Critical consideration of diversity management in cross- cultural context

In recent years a global progression towards the topics of Diversity and Inclusion could have been widely observed. Generally speaking, we can see more and more attention being brought up towards the topics of diversity and seemingly more people start to understand the importance of it and that being diverse is an upcoming must-have of the new decade. Even though we may think that these days nobody should be in any way shocked by or reluctant to accept diversified people in both their personal and professional communities such instances still happen. Having mentioned that, the art of diversity management and especially when it comes to the cross-cultural aspects is incredibly important and will be the main topic of this paper.

The first question we should answer is what is Diversity Management? This type of management is a type of management that focuses on managing, coordinating, and securing employees from diversified backgrounds, nationalities, cultures, and communities to provide them with an inclusive professional environment. This management style and the origination of diversity and inclusion is strongly correlated with the introduction of equal employment opportunities, LGBTQ rights, global access to education, and partially with globalization. Even though the word diversity has a global reach and generally people are aware of the fact that everyone amongst us comes from a different social group, culture, country, religion, origin we still struggle to fully accept it and, in some cases, admit it.

We may ask ourselves why diversity is important? Why should we pay so much attention to it? The answer to that is rather simple. Because it is inevitable. We cannot avoid being surrounded by diverse people by any chance even if we presumably live in a very specific and closed community. We simply cannot avoid it thanks to globalization (which also has a negative impact on it) and technological development.

Globalization had a very strong positive and negative impact on diversity. When it comes to the positive aspects, we have to think about globalization in a way of a global reach rather than global standardization. Having everything easily accessible and opened to everyone enabled the diversity to flow outside of the box, spreading globally.

People started traveling more for both touristic and business purposes, started studying aboard, meeting people from various backgrounds, and sharing their heritage with them. Such simple things as visa waiver programs had an impact on diversity sharing as they in a way encouraged people to travel, explore and share who they really are. Such an approach in my personal view is amazing and should be widely encouraged. Luckily various universities enable their students to go on exchange programs as a part of Erasmus programs in order to encourage them towards diversity. Having a look at our Kozminski University, we can state that diversity management in the cross-cultural aspect is done very well thanks to the above-mentioned Erasmus programs. Without a doubt, it can be stated that universities and other educational institutions are pioneers in diversity management and enterprises should really teach from them. Such statement is based on the fact that universities do not market themselves to be “Diverse and Inclusive”, “LGBTQ/ All race/ All religion friendly” as opposed to enterprises because there is a strong belief and assurance in the student community that they are diverse as they comprise of young people who are diverse themselves. Additionally, diversity has its global spread thanks to technological advancement and the popularity of social media. Nowadays, we see numerous people embracing their diversity on social media, reaching millions of people and showing how proud they are of it. However, the fast and easy global reach has its risks. All businesses must beware of how their social media are being managed in order to avoid any inappropriate situations that may bring drastic reputational risks.

In 2017 the clothing company United Colours of Benetton was named “sexist” after a social media post that was captioned “girls not allowed” for a new boys clothing collection. The firm got a very strong social media backlash and recorded a strong reputational decrease over not being diverse and inclusive for all its’ customers. As claimed the firm wanted to deliver a “funny” message and did not intend to discriminate against anyone, however, the clientele did not get the joke at all. Eventually, the firm issued an official apology on its social media.

The above instances show how sensitive the topic of diversity is even today. A minor mistake can cost a lot that is so, it is crucial to master diversity management and really know what is appropriate or not and how it can be used for the benefit of the enterprise. People dislike being labeled on various surfaces when it comes to their race, nationality, gender, or sexuality and this is something Benetton omitted, as their post assumed that boy’s collection and be worn only by boys, not by girls.

On the other hand, globalization has also a negative impact on diversity specifically when it comes to the cultural part. The phenomenon called westernization is not something unheard of. Many believe that westernization goes hand in hand with globalization and is strongly responsible for erasing a cultural differentiation and sort of unifying everyone to behave, believe and live similarly. Very culture-specific habits such as eating with your hands in Arabic or Indian cultures, wearing hijabs or traditional clothing, praying, or celebrating culture-specific rites may be considered “not trendy” or even unappealing in the westernized world. That becomes an issue because of the far reach of social media which of course has its negative aspects. Nowadays, everyone wants to be perceived in a specific way, show only the glamorous part of life, and look like the Kardashians. Nevertheless, the most important is not to be biased by social media and globalization. In my view, people forget that even the Kardashians are diverse with their appearances and cultural heritage therefore, it is not something we may just easily acquire over the social media post.

We may ask ourselves why is diversity still an issue having such a global reach? That is because of stereotyping. We stereotype about something every day and we may do it either consciously or unconsciously. Stereotyping is a process very similar to labeling and prejudice. We start to stereotype about either a situation or a person from the very few first seconds and immediately our mind goes to the closest thing we heard or know about it regardless, of being true or not. After that, we associate the fact with the previously built-up assumption or even the label without a deeper knowledge of it. It all happens within the first seconds of interaction and often is the base of strong prejudice and further on our attitude. Technically speaking we approach either a person or a situation with already a sense of what to expect. In most cases, the assumption will not be true and is simply misleading and made up. The majority of stereotypes consider exactly cultures and it essential is to eliminate them in the process of diversity management as they restrict your thinking.

Very common examples of cultural stereotypes include:

• Southern European= lazy,

• Eastern European= poor,

• Chinese= fake,

• German= well made,

• French= expensive

Are these stereotypes real? In most cases, they are not. They are just generalization used by people in order to try to deliver the message about the unknown based on else’s experiences or beliefs. However, it essential is not to take the stereotypes too seriously and make sure we treat everyone equally regardless of the cultural background. If by any means a business decides to follow stereotypes, the diversity management in that instance immediately can be considered as a failure and may bring risks for the business. Businesses can stereotype as easily as regular people. Stereotyping in business may rely on:

• Supplier selection- businesses may decide to seek supply only from the country-specific providers not taking into account the actual quality of the supply. For instance, many think that Asian and specifically Chinese products are low quality and we are reluctant towards them right after we hear “Made in China”. Under no circumstances it does mean that if something is mead out of Europe or the USA it's automatically better quality because the access to technology and knowledge is the same globally and for some industries, we have better specialists and stronger regulations in Asia than anywhere else.

• Customer base selection- similarly to the above, businesses decide to target a specific customer base. Mostly it is based on customer profiling and market research however, we should take it we a pinch of salt. Any business should restrain itself to a specific client group and close its offering for the others. For instance, we may assume that a major customer of a luxury fashion brand will be women, we may assume that only men will be buying cars or sport-related items or that people will not buy this product in Europe because it is so “American”. All of these examples simply show how narrow the understanding can be and in these cases what we should focus on is the product itself. Essential is to produce an outcome that is diverse and can easily reach a diversified clientele without a major change in the offering. This shows that when thinking about diversity management in a cross-cultural aspect we should not only think about its terms of people but also products or services to make sure we do not discriminate against any of our potential customers and we are able to satisfy their needs.

• Team selection- when it comes to stereotyping in the team selection it is associated with the Human Resource selection processes. As far as these processes are concerned, we should most certainly avoid stereotyping. When thinking about employee selection we should not be biased and offer everyone an equal chance, therefore, look at their experience and professional capabilities instead of their race, nationality, culture, or appearance. In many organizations, it is not well perceived to include your photograph with your CV as the job position should not depend on your look but on your qualifications. Nevertheless, including a photograph in a CV is still a common thing especially in Eastern Europe.

Overall, appropriate diversity and inclusion management practices should strongly focus on eliminating stereotypes from the enterprise as they do not bring any noticeable advantages to it.

In light of the above, the importance of diversity management can be seen on various business levels. Strong attention to diversity aspects is paid by various enterprises on the employee selection process as the majority of rims offer equal employment opportunities. Of course, if you ever applied for a job you see that often there a “special requirements” that immediately discriminate 99% of candidates and are very culture-specific. For instance, the majority or if not all of the job offers in Japan require candidates to speak Japanese which shows that the job market is very exclusive and mostly dedicated to one culture as Japanese is not a widely taught language in other countries. Therefore, getting a good job in Japan for an outsider is nearly impossible.

Similarly, in China, if you are an outsider, people will be very hesitant towards you as they are a rather shy nation and hesitant towards non-Chinese speaking people what can be observed by the lack of English signs on the streets in major cities. Even in Europe, we can notice such instances and France is a perfect example of it. As similar to Japan, the majority of jobs in France- especially in Paris- require candidates to speak French and do not consider candidates without this language for any position.

A strong cultural diversity can be seen in start-ups as these enterprises do it freely. What is meant by that is the fact that start-ups mostly depend on enthusiastic, like-minded people who are very opened, and these enterprises are not strongly regulated, with tall hierarchy and are decentralized. On the other hand, we have big enterprises which as they proudly claim are “All about Diversity and Inclusion” but the question is are they really? If not, why do they try to be all about it?

In my personal view, big enterprises aspire to be diverse and inclusive but there is still a long way to go for some of them. Such opinion is based on the fact that for many years, these workplaces were very exclusive and reserved for specific people only. For instance, banking and finance was a man’s job, people of colour and different sexualities or religions were not accepted by corporations and these places were not adjusted for their needs. Back in the day, corporations did not have kosher or halal meals in the employee canteens or did not have prayer rooms. Nowadays this aspect has changed and became more of a standard. Additionally, as opposed to start-ups many corporations decide to employ “diversity hires” because of introduced quotas that state the ratio of diverse employees to non-diverse employees that should be kept in order to have “good statistics” or are receiving subsidies for each hired diverse employee. Paradoxically, corporations encourage their employees to express themselves and embrace their cultures but at the same time impose on them artifacts (to be described further on) in a form of dress code that limits the diversity and restrains self-expression.

The essential is to find a balance in the diversity management practices introduced by firms. People do not like when someone tries too hard and the same goes for firms. If you aspire to be too diverse it means that actually you are not, and you try to convince everyone else. Often firms use diversity as a good PR, but it is similar to a simple TV advertisement- the more of it, the less credible it becomes.

As an example, recently Goldman Sachs issued a statement that the firm will refuse IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) for firms without at least one “diverse” member of the board. This was a very strong statement issued by a firm that for generations used to be fully managed by a non-diverse board. That is so, the statement was appreciated by some and not so much by others. In my personal view, this statement is imposing diversity and creates a reverse discrimination effect for non-diverse employees. This approach would mean that firms could potentially tend to hire diverse employees only without the right qualification just to keep the ratio appropriate to be eligible for doing businesses with other market participants and this should be avoided at all costs. On the other, this strategy should be appreciated as it indicates that the firm thinks about diversity widely and treats it with a strong focus. However, essential is not to treat diversity as a good PR medium but rather as a strong value deeply embedded in the deep core of the business.

All enterprises have their own culture regardless of being strongly diversified or not. By culture, we should understand the set of principles and values that drive the enterprise and is in a way a collective behavior of the network but also reflects the strategy, mission, and vision of the firm. Nevertheless, the essential is no to impose the culture on employees, instead, they ought to adapt themselves to it at their own pace and mix it with who they really are especially when it comes to cross-cultural teams. Usually, organizational culture can be observed on three below levels as indicated by Edgar Schein in his pyramid model.

1. Artefacts- set of characters that we can see at the first glance such as dress code, the behavior of employees, mission, and vision of the firm as well as interior design. Even at this level is necessary to take into account cultural diversity and make sure we enable cultural appropriation especially when it comes to visual appearance.

2. Values- this aspect speaks for itself and describes the values of employees within the firms such as, the way they speak, act, approach customers and treat each other. Also, this level of the pyramid is strongly dependent on cultural diversification. For instance, in Western Europe, we tend to speak to each other on a first-name basis whereas in Eastern Europe especially in Poland a strong emphasis is put on the article Mr or Mrs and people may be offended if you do not use it. A similar situation can be observed in Asia where elders are very much respected, and the society and enterprises operate under the patriarchal model.

3. Underlying assumptions- are the most deeply embedded in the organization and are only seen from within. These take into account, work environment, the attitude of employees towards each other, over time, relations and management, and work style. In cross-cultural teams, the crucial is to take into account differences in how the work is being executed. For instance, Asian and Indian companies and their employees are known for working long hours and do not mind it because that is the culture of the region. Whereas, in Spain, all employees take few hours of a siesta during the day what prolongs their work hours. On the other hand, in Eastern Europe, employees treat their 8 hours workday very seriously and are reluctant to do any overtime.

Moreover, when thinking about diversity management in cross-cultural teams the following aspects should be critically considered, and the manager must be sure that these challenges can be easily managed in the business as usual activities.

Linguistic barrier- This challenge is the most common in cross-cultural teams in various organizations. In business, English is considered to be the lingua franca however, everyone has a different fluency, accent, or terminologies that create a communication barrier. The manager should make sure that employees feel comfortable communicating with others and give them time to adapt. Some organizations as Accenture have a very limited job offer to employees not speaking English- you can work in your language of choice with the designated team or during the designated project.

Communication & Conflict resolution- As previously indicated, people communicate with each other in different styles depending on their cultural background. In western countries, people tend to be more open, friendly, and direct in the way they speak, present, or share ideas what is contrary to Asian cultures where indirect communication is preferred over direct one. Similar also applies to idea sharing and coming up with initiatives- in Asia people tend to follow the executive when comes from the patriarchal model of the society whereas, the more west we go the more reversed the trend is and applies similarly to conflict resolution.

Motivation- a strong challenge for any manager of a cross-cultural team is to understand how to motivate employees most efficiently. Depending on their background, they may prefer a benefits package in a form of additional remuneration, family care or support plan, a more flexible schedule, or any other forms of support and appreciation. The key aspect here is to adjust the motivation method directly to the employee and avoid a standardized approach regardless of the individuals’ background.

Taking all of the above into consideration we may conclude that managing a cross-cultural team is a true challenge for any manager. Diversity management requires a lot of understanding as it remains a sensitive topic even in the year 2020. Such sensitivity is constantly being intensified by strengthening awareness of various global issues and willingness to leave in peaceful communities. There is a likelihood that someone may experience a cultural shock while traveling or exploring a new culture. At first, a person may feel to be shocked, irritated by other behaviors, set of cultural values but eventually will accept them and adapt to them. The key is not to be afraid of the unknown and avoid any prejudice. Having a clear mind and a positive attitude towards new cultures and diverse individuals will definitely be beneficial. Having said that, while managing a culturally diverse team essential is to speak with people and tend to understand their point of view and get to know them better. Make sure you communicate openly, clearly and that everything is understandable for the other side of the conversation to avoid any unnecessary confusion.

A slight informal relationship and more of a personal approach should help to better understand someone’s position and aspiration therefore, we could further understand what sort of assistance or guidance could be required to make them feel welcome and comfortable and supported.

Author: Łukasz Tomaszewski

Sources: (29.02.20) (29.02.20) (29.02.20) (29.02.20)