Does your workplace look like a holiday fair, with people from different backgrounds, religions, skin colour and even different languages and or dialects are spoken? Then you indeed work in a place where cultural diversity is a way of being.
Diversity in the workplace has never been such a hot issue as in the last decennia. People are not only bringing their talents and skills to work but also their lifestyle, religion, norms and values, gender, cultural background, race and ethnicity.

Managers and employees are always faced with the challenge of managing diversity. People are not the same. Even though they want to be treated equally, it does not mean they want to be treated the same. This is not only within the company but also includes customers, providers and the general public.

Nowadays the current business environment is one of change in demographics, increase in globalisation of businesses and a radical shift in production, work, organisation and competition. If enterprises wish to thrive in this global economy, they need to understand better cultural diversity and how to manage it effectively.

Multi-cultural organisations that leverage on its diversity have a cost-effective, competitive edge: there is an increase in creativity, helps the organisation to be more flexible to changes and it attracts a variety of new customers. The one who understands the global market is the winner!


Why is it so important to be aware of cultural differences?

  • Culture is more often a source of conflict than of harmony
  • Cultural differences can be a nuisance
  • Since communication differs among cultures, it often becomes an issue among people
  • When managed positively cultural differences bring innovation and creativity
  • Lack of understanding of other cultures can be a source of intolerance and misunderstanding
  • Diversity brings flexibility, ideas and different ways of doing things

Understanding how important family relationships are in work, social life and networking will help you understand why in Latin America friends and family are also found in the workplace.

As an employee you can take the next steps to support diversity development in your organisation:

  • Be interested in getting to know your colleagues
  • Share things about your culture, without imposing
  • Be open to sharing your experiences of things that happen in the office
  • Improve your communication towards other people

As Employer or HR manager spend some energy in:

  • Ask staff to share their customs and beliefs
  • Organise meetings to share happenings at the office and discuss how the team is experiencing it
  • Give communication and diversity awareness training through the year
  • Include all your staff in decisions that will affect them like working hours and days, clothing, and company’s norms and values

The critical step is to start an open discussion on diversity, norms and values. Just by sharing, people will become aware of how things affect other people.

Culture: elements to take into consideration

Most probably cultural differences play a role in the relationships and communication. Things often go ok, but for all kind of reasons that escape our understanding, things can also go wrong. Dutch professor Geert Hofstede spent many years researching the effect of culture in organisations. His study was based on the comparison of national and organisational culture. Hofstede’s research has shown that cultural differences between nations are primarily found on the deepest level; i.e. on the level of values. In comparison, cultural differences among organisations are specially identified on the level of practices. Practices are more tangible than values. To learn more enjoy an interview with Geert Hofstede. Hofstede defines Organisational Culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one organisation from others.”

Hofstede developed a cool tool for us to look at different cultural elements of countries and you can compare different countries too – National Culture, Countries. This tool might support you in the understanding of cultural differences, organisational values and what are the elements you need to take into consideration when dealing with cultural difference both at work and in your social life. The infographics below show comparisons among six countries.

The outcome of his research and many others (Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner in their book called “Riding the Wave of Culture”) is that each culture is a combination of values, norms, customs, believes and preferences. For example, Latinos are passionate and like sharing their emotions in the open while Germans are very reserved. In some societies you are who you are because of your achievements (study, work) while in others is about your background and social status (England versus The Netherlands) or the focus on time: like the countries where life pace is slower (Latin America) or time having the meaning of now, important, not enough (USA).

Based on research conducted in more than seventy countries over a forty-year span, Hofstede examines what drives people apart when cooperation is so clearly in everyone’s interest. Here you can find interesting infographics about how these 6 countries compare to each other on the 5 dimensions.

Pictures: Filmagen / Inner pics: Flickr: mikebaird James Cridlandsookiebontemps 

This articled appeared originally in Colorszine