Blogs / 11 Sep 2023 6 min

4 tips for driving a global EDI strategy that meets local needs

By Sharon Peake, Shape Talent Founder & CEO and Shazma Ahmed, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant

We work with Heads of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion every week, across a range of industries. And while each of our clients is different, one theme that is consistent is how to navigate the complexities of a global EDI strategy that also has local resonance. Different cultures, legislative frameworks, and workplace norms can make for a minefield when trying to drive a global EDI strategy. So we’ve compiled four tips for balancing the global and local needs in devising your gender equity strategy.

1. Be aware of political and legal differences about collecting data across geographies

It might sound obvious, but knowing your legal frameworks is critical and not always done well, in our experience. Particularly for multinationals who operate in dozens of countries, wrapping your head around the variation of policy, legal and regulatory compliance across geographies can be complex.

Collecting data as a means to measure progress against goals is important: you need to understand your own data, as well as how you compare with your industry peers and competitors. However, the focus of this data collection is naturally influenced by what is measured at a national policy level. In the EU, the European Women on Boards Directive means gender balance targets are coming into force in 20261, significantly influencing the tracking of gender metrics. Around the world, from large parts of Europe, South Africa, Peru, Australia through to North America, there is a requirement to report gender pay gaps, though regulated ethnicity pay gap reporting is less common, besides which, trying to aggregate ethnicity data globally is pointless given cultural differences around the world.

In some parts of the world – such as South Africa – there may be quotas on recruitment or representation of particular ethnic groups, making tracking vital. Yet in other countries such as France, collecting data on race and ethnicity is illegal. Out of 41 countries surveyed by the OECD, only 17 collect information on ethnic identity, 8 collect information about racial identity and 7 collect information on indigenous identity2.  So forming an aggregated view across a global business is problematic.

The challenge therefore lies in understanding what you can and can’t benchmark, and then how you can roll all of this data up into a meaningful and helpful dashboard to keep a clear view of how your EDI strategy is tracking. By getting a detailed understanding of what you are required to collect and what will give you the best insights for your organisation, you can ensure you are collecting the right data and making a targeted approach to your EDI goals.

2. Understand your starting point

This seems simple enough and yet is an easily overlooked step. We exist in a ‘fast-judgement’ environment; consumers, investors and employees alike expect and want more from the organisations they work and do business with. All too often we see organisations feeling pressured to demonstrate their commitment to EDI and rush to action without a thoughtful review and understanding as to what is really getting in the way.

An EDI strategy must be well thought out and listening to your stakeholders is the key to a meaningful strategy.

What are they concerned about?

How is your organisation perceived?

What are the key barriers to progression on EDI progress at play?

What are the similarities and differences in attitudes across countries, job levels and functions?

Without understanding specifically where the challenges are, and why they are happening, your chances of solving these challenges are greatly diminished.

As a case in point, we worked with one of our clients to run our Three Barriers Diagnostic Survey across 26 countries to understand the experiences of different genders in the workplace, across different cultures. This helped identify by location exactly what the challenges were. We then conducted focus groups to better understand why these challenges were arising. A number of these results were surprising and, in some cases, shocking.  By pinpointing the issues our client was able to create a targeted plan to address the highest priority challenges globally, while also tailoring the solutions by country.

3. Ensure alignment across ERGs

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a valuable resource in obtaining perspectives from diverse groups. Engaging with ERGs at a local level is a great way to tap into important insights and ensure a strong employee voice to help shape your strategy and build buy-in from the inside out. But these insights can get diluted or be missed if you don’t have strong governance and alignment across ERGs globally.

A strong global ERG governance framework is critical to ensure alignment with the global agenda, while still allowing ERGs to focus on the local audiences they serve. Too often we see cases of grassroots-led ERGs who have evolved organically and independently without any parameters to ensure alignment in different locations, and indeed across different affinity groups. We have worked with a number of sectors to help them optimise their ERG frameworks by developing a clear governance framework, terms of reference and structure for ERG effectiveness. By getting greater global alignment, you can better leverage the power and voice of ERGs.

4. Think ‘glocal’

In the same way a consumer brands business might adapt a global product to make it suitable for a local market, we ought to apply the same ‘global localisation’ to our EDI approach. A global EDI strategy that hasn’t been adapted to local market needs, through involving local personnel, is doomed to fail.

After all, what is normal and topical in one region may be irrelevant or push against social norms in another. For example, we see a huge focus on race and ethnicity in US-based organisations, whereas Europe has a strong regulatory focus on gender. A strategy to support the LGBTQ+ community is impossible to manage globally, given different social and legal perspectives on same-sex relationships and gender identity.

Creating a ‘glocal’ approach can help ensure local needs are appropriately represented in global decisions. By bringing teams together, you can engage your global specialists to decipher which parts of the EDI work can be standardised and where there needs to be a more customised, local approach.

We have firsthand experience working with global organisations to design and implement powerful and transformative gender equity strategies. We acknowledge the difficulty and challenges on the road to a fair and equitable workplace. If you’d like to talk to us about how you can build your global gender equity strategy, please get in touch.

Shape Talent are the diversity, equity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality – and what it can achieve for their business.

Click here to learn more about Shape Talent and join our mailing list to be the first to receive our tools, research and updates.

And be sure to follow us on social media:

LinkedIn: and