Experiences of friends of color who lived and worked outside the U.S. show how going abroad broadens our perspective on diversity and inclusion.
- One friend took an overseas assignment with his multinational company in order to get experience running a business. As a Latino, he felt his company’s domestic culture restricted his ability to obtain that kind of experience in the U.S. However, he was able to obtain a developmental assignment in one of its international businesses. Once he demonstrated his business acumen overseas, he looked different to the U.S. leadership, and he was able to access executive assignments on the business leadership track.
- Another Latino friend was committed to diversity and inclusion work. He took jobs with multi-national corporations that enabled him to live in London and work in his specialty with employees in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. He experienced how diversity and inclusion is bigger than race or color. He found people discriminated against based on religion, national origin, and regional location. In China, for example, he learned that people in the eastern part of the country look down on the people in the western part. He also learned that women are marginalized all over the world.
My own experience working abroad taught me similar lessons.
- In Iran, religion was a significant basis for discrimination. Of course, Moslems were dominant, especially Shias. The only cola available was Pepsi; the bottler was Shia. Other “people of the book” (Jews and Christians) whose prophets (Moses and Jesus) pre-dated Mohammad were tolerated. Zoroastrians, the religion of the ancient people who inhabited Persia, were viewed affectionately, a bit like “pets.” However, Bahai’s, whose religion was founded in the nineteenth century and whose prophet, of course, came after Mohammad, were looked down on and persecuted.
- When living in Switzerland and working in GM Europe, I observed that Europeans characterized people from various countries according to national stereotypes, without apology. People seemed to accept these characterizations of their nationalities. When multi-national teams were formed, an effort was made to include a German who would discipline the work effort, a Dutch person who would ensure responsible use of funds, a Spaniard who would bring an element of emotion to the discussion, and so on. There may have been a tongue-in-cheek element to this shorthand, but it was an example of the benefits of diversity to team performance.
Now is not a good time to seek a broadened perspective internationally, through work or travel. However, there are many other ways to connect with people from outside the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of the people in Dallas are foreign-born. The Dallas population includes naturalized citizens and non-citizens from every region of the world—predominantly from Latin America, then Asia, and Africa. Many organizations serve these people. For example, Literacy Achieves, where I am a board member, welcomes English as a second language students from fifty-three countries (see attached student profile). Such organizations can connect us with people from other countries from whom we can learn first-hand of the many ways people are stereotyped, discriminated against, marginalized, persecuted—or engaged to leverage their different strengths.
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