boosts the U.S. economy. So says Time in “The Economy’s New Rules: Go Glocal” (August 20, 2012). In fact, the Boston Consulting Group estimates that within five years, as many as 3 million high-skilled, high-demand manufacturing jobs could come back to the United States.

But the ability of American government and business to tend to the diverse talent pipeline – particularly of Latinos and Blacks – will be critical in the U.S. economy being able to seize the full benefits of the convergence of forces that could bring more jobs back to the USA. But before taking up this gauntlet, a look at what’s driving American companies to bring jobs back home:

  • Labor costs rising in China, India, Mexico, and other countries. The Chinese to U.S. wage ratio, for example, is projected to jump from 3 percent in 2000 to 17 percent by 2015. This is due both to accelerating wage increases in the emerging markets and slowing wage raises in the U.S. Also higher rates of corruption in the emerging markets compared to the U.S. drive up costs and risks. According to Transparency International, the BRIC countries are two to three times more corrupt in the business world.
  • Increasing number of manufacturing and construction jobs require a higher level of education. High tech manufacturing is requiring higher education from workers to run the robots on the assembly line. Even welders must now have in-house training or a community-college certification, not just a high school education to meet job requirements. By 2018, 63 percent of U.S. jobs will require post secondary training. U.S. workers in some blue-collar sectors have a technological edge that companies are rediscovering.
  • Rising energy costs means distance for shipping goods to the largest market, the United States, matters. Do the math. How many barrels of oil (not to mention carbon footprint units) does it take to ship that car from the Far East to the North American continent? GE has punched in the numbers and the result has led to GE shifting production of appliances from Mexico and China to Louisville, Ky. Many other companies of all sizes are reviewing the cost of transportation. Along with GE, firms like Seesmart (a small manufacturer of lighting products), Master Lock, and Caterpillar are finding the balance sheet weighing more heavily towards domestic production.
  • Automation means factories with fewer people – which then lowers the labor cost equation that has been leading companies to offshore. “Labor is a relatively small component” of costs, said GE’s Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, in a recent Reuters.com article. “That’s different today than it was 10 years ago.” GE just opened a new plant in Schenectady, N.Y. because of labor’s decreasing share of manufacturers’ costs. This, of course, cuts both ways in that it reduces the total number of jobs overall, but it nevertheless slows down the number that get shipped overseas because it’s more cost effective to simply keep them in the United States.
  • Companies want to bring jobs and operations closer to where their customers are. That emerging “locally grown” movement that has found its way to supermarket carts and restaurant tabletops is seeping into manufacturing. Mitch Free, who runs MFG.com, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces for the manufacturing industry, said in the previously mentioned Time article, “It’s all about regionalization and localization rather than globalization.” He noted that consumers are now demanding that things be newer, faster, and better so shortening the life cycle helps accomplish this. Citizens’ desire to slow down global warming also plays a part.

These trends are not just influencing American companies to bring jobs back home; they also are cajoling European and Asian companies to open up more plants in the United States. Airbus, the airplane manufacturer that is a symbol of European manufacturing pride, is opening up a plant in Montgomery, Ala. In making the announcement, its CEO, Fabric Brégier, cited “a more competitive labor and growth climate in the U.S.” Companies like Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen have been pumping up the local economies of cities around the nation by opening or expanding plants.

Back to the U.S.-based companies. There also seems to be an awakening on the part of some CEOs about how they are, in effect, eating their own young by having aggressively moved so many jobs overseas. When American businesses shift millions of jobs from home to outside, the domestic consumer market gets decimated. The result? Stifled business growth that causes economic blowback for these very companies.

Diversity and Inclusion’s Role

Now is the time to include American workers in any globalization strategies and efforts. In the past five years, we had moved from a U.S.-and-“rest of the world” paradigm to an emerging-“rest of the world”-and-declining-U.S. paradigm. Now it’s time to reframe it all to a “the world”-where-the-U.S.-is-a-region paradigm.

I engage this topic fully aware that as diversity and inclusion practitioners we are also tasked with ensuring a truly global approach to the work where we are caring for the inclusion and engagement of traditionally marginalized groups wherever our companies operate in the world. Zeus knows, we are still in diapers when it comes to truly being global in our mindset and knowledge about current social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics across the world’s timezones.

Nevertheless, in using this global mindset where the United States is not the center but one of various global regions, one of the marginalization issues we must address in the U.S. region is persistent high unemployment and the income disparities it deepens. In addition, the global economy’s vitality that is raising millions out of poverty still requires a vibrant U.S. economy with a positive outlook.

Now to respond to the gauntlet. As the offshoring tide begins to turn, diversity and inclusion must play a key role in capitalizing on ensuring these jobs fully come back.

On the diversity front, one dizzying risk is the uncertainty that there will be enough skilled workers for these positions. If we are not graduating half of our demographically booming Latino and Black kids from high school then it could kill the re-shoring of many of these jobs.

Business must urgently collaborate with government and not-for-profits to do everything possible much earlier in the education pipeline so that our students are getting and completing the education they need for contemporary jobs that are in demand.

We face a wrenching irony that at the moment of getting a shifting tide of jobs back that the skilled talent needed will not be there in a moment of still high unemployment.

On the inclusion front, what an opportunity to capitalize on a key competitive differentiator of American culture – creativity and innovation. Not only is this a hallmark of the American character, it’s the very thing we diversity and inclusion practitioners insist is the most compelling argument for inclusion – and this is that greater diversity leads to greater variety and richness of perspectives, that when energized and unleashed through an inclusive culture, leads to even greater creativity and innovation.

Diversity and inclusion practitioners have an important role to play in getting this word out – and in bringing U.S. jobs back in.

Now, More than Ever, Diversity Work is Global

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Shanghai.istock.xsmallAs part of part of an annual global initiative conducted in partnership with Working Mother Media (our parent company), Diversity Best Practices recently hosted a Best Practice Session in Shanghai, China. The November 2011 event was just one of the ways that we are actively pursuing, capturing, cataloging, and disseminating best practices from around the world and ensuring that our members get exposure to global issues firsthand. Previous events featured diversity and inclusion sessions in countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil.

In Shanghai, participants had the chance to experience China’s culture and diversity. It’s one thing to read about the country’s boom in the headlines; it’s another thing to be on the ground and feel the pulse of a nation that is seizing the opportunity of a developing global marketplace. While there, we experienced the reverence of walking through the serenity of the Yuyuan Garden and minutes later being in the center of one of the most modern skylines in the world.

Diversity is a hot topic in China right now and the work in this area is as urgent there as it is in the United States. There are big questions around the advancement of women, work life, and managing multiple generations in the workplace. Like in the United States and other countries, there are things that are clearly visible around diversity and inclusion that companies are ready to engage in and there are some things that leaders are not in tune with that are very real. The Chinese will often say that the race issue is not relevant to them because they all share the same race. While China may have little racial diversity, the country is not removed from the tensions that can come from having a diverse population.

I had an interesting insight during my visit to the Shanghai Museum. There was an exhibit about China’s ethnic minorities. When I looked at the exhibit map, I noticed that the eastern part of China, which is where China has been developing, it’s all Han Chinese. The majority of the other ethnicities are in the west. It struck me that as China expands westward, companies are going to run into diversity issues with Han leaders trying to engage and manage a non-Han workforce. It was very evident from the exhibit that people who come from these various ethnic groups have different histories and experiences and they likely have different world views that will be apparent in their preferences in what they look for in talent management and engagement.

Currently, this aspect of diversity is not on Chinese business leaders’ radar screens, but it’s going to hit them sooner rather than later. One of my takeaways from my experience in China is that we, as diversity practitioners, regardless of the country we come from, have a lot to learn about how diversity and inclusion is playing out in other countries. Because of our previous experience in the United States, we have a unique perspective to offer employers in other parts of the world.

At Diversity Best Practices, we’re expanding our relationships with thought leaders, government officials, and local leaders that will allow us to be more insightful about the reality of business and diversity in China. These relationships give us access to resources to enrich our research and hold a position at the forefront of thinking in the field.

However, China is not our only area of interest. India and Brazil are ripe with diversity challenges and insights and we’re already making plans to host events in Bangalore and Sao Paolo in 2012.

In the meantime, I hope you will take the opportunity to learn more about diversity and inclusion in China. We will be hosting a teleconference in which we will share our learnings from Shanghai on Thursday, January 19. A white paper from the event will be published shortly after. Additional information about diversity in China is available in our recently published Global Diversity Primer

The more we learn about diversity and inclusion around the globe, the more effective we will be as practitioners at home and abroad.

Adelante (onward) in the work!

Diversity Fast Facts — Immigration

Diversity Fast Facts – Hip Pocket Stats for the CDO on the Go


Every once in a while, I’ll publish Diversity Fast Facts on different topics to provide Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) on the Go with stats and information they can use to reinforce the realities of diversity and inclusion. It’s my intention that these news abstracts will add to the conversation and encourage our thinking about how diversity plays out around the world. Here, we look at global immigration trends.

  • The world’s population is on the move. Following are global trends: The largest population of contractual migrant workers comes from Asia. In Asia, movement within China and India accounts for large population shifts. The predominant trend in the Americas is migration from the south (Latin America and the Caribbean) northward and even into Europe. The United States and Canada tend to host permanent migrants, but increasingly need temporary workers. In Oceania, Australia and New Zealand play host to growing populations of migrant workers from smaller islands. Source: International Organization for Migration.
  • The United States is home to more migrants than other countries. The United States was by far the largest host country for migrants in 2010, hosting 42.8 million migrants. Following the United States: Russian Federation (12.3 million), Germany (10.8 million), Saudi Arabia (7.3 million), and Canada (7.2 million). Top three sending countries: China (35 million), India (20 million), and the Philippines (7 million). Source: International Organization for Migration.
  • Migrant workers are a diverse lot. Other quick facts regarding immigration: three percent of the global workforce consists of immigrants; one-third of the world’s migrant workforce lives in Europe; women migrants focus primarily on short-term work and tend to go to the Middle East; industry, construction, and services are the leading industries for migrant workers; some countries in the Gulf region consist of up to 40% migrant workers. Source: International Organization for Migration.
  • The number of workers in India and China is growing. By 2030, it is projected workers from India and China will account for 40% of the world’s workforce. Source: International Organization for Migration.

Connecting Diversity to Space Design: Take Five with Gensler’s Tom Mulhern

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Tom Mulhern (left) works with a client, Mr. Davidson (right) of the CHA.

Tom Mulhern (left) works with a client, Robert Davidson (right) of the Lathrop Homes Local Area Council.

Tom Mulhern works at the intersection of people, space, and technology. As Strategic Planner for Gensler, he consults with clients and design teams to identify and create contexts for great design. As he has consulted with several companies about the accessibility and sustainability of their workplaces, unexpected synergies have come into play. The challenges and opportunities that the workplace presents Tom, as a space designer, raise issues of diversity and inclusion. After we had the pleasure of working together, Tom agreed to discuss his insights about workplaces in this Take Five interview.

Take 1: Educate us about your world – the transformation of the workplace. How would you characterize the differences between what it was a generation ago and what it is becoming today?

Today for most organizations that employ knowledge workers – in the US and worldwide – the workplace, as a distinct, physical location, has become optional. What was once the only way to organize complex work and workers is now something organizations and leaders can choose (or not) depending on what they want to achieve. The technology to do this has arrived, in the form of “The Cloud” and the always-connected mobile device. And the workers themselves, at school and at home, have spent the past 15 years rehearsing the multi-tasking, time-shifting, results-seeking required to make a flexible workplace work. Add to this the “new normal” of a cost- and resource-constrained global economy, and we find that almost every Gensler client is seeking to implement virtual and flexible office strategies. 

But optional is not the same as obsolete. Just think of how often we still use paper and pen, postal mail or your landline phone. So, if a dedicated, permanent physical workspace is no longer a necessity, why might organizations choose it – at least for some processes, at least some of the time?

Some reasons to be present physically include,

  • Mentor and learn from others
  • Really get to know colleagues and be known by them
  • Connect to and be inspired by organizational mission, vision and values
  • Make serendipitous connections to people and ideas (“water cooler”)
  • Convey seriousness, scale and professionalism to customers
  • Get access to scarce resources – production equipment, labs, etc.

There are also compelling reasons to work from wherever,

  • Integrate work more effectively into life (good for individual, recruiting tool for organization)
  • Support the global work day (up in the morning with Europe, late to bed with Asia)
  • Preserve organizational security – distribute operations to reduce risk from disaster or terror
  • Save costs and carbon associated with real estate (organization)
  • Save time, expense and carbon of commuting (individual)
  • Learn to use the communication technologies required for successful innovation (individual and organization)

So the idea is not to minimize real estate, but rather to maximize presence. When people are physically present, are they doing the things in the first list? Is the physical environment optimized for the goals? If your organization is still defaulting to the physical workplace, are you aware of the potential embedded in the second list?

Take 2: Changing demographics and lifestyles have driven many of these workplace differences. Can you elaborate on the connection between changing demographic groups/ lifestyle needs and space design changes?

The drivers are more psychographic than demographic. They are largely keyed to life stages and lifestyles, not particular generational tendencies. For instance, the generation most prepared to work this way – the fabled Millennials – is not necessarily the one best served by flexible work arrangements. Millennials entering the workforce need connection to organizations, mentors, and inspiration. They are most prepared to thrive in a social, embodied physical workplace. By contrast, flexible work arrangements are more appropriate to mid-career workers with family or civic commitments, and to later-career workers who are seeking to reduce, but not eliminate, the role their professional identity plays in their lives. The two biggest conceptual victims of the Optional Office may be the “Mommy Track” and “Retirement.” Both of these notions are grounded in a time when physical presence was an all-or-nothing proposition.

Take 3: I’ve shared with you and members of your firm how much U.S. corporate firms are influenced by a white, Anglo-Saxon, individualistic aesthetic, and how it runs counter to a Latin, Catholic, communal aesthetic. As you think of the future of corporate space, and we think of Latinos becoming ¼ of U.S. population, how will this affect how we think about design?

I would expect to see a massive “Southern” influence in design over the next 20 years. Latin America, India, and Africa will continue to gain in cultural influence on the rest of the world, bringing color, comfort, and community to the workplace and to all aspects of our lives. All of this will be muted some by the overwhelming capital that has been put in place behind very conventional, international (read European) style design in countless buildings being thrown up across China and Latin America itself. But to move beyond aesthetics, I believe the most powerful influence from non-European cultures will be functional. Communal, flowing arrangements of space, such as the Plaza, the Pueblo and the Mercado, will be very important patterns for the organization of Flex organizations. The European arrangement of task – from monk’s carrels to cubicles – will be less and less well suited to the interconnections and complexity that are required to innovate and thrive in our world.

Take 4: Gensler has done significant work looking at the correlation between workplace design and employee productivity and engagement. Can you elaborate on what those connections are?

The first, and maybe most obvious connection, is that when an organization pays attention to the physical, emotional, and social design of the workplace, the organization is saying to its people, “You are valued people doing important work that is worth investing in.” This is sort of the old Western Electric effect, where any investment translates to good will. The second connection, for which there is growing evidence, but which does not work in a linear or mechanical way, is that work environments can be tuned to increase desired behaviors – say casual collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas – and to decrease non-desired behaviors – say hoarding of resources and knowledge. We have hard data that demonstrates conclusively the connection between a workplace’s physical design and its performance in terms of productivity, engagement, and retention. Top Performing companies have workplaces that score 20-40% higher on Gensler’s multi-variable measure, the Workplace Performance Index (WPI). The hard part is that this data is not universal. You have to make the right investments in space to get the returns. And the right investments vary according to the business goals you seek.

Take 5: The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” have not necessarily been part of your discourse through most of your career, but lately they have become an important part of your work. What does diversity and inclusion mean for you now professionally and personally?

Beyond ADA (Americans with Disability Act) requirements, diversity and inclusion have not been a significant topic in commercial architecture and design. This is changing. And the main reason it is changing is the Innovation Imperative. In a global economy, survival depends on innovative capacity. Organizations have to innovate and adapt extremely rapidly. And without internal sources of diversity – of background, worldview, or discipline – organizations can’t perform the most straightforward innovation trick: to think differently. The challenge for architecture and design is to create environments that go far beyond permitting diversity to actually activating diversity. Those environments will be ones in which no one ethnic group, gender or other group will have an in-built advantage. I am not sure what form these will take, but I’ve started referring to them as “out of the comfort zones.”

In Diversity, India Seeks to Rise Above Caste, Color

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research


If, as defined in The Inclusion Paradox, “diversity is the mix, inclusion is making the mix work”™, then India has much to both celebrate and wrestle with as it determines its mix and focuses on how to make it work.

India represents a large swath of people. Roughly three-quarters of its roughly 1.17 billion people are Indo-Aryan, and Dravidians make up another large chunk. But the remaining 3% is divided among 2,000 ethnic groups. Hindi and English are two of the 18 recognized Indian languages. India hosts 15% of the world’s population, and of those, 70% are agrarian, living in villages and farms. India’s median age is a youthful 25. According to Department of State data, India is only one-third the size of the United States. So by being three times as populated, but one one-third as big, its population density is 9 times that of the US.

In India, discussing race relations involves inherent difficulty, particularly because there is no word for “race” in Hindi. The word “jaati” refers to a person’s caste. Or, “varn ka rang” means color of one’s skin. Thus, one can get close to a discussion of race, but it takes a bit of finesse to get all the way there.

Here’s a quick view of other parts of the mix and how it’s working.


Overcoming the ancient caste system in India is one of the country’s difficult challenges: How can a country uproot a system that predates the Bhagavad Gita? The varnas, or classes, consist of Brahmans (priests/teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers/soldiers), Vaisyas (merchants), Sudras (laborers) and a group not named but known as achuta, or untouchable.

This system today is outlawed, but still embedded, particularly in some regions. Today, untouchables are known as Dalits, and represent 200 million Indian citizens. Crimes against them, sometimes including rape and murder, but more frequently less violent crimes, can go unpunished. India has refused to consider caste as an international human rights issue.

Through Indian eyes, an understanding of the caste system goes far deeper than what is described in most Western literature. It was, for centuries, a useful mechanism for absorbing nomadic populations from Central Asia providing peaceful, stratified socio-economic order. While India recognizes that the system no longer applies, the societal movement away from it has been moving slowly.

The good news? When India has risen above caste, the results have meant an economic boon. In southern India, lower castes have been struggling toward equality since the early part of the 20th Century, focusing particularly on education and business success, as noted in the New York Times. According to the article, a key factor in India’s economic success–particularly in the south–was its ability to neutralize issues of caste.

Whiter Shades of Tan

More recently, skin color has become a basis for subtle discrimination in India and other Asian countries. Skin whitening products in India generate $500 million annually, with most of the popular Bollywood stars endorsing one or another whitening product. Earlier this year, Hindustan Unilever, which markets a Vaseline-brand whitening product, created an uproar when it launched a Facebook app that digitally lightens photos to be posted in social networking sites. As NPR describes, even men are feeling compelled to whiten their skin in India.


Women in India struggle not only for equality, but in some places for a chance to be born. Sex-selection abortions are on the rise in some parts of India, with some women choosing to abort female fetuses. Although it is illegal, some estimate that up to one million unborn girls are aborted every year in India. The real culprit isn’t necessarily a belief that girls are inferior. Rather, tradition requires expensive dowries from the families of brides, making girls an economic burden. On top of this, wives typically live with their husband’s families, and so can’t even be accountable for caring for their own aging parents.

But with the growing numbers of women attending college and with that finding their economic and social power rising, at least in modern India the lot of women is improving. But even here, women face a very visible and strong glass ceiling for management and leadership positions.


Unlike many of its Asian counterparts, a rapidly aging population is not a critical concern for India. Although the population is aging, India remains youthful. For example, among developed countries, Ireland has the oldest mothers, at an average age of 31. By contrast, neighboring Bangladesh has the youngest mothers among developing countries, at an average age of 25, per The Times of India. In fact, India’s working age population will grow by 240 million in 20 years, compared to China’s working age population, which will grow only 10 million in that same stretch.


India’s disability act, originally instituted in 1995, provides for children and adults with disabilities. Disabled children, for example, have a right to free education in integrated or “special” schools. In India, 3% of all government jobs are held for people with disabilities. Affirmative action prescribes land allotment such that appropriate facilities for disabled people can be developed.

That said, inadequacies exist, and attempts to broaden disability law as recently as February 2010 have failed. Civil rights, in particular, are minimal. Basic guarantees, such as protection from cruel and inhuman treatment, the right to marry, and the right to own property, currently are not addressed.


Gay rights in India took a giant leap forward last July, when India’s high court decriminalized gay sex. Ironically, the original law against homosexuality was implemented under British rule in India, but in recent years was defended as a way to preserve “traditional Indian sensibilities.” The Indian high court’s ruling specifically noted that the law against homosexuality conflicted with India’s “political principle of inclusiveness,” clearly establishing an optimist path–not only for gay rights, but for all diversity and inclusion issues in India.

The explicit issue of diversity in workplace is starting to pop up more in corporate India with some organizations even appointing diversity leaders. There is also a growing interest in the media on diversity topics. But as this quick survey piece shows, plenty of diversity topics are stirring in Indian society but its all prologue right now.

The Glass Ceiling’s Global Dimensions – Despite Many Gains, Much Work to Do in the Most Basic Ways

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

african women - diversity and global cultures There is much positive going on for women around the world, but despite the many gains (which we will continue to write about on this blog), women still have seriously diffcult barriers to overome in nearly every corner of the globe.

Too often, the struggle isn’t even for equality, or equal wages, or equal access to jobs. In too many circumstances, the struggle is for a chance at basic education, or an escape from violence.

In China and India, the female struggle begins at birth: An estimated 1.5 million fewer girls per year are born than should be in these regions. Girls in these countries die before they reach age 5 more often than they should. By the time they are adults, there are 32 Chinese men for every 20 Chinese women—and, according to The Guardian, the ratio will worsen over time. Yet, as The New York Times reports, in both China and India, deeply rooted cultural values, religious beliefs, and economic conditions stand in the way of correcting the gender imbalance.

In parts of  Africa and the Middle East, reproductive rights take the stage, though the problem, of course, goes beyond reproductive rights: in some locations women often are perceived as property, as are children. Violence toward a wife is swept beneath the carpet, whereas wives and daughters who are assaulted by men other than their husbands are blamed, sometimes jailed, sometimes murdered by their families as a matter of honor. But even in their everyday lives, these women struggle. They bear more children than they might want, often more than they can afford. Recent media coverage in the United States around the Pill’s 50th anniversary includes speculation that making the Pill and other forms of contraception available in Africa and the Middle East might go far toward lifting women and children out of poverty.

Equal access to education is another priority, and here the picture is brightening. According to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap report, 82 of the 134 countries studied have achieved parity in education. Another 41 countries have closed at least 90 % of the gap between boys and girls. The nine remaining countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, have a longer journey ahead of them. Around the world, girls hold their own in enrollment and, when it comes to secondary education, even begin to surpass boys. The advantages for girls are immense: For every year of schooling, a female’s earning power increases 10 to 20%, increasing to 15 to 25% at the secondary level. Women use these gains to improve their lives, putting 90% of their earnings back into their households (as compared to men, who only reinvest 30 to 40% of their income into their homes).

This brings us back to equality on the job. Andrés discusses in The Inclusion Paradox, multinational corporations, with their meritocracy culture, stand poised to significantly help women, and already have dramatically changed the lives of women in India and China. In “The Global Glass Ceiling” Isobel Coleman found that 75 % of companies that worked to empower women in developing countries already had earned economic benefits or were poised to do so. Multinationals aren’t the only answer, either. In countries such as Pakistan, microloans from local organizations are making a difference. The New York Times reports how one Pakistani woman secured a loan for $65, using it to build a business that now employs 30 families, as well as her husband!

These gains are noteworthy and substantial, but still do not result in equal terms for women. Globally, women are more likely to be unemployed than men, and they are overrepresented in vulnerable or low-paying (or unpaid) jobs, such as agriculture, caretaking, unpaid family work, and the like. The International Labor Organization reports that in every region of the world working-age men are more likely to have jobs than working-age women. Even in East Asia, which boasts the highest rate of female workers among the eligible population (69.5% of possible women workers are employed), men fare significantly better (82.5% of eligible men are employed). Other regions fare much worse: Only 25% of eligible women are employed in the Middle East, for example, compared to 82% of eligible men. And, yes, the wage gap persists. According to this chart from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, on average women still earn almost 18% less than men—with the gap varying from country to country.

Whether fighting for their lives or fighting for their jobs—which, in some cases, equates to the same thing—women across the world have some distance to cover. Ground is gained here, and lost there, but the overall picture is one of slow progress.

India’s Modernization Fraying Extended Families


As families grow more nuclear in India, nostalgia for the extended family has become a middle class obsession writes New America Media Editor Sandip Roy.

Here are some excerpts from his article:

Consider, for example, the recent five-handkerchief Bollywood hit Baghban. Yesteryear superhero Amitabh Bachchan plays an aging patriarch who is shuttled back and forth between his busy children. Unable to live with his wife any more, he steals tender moments with her secretly by telephone late at night.

Indians are graying, with 81 million over the age of 60. The population above 80, however, is growing fastest. By 2050, according to UN estimates, 48 million Indians will be over 80. Overall, Indians seem unprepared for the reality of how to integrate older generations into a more Westernized society where younger adults hold economic power and feel too busy with work demands to accommodate their parents.

“Until the 90s, there was strong family support,” says Premkumar Raja, secretary of Nightingales Medical Trust in Bangalore, which provides medical services for elders. “Elders were taken care of in the family. But with globalization the joint family system is breaking.”

Adults hemmed in by the pressures of work and raising their own children show signs of stress that reach dangerous levels: cases of elder abuse and neglect have been on the rise. Despite these problems, however, elder advocates say the solution is not an old age home in every district or more western-style retirement communities. Premkumar Raja at Nightingales Trust says what India needs are more day care centers. “We don’t want to separate elders from their families.”

Jai Prakash agrees that keeping parents and children together is important. Children who may not live with their parents can often live near them, she says, perhaps upstairs in a separate flat. Sometimes parents now live with their married daughters, once a major social taboo. “New forms of family are emerging,” Prakash observes. “You can’t really write the obituary of the Indian extended family just yet.”

These developments in India have important ramifications not just for families there, but for families throughout the global workforce.  As I argue in The Inclusion Paradox, employers need to play a role in supporting sustainable family structures in our upside down world. Offering workers flexibility can not only help reduce family stresses such as these, but make for less distracted, and more productive, employees.