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The Challenge of Implementing a "Global Diversity" Initiative in "Diversity-Unfriendly" Countries

Some 6,000 lawyers from around the world are attending the International Bar Association meetings in Washington this week. As I meet colleagues from many countries, I am constantly reminded of the challenges that international employers face when trying to implement their diversity initiatives in very different countries. In some areas of the world, promotion of women is culturally, and even legally, controversial. In other countries, racism and discrimination are institutionalized and condoned by the authorities. Even historically progressive countries have seen increased anti-immigration sentiment due to worries about refugees and terrorism. How does a company address diversity initiatives or support affinity groups where custom, law or internal political pressures may place operational limits on how far the company can go in these efforts?

For many international companies, diversity and affinity group support are international human rights issues. When considering projects or expansion of the business, these companies will need to consider whether the locations of new operations will allow the company to pursue its diversity goals and be true to its internal culture. To make informed decisions about whether to pursue opportunities in certain countries, due diligence on the culture and law of the new locations needs to be done. Companies should not find themselves operating in conflict with stated diversity goals without understanding the likelihood of that conflict and exploring means to mitigate the conflict.

Doing business in some areas of the world will make diversity initiatives and support of affinity groups more difficult. How a company handles these issues will depend on its ability to obtain information on these locales and to consider fully how the company can operate consistent with its employment goals and culture. There are opportunities for companies to do good around the world, and thoroughly considering these issues may reveal those opportunities to you.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.