Implementing Inclusive Policies Across a Global Organization

While issues surrounding diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B) have increasingly taken center stage in corporate America, many U.S.-based companies struggle to extend new policies across their global teams. That’s no surprise. Their DI&B initiatives are often largely informed by American social, legal, and political considerations — and that context seldom maps perfectly to every country in which a company operates. Given these challenges, what does it take for multinational companies to stay true to their DI&B values around the world while acknowledging differences in local cultural contexts?

As the VP of Localization for HubSpot, this is a question I’ve thought a lot about. And while there are no perfect solutions, I’ve identified three key opportunities for companies to step up and live their values when expanding internationally.

Choose Office Locations That Align with Your DI&B Values

This topic first came up for me in 2018, when HubSpot was planning an expansion into Latin America and my team was tasked with determining the best place for our regional headquarters. We had already set up a number of international offices, including in Dublin, Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo, and Berlin, and so there were a number of business factors that we knew were important when conducting a city-by-city comparison.

First and foremost, we looked at talent availability for the types of roles we wanted to hire, as well as educational institutions that would ensure a future talent supply. We ran detailed financial forecasts to understand the costs of employing people in each location, and we analyzed facilities costs, internet access, infrastructure dependability, and even socioeconomic factors and currency stability. And of course, we heavily weighted the size of existing and potential customer bases in each location and the availability of potential partners.

In all these analyses, access to talent had always been the main focus. DI&B considerations were important to us but had remained largely disconnected from the international expansion process. As a result, it hadn’t occurred to me to take a close look at how a new office location would align with HubSpot’s values of diversity and inclusion. But one day I happened to mention the Latin American office project to a male coworker, and he immediately responded, “I hope you choose a country where my husband and I will be safe to travel.”

This caught me off guard. I hadn’t thought of legal protections for the LGBT community as a key factor in our location selection process. I also hadn’t considered this international expansion as a broader opportunity for HubSpot to proactively align our business decisions with our values by supporting marginalized groups around the world. But this interaction helped me realize that those factors were highly relevant to the task of setting up and running an international office.

That realization led us down a new path, in which we complemented talent and market viability analyses for each potential location with an explicit examination of how each country’s laws and cultural environment would align with our commitment to inclusion. We partnered with our People Operations team to develop a new framework that looked at a number of key considerations in each candidate country, including LGBT rights and women’s rights. Among the factors we explored:

  • Does the country have strong legislation on sexual harassment in general?
  • Does the country have strong legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace?
  • Does the country have legislation mandating equal compensation for work of equal value?
  • Is paid maternity leave mandated by law?
  • Is paid paternity leave mandated by law?

For each factor, we conducted a thorough analysis using World Bank data and other sources. This meant that in some cases, we were holding candidate countries to a higher standard than in our home location. For example, the United States does not have federal legislation mandating paid parental leave.

On the basis of this analysis, we settled on Colombia, which scored highest on support for both LGBT and women’s rights. And when my coworker visited our new office the following year, he told me he appreciated our choice of a more inclusive location.

Of course, DI&B wasn’t the only factor in our decision-making process — but it was an important one. Choosing an office location may seem like a fairly tactical project, but it was a vital opportunity to hold ourselves accountable to our stated values, to ensure that our global locations would offer an inclusive and supportive environment consistent with that of our home location, and to demonstrate to our employees around the world that we were committed to living our DI&B values.

Help Global Teams Understand Locally Driven Diversity and Inclusion Priorities

Choosing a location that aligned with our values was an important first step in ensuring that those values would be consistently upheld, but it was far from the last. Once our international offices were established, it was essential to ensure that our U.S.-based DI&B initiatives were being effectively translated abroad.

For example, the past year saw a wave of action against racism among U.S.-based companies. While discrimination (and the importance of combating it) is universal, we found that the specifics of the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism toward Black Americans were confusing to many of our employees outside of the United States, who didn’t necessarily have the context to understand the nuances of the issues or HubSpot’s responses to them. To address those gaps, we needed to provide cultural and historical context aimed at making our DI&B programs more actionable and impactful worldwide.

Specifically, when we rolled out a companywide mandatory anti-racism training, we made sure to include information about the history of systemic oppression of the Black community in America, written in clear, accessible language. While it might not be immediately obvious why an employee in Tokyo should learn about the history of slavery in the United States, if we want our global teams to work together, they need to understand one another’s realities.

In addition, while the details of a country’s local context are unique, there are often parallels that can be drawn to boost cross-cultural understanding and communication — and best practices for combating discrimination against underrepresented groups in one country may well be applicable to combating different forms of discrimination in another country. Marginalized groups exist all around the world, whether based on race, gender, sexuality, or other identities. To ensure that both the letter and the spirit of DI&B interventions are applied consistently across a multinational organization, it’s important to thoughtfully and proactively translate these initiatives into their local contexts.

Broaden Inclusive Language Initiatives Beyond English

Finally, another component of DI&B that is often overlooked when companies expand globally is inclusive language policies. The language we use can make a big difference in ensuring that people from diverse backgrounds feel seen and appreciated. That’s why many companies are working toward identifying and eliminating problematic terms from both their external and internal content.

For example, in 2020 Google Chrome and Android replaced the terms “blacklist” and “whitelist” with “blocklist” and “allowlist” across all their platforms, removing what had been a subtle yet impactful form of racism. Similar efforts have been made to address terms that (often inadvertently) imply gendered assumptions: Some organizations now use the phrase “work hours” instead of “man hours” and “police officer” instead of “policeman.”

These initiatives represent real progress. But global companies often forget that similarly charged terms exist in other languages, and those terms aren’t always direct translations of equivalent words in English. To address this, when we were developing an inclusive language guide for our English-language content, we pursued parallel efforts for all the other languages in which we operate, making sure to work with native speakers to identify terms that could unintentionally exclude or offend our international customers, partners, or employees.

For instance, as an English speaker, when I log into my HubSpot Academy portal to learn about marketing and sales, I’m greeted with a screen that reads, “Ready to jump back in, Nataly?” In English, this phrase does not assume any gender. But until recently, if I were to log in as a Spanish speaker, the same screen would read, Listo/a para volver, Nataly?” This is an accurate translation, but because Spanish (like many Romance languages) requires adjectives to be gendered, the message unintentionally implies a binary construct of gender that may leave nonbinary users feeling excluded. So we updated the Spanish version to “Nataly, hola otra vez,” which means, “Nataly, hello again — a construction that serves the same function of greeting a returning visitor but omits a gendered adjective. Subtle changes like that may seem insignificant, but they’re an important way of making our platform more inclusive for people of all identities in every language.

***

Research shows that a commitment to inclusion is increasingly important to employees, customers, and shareholders — and more to the point, it’s the right thing to do. But to demonstrate a genuine, consistent commitment to these principles, global companies must implement value-driven policies not just at home but wherever they operate.

Leave a Reply