Jacqui Robertson: Two Words That are Better Than "Diversity"

This may surprise some of our colleagues who operate strictly in the U.S., but workforce diversity isn't a global concept.

"I never use the word 'diversity' when I'm talking with leaders outside the U.S.," said Jacqui Robertson, head of global diversity and inclusion at W.W. Grainger, who discussed her insights from the front lines of global D&I leadership to a rapt group of attendees at i4cp's 2014 conference.

According to Robertson, talent and inclusion is the lingua franca when it comes to talking with global partners, and those are the words that get leader's attention. "Too often," she said, "diversity comes across as a U.S. concept that's being imposed on another culture"—cultures with different issues, histories, laws and basic perceptions related to how individuals should act in the workforce.

Do those countries still have issues that U.S. observers would label as discrimination? Are there other pressing issue when it comes to sourcing and managing talent from varied backgrounds? Of course, but Robertson cautions practitioners operating outside of their home turf to learn where and when to pick their battles. Not only are inclusion and talent the buzzwords that get global leaders attention, but eventually they're the concepts that will make progress against initially intractable perceptions that may exists in those regions—but no guarantees. She stressed that no groundwork or briefing can prepare you for how other cultures view the world; you just have to experience it, knowing that many root concepts are too deeply ingrained to be changed.

And not only are talent and inclusion the keys to engaging global leaders, but they're also the concepts that bypass the fickleness of ever changing corporate strategies, making global efforts more sustainable. For this reason, Robertson recommends that talent and inclusion be the guiding principles for a single strategy—local and global. While specific talent needs and legal requirements may call for variations in administration of regional initiatives, these overriding principles are the foundation for a sustainable and accepted common language. Progress will be made when those more easily translatable principles are put into a customized talent plan for recruiting, developing and retaining that local leaders help to create and feel good about owning.

Eric Davis
Eric received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Marshall University in 1996. He has had 20+ years of workforce experience in a variety of fields. Before coming to i4cp, he worked as a laboratory technician for DuPont, a conference planner for Marshall University, the public relations manager for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Technical Manufacturing, and a graphic designer for COX Communications.