Nielsen and Global Diversity & Inclusion: A Borderless Approach

Angela Talton
Angela Talton, Chief Diversity Officer

So often, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is viewed through the lens of what we see, with an emphasis on the dictionary meaning of diversity. The word inclusion is somehow missed or draws less attention. As we work to infuse D&I into Nielsen’s DNA, it is the inclusion of diverse ideas, experiences, backgrounds and cultural nuances that manifests the cultural change we are seeking. When we are inclusive of new, different, creative and innovative thoughts, the results are often incremental—staggering even. This is why diversity and inclusion is a global business imperative.  

As the world changes, as demographics shift, as cultures intertwine, the products and services that appeal to consumers are also changing. Which means that understanding those shifts and changes has never been as important as it is today. But how should a U.S.-based company go about understanding the changing consumer outside the U.S.? By listening and learning—which is precisely how Nielsen goes about crafting a global strategy tailored to the needs of each local country. We have decidedly taken a borderless approach.

Putting “Inclusion” Back in D&I

To implement this strategy in all the countries where we operate, we start with a framework to learn where each region or country plots on its individual diversity journey. Then we work locally to activate inclusion practices and support initiatives that further a culture of inclusivity.

The framework assesses where the region is on a journey beginning with awareness, discovery, understanding, integration and ultimately the realization of goals set along the way. Awareness may include understanding the legal implications for people with disabilities or the human rights concerns in a specific region; while discovery is a method we use to ensure “Managing an Inclusive Work Environment” training is delivered to all people managers by a local trainer who understands cultural distinctions. We are also in the process of investing in Unconscious Bias training around the globe.

There are different levels of understanding, as demonstrated by the number of active employee resource group (ERG) chapters in our global organization. Seventy percent of the more than 100 countries where Nielsen operates have at least one ERG. These voluntary organizations assist with recruitment, retention, professional development, community outreach, engagement and education.

A truly rewarding example of the value of D&I is when the integration of these practices has a direct impact on the performance of the overall business. Across Nielsen, we work to integrate our data and the insights of our diverse employees to help clients strategize and innovate—whether by engaging with clients to share insights on diverse consumers’ shopping behaviors, making marketing materials more culturally relevant or creating a new, profitable product tailored to a demographic. We know that innovation is core to meeting the needs of the increasingly diverse global population. At the point where consumers, community and superior results for our clients intersect, our global teams realize the importance of their D&I journey. A diverse team of employees who intimately understand and appreciate these populations and who feel their ideas will be heard is ‘the secret sauce’ needed to develop the products, services and marketing campaigns that will appeal to diverse consumers.  

Around the globe, it is not enough for diverse employees to have a seat at the table; they must be encouraged to have a voice at the table. The onus is on managers to encourage associates to speak up and then to listen to those voices and ideas—not only for the creation of new concepts, but to help Nielsen and the clients we serve avoid costly missteps, as well.     

The Business Case for D&I

So why are diverse teams more innovative? Why are they smarter? Why do they produce superior results? In 2015, a McKinsey study of 366 publicly traded companies in the U.K., Canada, Latin America and the U.S. found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity had financial returns 15% above the industry median. It also found that companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have returns above their industry median. According to the study, the inverse was also found to be true—companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and racial/ethnic diversity were less likely to achieve above average results.  

The findings of the study were the focus of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) report, “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter,” by David Rock and Heidi Grant. The report revealed that people with diverse backgrounds alter the behavior of a group by uncovering more facts and making fewer errors. The belief is that “diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective.” Additionally, there is a belief that diverse teams process information more carefully and consider the perspective of an ‘outsider’ when making decisions.  

Regarding innovation, in two other studies mentioned in the HBR report, from Spain and the U.K., companies with more women and businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams are more likely to introduce new innovations than those with homogenous leadership teams. The report also notes that “creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep your team members’ biases in check and make them question their assumptions. At the same time, we need to make sure the organization has inclusive practices so that everyone feels they can be heard.”  

As a measurement company, we felt a responsibility to ensure our clients understood—and were empowered to act on—the business imperative of D&I. So in 2016, we created and launched a Global Inclusion Council to bring together 25 leaders from around the globe to set targeted performance goals and business strategies regarding: pay equity, recruitment, promotional/lateral movement, engagement, onboarding, international assignments, etc. The cumulative goal is to cultivate an inclusive work environment that leverages our world-class data and stellar employees as a competitive advantage in support of our clients’ needs. The Council meets at least twice a year to brainstorm, strategize, review progress and set stretch goals. As a result of our first meeting, global market ambassadors are being selected to work with the D&I team to activate and accelerate the unique diversity journeys in each global market. Nielsen Global Inclusion Council members will serve two-year terms and will set targets for representation and movement.

Viewing D&I as borderless allows us to learn from each other, unlike the all too popular practice of simply exporting U.S. ideas and concepts abroad. We live the borderless D&I philosophy at Nielsen, and we’re excited that our eighth ERG was launched outside the U.S. Greater China created the N-GEN (Nielsen Generation) ERG, which seeks to bring together all generations—from Millennials to the Greater Generation—in order to exchange ideas, experiences and expertise while brainstorming ways to engage local employees to provide innovative solutions for both Nielsen and our clients. Since its launch, N-GEN chapters are growing in the U.S. and Europe, and already we’re learning so much about how to optimize the productivity of our increasingly multigenerational workforce.

Today’s global marketplace is quite different than yesterday’s. Each of us is challenged to overcome obstacles, to innovate faster and to do it with as little waste as possible. Leaning into our differences, as well as our similarities, allows us to value all ideas and perspectives. To compete, we must think differently and embrace alternative approaches. Diversity of thought and inclusion of global perspectives, that is truly the science behind what’s next.

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