How to create a global reward strategy to support diversity and inclusion

Need to know:

  • Organisation-wide values that commit to supporting diversity and inclusion should be upheld and respected across global locations.
  • Consider benefit policies and communications through an inclusive lens to ensure that they do not exclude any groups.
  • Use broad principles of alignment so that all global staff are supported while accounting for local variations.

While there is still much work to be done, diversity and inclusion has slowly nudged up the workplace agenda, with certain employers blazing a trail in their commitment to supporting diversity in all its forms. Tom Hellier, director and GB practice lead, rewards at Willis Towers Watson, says: “The number of [organisations] that are taking this really seriously is on the increase. [Organisations] are including diversity and inclusion statements in their annual reports and on their websites; if you look back even five years ago, I don’t think we saw those types of statements present.”

However, progress can be somewhat uneven, whether that be in terms of the level of support for certain groups or issues, or support across different industries or geographies. For example, Mercer’s LGBT benefits around the world survey, published in March 2017, found that while 81% of global survey respondents offer the same life, medical, and retirement benefits to LGBT couples as they do to same-sex couples, those that do not cite national law constraints (50%) and cultural preconceptions (33%) among their reasons for not doing so.

So how can multinational organisations navigate a global landscape to ensure they provide benefits that support diversity and inclusion across their workforce?

Develop overarching values and principles

First and foremost, organisations should develop global values and policies, such as anti-discrimination policies, that uphold their commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion. Once these overarching values are in place, a benefits strategy can be established to provide broad principles of alignment, says Carl Redondo, global benefits leader, UK at Aon Employee Benefits. This would be designed to reflect an organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda while taking local considerations into account, such as the needs of the business, tax environment, workforce demographics, and culture in that region.

Where there are regional differences between benefits packages, organisations should be able to explain why this is the case. Ingrid Waterfield, director, people consulting at KPMG, says: “Make sure [the organisation is] explaining why [it is] doing what [it is] doing in that particular jurisdiction, and can demonstrate that the principles [it is] applying are the same across each jurisdiction.”

If local laws are less supportive of diversity, for example if they do not legally recognise same-sex partners, then there are ways that employers can structure their benefits programmes to provide parity of support to staff and their dependents globally. In the case of insurance policies, a captive insurance vehicle or insuring an employee’s same-sex partner on a global rather than country-level policy, are among the ways that organisations could overcome this issue, says Redondo.

Where technical issues such as this are encountered, particularly around more traditional benefits, it may slow down the progression of change, says Nigel Bateman, innovation and intellectual capital lead, global services and solutions at Willis Towers Watson. “Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to work its way through. In big, dynamic, complex organisations, which global [businesses] are, these things take time,” he adds.

Ensuring all stakeholders are actively on board can help to accelerate progress across multiple locations.

Consider the local market

Organisations may also wish to look at how certain strands of their benefits programmes support diversity across their global workforce. Health and wellbeing benefits, for example, can be developed to meet the various health needs of a diverse workforce, says Tony Wood, UK leader at Mercer’s health and benefits business. This could range from health support for trans employees or older staff, through to schemes specific to the different health risks men and women face, such as prostate cancer support or maternal health. When developing a global benefits strategy to support employees’ diverse health needs, employers should consider what health provision is already available in each location. Wood says: “Understanding what’s available through public mechanisms is important because it mightn’t be that [organisations] are necessarily providing a consistent benefit but [they] can be providing consistent support, consistent messaging, and have consistent policies in place as much as possible.”

Provide choice

It is not just local legal frameworks and state provisions that should be taken into account; local cultures and attitudes should also be considered, for example, a certain benefit might be perceived as having a higher value or relevance in one country than another. Building choice into the total reward package could therefore help an organisation to meet the diverse needs of a global workforce. Peter de Norville, director of global diversity and inclusion at the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI), says: “It’s ‘this is what we have, it’s a menu, would you like to pick and choose what suits you?’. And on a global basis that would still work. Then, irrespective of local laws and cultures, the corporate culture is the one that would trump everything else.”

Recognise issues facing globally-mobile staff

Global employers that offer international travel and assignment opportunities should also consider how best to support staff who may face additional obstacles in certain countries, such as LGBT employees. Sarah Foster, head of global workplace programmes at LGBT equality charity Stonewall, which produces resources such as Safe travels: global mobility for LGBT staff and Global workplace briefings, says: “[This] is something that we see as being very important because it has the potential to become a structural inequality if [organisations] don’t address it properly.”

The first step is recognising the possible implications of relocations for LGBT staff, says Foster. Next, make sure the mobility or HR team are informed about the potential issues staff may face, and that employees are able to make an informed decision. While it should be up to the employee, rather than the employer, to decide whether or not they go on international assignment, if the employee does decide they cannot accept on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, then fair policies should be in place to ensure that this does not have a negative impact on their career, explains Foster.

Multinational organisations can also facilitate support mechanisms for staff while they are on assignment. For LGBT employees, this might include an LGBT network or a contact in the mobility team who they can turn to for support if they wish.

Certain benefit schemes and initiatives can also serve to address a multiplicity of employee needs in whichever country they are currently based. This includes globally-mobile staff with eldercare responsibilities. Mercer’s Wood says: “When [an employee is] living on one side of the world and [they] have a parent dealing with dementia or ageing generally, it’s very stressful. How do [organisations] support expats who are living with those challenges?”

Education and access to resources, such as information about where an employee can get help locally, are some of the ways that employers could address this.

Look at reward through an inclusive lens

If a reward strategy is to fully support an organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda, then the two should not be viewed in isolation. Diversity and inclusion should be embedded within a benefits strategy, with a joined-up approach between an organisation’s diversity, reward and talent teams so that everything is looked at through an inclusive lens, says KPMG’s Waterfield.

Regularly reviewing benefits policies and the messaging around them can help to ensure that there are no elements that are inadvertently exclusive. Employee feedback, including working with diversity groups and staff networks, can help to facilitate this. Sara Flanagan, UK head of employee benefits and wellbeing at KPMG, says: “It’s just about thinking through what it would feel like to someone in a different situation. Think about what adjustments are needed to help people participate.” For example, at KPMG, transcripts are made available for all video communications so that they are accessible to all employees.

Lead the way

To effectively embed diversity and inclusion in an organisation, from workplace culture through to benefits schemes, senior leadership buy-in is essential. Farrah Qureshi, chief executive officer at Global Diversity Practice, says: “The single most important factor in the success of any diversity and inclusion initiative is having senior-level sensitivity, sponsorship, endorsement, reinforcement and accountability. Those are the essential factors, whether that’s through the communications they give out on behalf of the [organisation], whether it’s about benefits and endorsing them, or supporting and almost challenging the HR teams and talent partners to do things differently and be ahead of the game.”

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Ultimately, recognising and supporting diversity and inclusion through reward and benefits can help to drive an organisation’s global attraction and retention strategy, and support business performance. As ENEI’s de Norville, says: “[For an] organisation where there is a real war for talent, [it is] really going to have to start delivering a reward strategy that focuses on diversity and inclusion, and by default the culture that backs that up, because more and more people will choose where they go and work based on that culture.”