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Imagine sitting in a meeting and the boss suggests “tabling a certain topic.”
Here in the United States, most people might rightfully assume any further discussion on that topic would be deferred to a later date. But if that same meeting had occurred in, say, London, that same exact phrase would have the exact opposite meaning.
“The cultural nuance is completely different,” Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte, told a packed audience of 150 corporate leaders at DiversityInc’s March 9 event on global diversity. Deloitte is No. 25 in The 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for DiversityÂ®.
DiversityInc’s global research in 12 countries was previewed at the event and an executive summary will be available soon on DiversityIncBestPractices.com.
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“The words we use impact everything we think and doâ€”and this is especially true around diversity efforts,” Salzberg said. “Diversity means different things in different parts of the world. And understanding the language and cultural nuances is one of the key challenges of globalization.”
Salzberg shared a story with the audience of a Cuban-born woman partner at Deloitte who was trying to land a business deal with a South American company.
Being a Latina who was fluent in Spanish, “she thought it would be a slam dunk,” he said. “But she discovered it’s not just about knowing the right words to say. It’s about knowing how to talk and address the client. She didn’t appreciate the culture â€¦ or the way people in that country build business relationships. In that instance, our team was just not diverse enough, and unfortunately, we lost the client.”
Globalization Presents New Opportunities
Salzberg said that globalization has presented new opportunities at Deloitte to enhance understanding among people of different backgrounds and cultures. In the United States, the company employs 45,000 professionals who are part of a global network of 165,000 people working in member firms around the world.
“As our clients become more globally diverse, so must our workforce,” he said. “Our peopleâ€”whether they’re international workers who come to the U.S. or U.S. workers deployed overseasâ€”they’re also exposed to different expectations around diversity. That has changed the way we manage our organization.
Salzberg was born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Brooklyn surrounded by Italians, Jews, Latinos and Blacks. “I thought that is the way the world is,” he said. He earned a degree in accounting from Brooklyn College and a degree in law from Brooklyn Law School.
When he first joined Deloitte in 1977, he soon discovered his New York neighborhood did not reflect the reality of the modern-day workplace.
“Back then, Deloitte had few people of color and none in management and few women,” he said. “Over time, I did my best to increase diversity where I could, and when I entered leadership, I was proud to take over some of the pioneering diversity programs in place and to implement new ones.”
Globalization is speeding up the process of diversifying the business world by bringing together people of more cultures and backgrounds and ways of thinking than ever before, he said.
Salzberg recounted the story of a time he brought a team of employees to an audit committee meeting. “We were trying to win a new audit,” he said. “But when we were finished with our presentation, the client wanted to know if they engaged us, if the team we brought to the meeting would be the same team working on the audit.”
As it turns out, “the team members were 100 percent white and all male with one exception,” he said. “The team almost suffered a loss due to the lack of diversity present in the room that day. We learned that the language of diversity isn’t just about what you say. It’s about what you do.”
More Diverse Than Ever Before
As Deloitte’s workforce has become more diverse, Salzberg said he started to notice the company’s diversity “was even more diverse than we had expected.”
For example, Deloitte soon discovered that the focus of its African-American employee-resource group was too narrow and did not meet the needs of Black employees from Caribbean or African nations.
“Their concerns were not the same and that was expressed in several forums,” he said. Since then, the company has refined the ERG to be more inclusive.
The company has also established an International Business Resource Group called iBuddy, which sponsors a mentoring program that pairs up U.S. employees with foreign nationals working in the United States to help them with the highs and lows of adjusting to a new culture and country.
“For some of these foreign nationals, homosexuality is still illegal, so to see them be so open and respected can be very disorienting for those individuals,” he said.
Salzberg said DiversityInc’s sold-out 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity event “gives us a good snapshot of where the business world is today and points the way to where we need to be tomorrow.”
“Diversity and inclusion are essential to the way Deloitte does business one relationship at a time, one engagement at a time, one person at a time,” he concluded. “We are learning to speak the common language of respect and diversity, the true language of leadership.”