DIVERSITY and INCLUSION: Where do Global Cultures Fit in?

By Susan Gandhi Schultz

In my many years as an intercultural consultant based in the U.S., I find that over the years we have certainly become more inclusive about workplace diversity in terms of gender, sexuality, disabilities and even generation. However, there still is the continuing challenge of integrating international cross-border cultures with the Western corporate culture. Even while Western expatriate leaders try to adapt to the local culture, the focus may still to be to influence local offices towards the “company way”, which may be rooted in the culture of the home office. How do we integrate corporate values with local cultures? Are we operating from what Mark Nielsen from The University of Queensland School of Psychology calls a WEIRD-centric (Western, educated, industrial, rich, and democratic) approach? Maybe or maybe not. Here is some food for thought.

When we talk about providing a work environment in which people feel accepted and can reach their potential, do we consider global cultural differences?

Here are some examples of where employees from some Western companies think we are being WEIRD-centric, and thus feel excluded.

CASE 1.

A Thai employee on an expatriate assignment in the US vented to me, “This company talks about diversity. They even have it as one of the core values. But the way I see it, they just expect us to adapt to the corporate culture, which basically is the US culture.”

CASE 2.

“BE HONEST. BE TRANSPARENT”

Does this seem like a fair statement for effective workplace interactions?

In an attempt to “spread” the corporate culture, signs like these were placed at strategic locations in an Asian office of a large multinational client. Employees in that location felt offended. They shared, “This is a cultural imposition. In our culture this directness of communication is considered impolite.”

CASE 3.

A U.S. supervisor lost confidence in her African expatriate employee. She felt he was not “management material”, as he did not seem to take initiative and work independently. His take? “In my country supervisors are more involved and hands on. I am happy to adapt to her way, but she never discussed this. She did not understand my culture, but instead just judged me.” There are many such cases in which I have been involved.

CASE 4.

Are these ground rules typical for your meetings?

As a consultant, I facilitate many multi-cultural trainings and these ground rules cannot always be applied. For some cultures, open participation is not the norm, and public disagreement is disrespectful as it can cause loss of face. In fact, “corridor or coffee room chats” is where much of the discussion is done. For others, discussions with team members are important; hence the side-bars. The issue is not the rules themselves, but that they are determined without considering cultural differences.

So, what are your employees saying about your organization?

It is crucial to understand key areas of cross-cultural differences, and how these impact key workplace functions such as trust and credibility, reporting relationships, feedback, and performance. Cross-cultural coaching to leaders, managers and employees at large empowers everyone to be proactive in bridging cultural gaps, reaching their full potential and achieving organizational goals.

Look out for a sequel to this article, on facilitating multi-cultural meetings.

As an Intercultural Consultant, for over 25 years Susan Gandhi Schultz has worked with organizations to successfully develop global leaders, create effective global multi-cultural teams, and build a cross-culturally inclusive workplace.

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