2 European Case Studies: People With Disabilities & Ethnic Minorities

January 23, 2013 4:12 pm

By Barbara Frankel

How to Improve Global Diversity: Case Studies of European CompaniesEuropean countries, especially those in Western Europe, increasingly are going beyond gender to focus on inclusion of underrepresented groups. But whether these groups include racial/ethnic minorities depends on the country’s philosophy on multiculturalism.

DiversityInc Global Diversity Research data show that European countries have eight times more disability-awareness training programs than Asian countries, and three times more programs aimed at LGBT people and supplier diversity. We note that issues of racial/ethnic disparities are discussed more in certain European countries, such as the United Kingdom, and less in others, such as France, where “valuing difference” is historically unpopular.

However, being more inclusive of people with disabilities and LGBT people is increasingly common in European countries. Our research shows, for example, that 43 percent of United Kingdom companies surveyed have relationships with external LGBT companies, and that more than 62 percent of French companies surveyed have recruitment programs aimed at people with disabilities (this is urged by the French government).  Thirty percent of the companies in Spain have supplier-diversity programs, primarily aimed at women.

Case studies of two companies—Sodexo in Sweden and Merck in the United Kingdom—illustrate their efforts to be more inclusive.

Sodexo: Hiring People With Disabilities 

Sodexo is one of several companies in Sweden that joined together in 2009–2010 to sign the Diversity Charter, with the goal of actively increasing awareness of diversity and inclusion and employment of people from underrepresented groups. Other participating companies include Novartis and Volvo Cars.

“We wanted to draw attention to the concrete benefits of working with diversity in organizations,” says Eva Kristensson, Communications Director, Sodexo Sweden. “We want to strengthen the affiliated companies’ and organizations’ competitiveness and business benefits. In a broader perspective, we want to drive public opinion to the wider community to increase diversity and encourage research on diversity and the business benefits.”

Sodexo specifically wanted to show that as a service company, where 97 percent of its employees meet consumers every day, it is inclusive internally and externally. With approximately 8,000 employees in Sweden and 11,000 in the Nordic zone (which also includes Finland, Norway and Denmark), Sodexo was eager to enhance its diversity commitment.

The food-service company took over operations of a restaurant in the center of Stockholm. Of the restaurant’s 37 employees, 30 were supplied by Sodexo partner Samhall as part of a program to provide meaningful work for people with disabilities. Together, Sodexo and Samhall have promised to find jobs for 1,000 people with disabilities in Sweden in the next three years.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to feel very good about doing this every day,” Kristensson says. “The value to the company is enormous.”

Merck: Reaching Ethnic Minorities 

Tracey Upton, Human Resources Director for MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme) United Kingdom and Ireland, notes that the United Kingdom is advanced in its efforts for women, especially flexible workplaces, but initiatives to reach ethnic minorities have been slower to accelerate.

MSD’s recent focus has been on the increasing percentage of the U.K. population of Asian origin, especially from India.

“About 30 percent of the people on the National Health Plan Service are Asian and we’ve had lots of immigration. In the U.K., we can’t insist that people disclose their ethnicity but we can have an informal look,” Upton says, adding that MSD did a voluntary survey of employees to ask their ethnicity and had a 70 percent participation rate.

With that in mind, the company has started looking at having racially diverse slates for management promotions and is making a major effort to recruit, include and promote ethnic minorities, especially Asians.

There are cultural struggles, she notes: “The main struggle for Asian women is the need to be a homemaker and the family demands. The greatest challenge is not the culture in the corporate organization but how we can help them do more things differently at home.”