Today, nothing is local. Everything is global.
That means more need than ever before in history for better intercultural communication, higher cross-cultural awareness and—yes—diversity and inclusion training.
If all this sounds overstated, consider the evidence of recent events.
Most recent was the April 15 fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral. Although certainly a local tragedy—news footage showed sobbing Parisians watching the firefight—it was also widely seen as a global loss. European Council President Donald Tusk called on all members of the European Union to support restoration.
UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay went further: "We are all heartbroken. Notre Dame represents a historically, architecturally, and spiritually outstanding universal heritage. It is also a monument of literary heritage, a place that is unique in our collective imagination. This drama reminds us of the power of heritage that connects us to one another. We are receiving messages of support from all over the world."
And although leading French companies (including L’Oreal and Air France-KLM) immediately pledged funds to the rebuilding effort, they were joined by many companies outside France (Apple and Disney among them).
Exactly a month earlier, the global scope of events was even more—and more darkly—evident. On March 15, a man described as a white supremacist was arrested after attacking two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman killed 50 people and wounded 50 others. Many of the victims were immigrants, originally from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Egypt, among other countries. The accused gunman is Australian. In a manifesto that he wrote, he cited several “inspirations” for the attack. They include Dylann Roof (who murdered several people in a South Carolina church in 2015), Anders Breivik (who was responsible for a mass shooting in Norway in 2011), and Luca Traini (who murdered African immigrants in Macerata, Italy, last year).
And five days before that, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa just minutes after takeoff. The doomed plane was made by US-based Boeing using parts made in five other countries. The passengers, none of whom survived, were citizens of more than 30 countries including Kenya, Canada, Nepal, Russia, China, Indonesia, France and Sweden.
It isn’t surprising that the crashes have direct links to so many places: Boeing is a huge corporation that sells planes to airlines all over the world. We accept as routine that regular jet service connects any two places on Earth within hours, and that those flights have multinational passenger manifests. But surely we still have the capacity to be shocked by the horror in Christchurch.
Christchurch is a small city (population roughly 375,000), and largely homogeneous (84% of residents have European ancestry), in a small country that is among the safest and most law-abiding in the world. If it could happen there, it could happen …
Yes … anywhere. This is the new normal. No corner of the planet is insulated from the factors so evident in the DNA of these events: rapidly evolving technology, mass emigration and refugee populations, and economic shifts (particularly in developing countries). All the hand-wringing about whether globalization is good or bad misses the point; globalization simply is, at this point.
Today, nothing is local. Everything is global.
Brexit offers ample evidence that there is no turning back from globalization—and, therefore, from the globe’s growing need for cross-cultural diversity training. It has been almost three years since a majority of Brits voted for nationalism over globalization, approving a referendum to leave the European Union.
Since then, the British government has failed to construct a plan for howto exit. So far, Parliament has voted “no” (emphatically) on every plan presented by Prime Minister Theresa May. But as the clock ticks toward the Brexit deadline, no one has offered a popular— or even viable—alternative. Literally no one seems to know what “yes” looks like. The chaos is already exacting a toll. On March 20, CNN reported that $1.3 trillion dollars and 7,000 finance-related jobs are leaving Britain. That damage is compounded by the growing list of companies in other industries that have announced plans to scale back their British operations or leave the UK altogether. That list includes Nissan, Dyson, Sony, Airbus and Honda.
The evidence suggests that however much people outside major cities dislike the negative effects of globalization (lost jobs, growing immigrant populations), they aren’t going to like efforts to reverse globalization any better. No other European countries appear eager to leave the EU. And some nations that are currently isolated—North Korea comes to mind—are seeking a greater role in the global community.
And yet …
Anti-globalization sentiment remains a potent political force in many parts of the world. With so much at stake, we have to ask ourselves, “How did we get here?” There is no simple answer. But I submit that multinational corporations—often the earliest adopters of globalization and in some ways its greatest beneficiaries—have missed an opportunity to help people understand globalization, and the related need for far better intercultural communication skills.
But business leaders assumed that the benefits of globalization were both self-evident and more compelling than the perceived downsides. Those were tragic miscalculations.
My hope is that we won’t keep making the same mistake, but my fear is that we will. My observation is that business leaders aren’t even educating their own employees, let alone the public. Do the average workers in a multinational think of themselves as global employees? No. They see themselves as working for a local company that perhaps has international locations. That means that employees in those locations remain the “other,” and the economic, political and social issues abroad seem both remote and unimportant.
I understand that someone has to monitor local labor law and make sure that there’s paper for the photocopier. I also understand that most employees’ day-to-day reality is shaped by the people they connect with in the elevator or breakroom. But continuing to keep our focus on what’s right in front of us while the scale of issues and decisions gets ever larger is unsustainable. We are indulging in either/orwhen andis an imperative. We must help employees to make their full contribution to the local operation andto see how that contribution is part of the global whole.
Doing that won’t be easy. But it isn’t impossible, either. I’ll explore some vital steps in that direction in my next post.