How to Launch an Employment Discrimination, Harassment, Diversity or Affirmative Action Initiative on a Global Scale

Equal employment opportunity initiatives—human resources policies, handbook and code of conduct provisions, compliance standards, training modules and dispute resolution procedures that address discrimination, harassment and diversity—have long been vital to U.S. employers. In the global economy, the equal employment opportunity issue has gone global. As American-headquartered multinationals align an ever-increasing list of human resources policies and “offerings” internationally, cross-border efforts at promoting workplace fairness have become increasingly vital, but also increasingly complex.

Domestically within the United States, staking out a “zero tolerance” stand against illegal workplace discrimination and harassment can be an aggressive, tough and compliant approach to assuring equal employment opportunities. And proactively championing workplace diversity is a good practice. But outside the U.S., laws and cultural attitudes regarding workplace discrimination and harassment vary widely. In many countries workforce diversity is not much of a priority, and equality of employment opportunities overseas lags on many countries’ national HR agendas. As one example, in Egypt—where 76% of men but only 26% of women work—gender discrimination is so severe that one woman, Sisa Abu Daooh, has lived as a man since the 1970s, just to be able to maintain subsistence-level employment.

Cultural differences like these complicate the EEO initiatives that American multinationals are inclined to launch across their global operations. This means that U.S. employers’ homegrown domestic EEO initiatives, when exported, can prove culturally inappropriate and legally problematic. Multinationals eager to fight discrimination and harassment and to champion diversity on a global scale therefore need subtlety, nuance, strategy and finesse. A one-size-fits-all American-style approach to EEO compliance simply cannot work internationally, because American laws and cultural attitudes on discrimination, harassment and diversity are unique.

Here we address how a U.S.-based multinational can expand or improve its EEO (discrimination, harassment, diversity, affirmative action) initiatives outside the United States, regionally or around the world. We discuss how U.S. headquarters will need to adjust U.S.-crafted EEO strategies and policies when driving a top-down global compliance initiative—a global policy, code of conduct provision, compliance standard or training module—that would impose internal rules banning workplace discrimination and harassment or that would affirmatively promote workplace diversity.

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Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.