Today globalization has become one of the most discussed notions both in theoretical findings of scholars and in the everyday practice of decision-makers. Progress and technology have been rapidly turning our planet into a “global village” where one can cross the ocean in several hours, talk virtually with strangers from different corners of the World, and run an international business.
On the other hand, globalization has brought new challenges and problems: illegal migration, transportation of diseases, environmental problems, etc. Now it is very important for the World community to understand changes, opportunities, and threats brought by globalization.
If we ask an ordinary person about the impact of globalization, the first thing that probably comes into his/her mind is the notion of multiculturalism.
American society is multicultural: in our everyday life, we contact representatives of different cultures and religions, which means we need to learn to understand each other. For a certain time, it was expected that globalization would eliminate the borders between cultures and make us forget about cultural differences.
However, the last decades demonstrated that though interacting and enriching each other, cultures do not disappear. Scholars even talk about the process of localization as that opposite to globalization and use the idea of “glocalization,” which implies that global trends are adapted to the local actual. Thus, the necessity to study cultures does not disappear but strengthens.
In the course of my professional activity, I had an opportunity to work in the conditions of cultural diversity; therefore, I learned the importance of other cultures. This essay is devoted to my experience connected with the work in a multicultural environment. I would like to discuss challenges at the workplace that are born by cultural diversity and outline the ways to manage them.
Language and Other Communication Aspects
Language is one of the most explicit cultural differences which are very difficult to cope with; the “language barrier” may become a serious obstacle in business communication. I often had to make decisions about hiring a candidate who demonstrated significant potential and had valuable work experience but lacked English language skills.
I had to analyze the situation and estimate a candidate’s willingness to improve his/her English. In many cases, I gave the candidate a chance seeing that his/her skills are really valuable for the company. At the Superior Homes, Jamaica, NY, we organized the English course for the “newcomers” who had to improve their spoken and written English.
When working in diverse teams, I understood that the language itself is not the only aspect of communication that should be considered in culturally diverse businesses. While the language is an explicit component of communication, there are also several implicit factors such as facial expressions, gestures, etc. These elements should be taken into account in order to make communication effective and comfortable.
Eye contact is an aspect that requires one’s particular attention. When working with Asian and Muslim clients at Superior Homes, Jamaica, NY, I knew that representatives of these cultures avoid strong eye contact and feel uncomfortable with my straight look; they also tended to hide their emotions. I adapted my behavior to these peculiarities, and I noticed an instant change of their feelings as they were more comfortable when talking to me.
Psychological Aspects of Cultural Diversity
Today theoreticians of management emphasize the importance of motivation in operating a company and offer various strategies in regards; a manager’s task is to find effective approaches to motivating an employee. Working with culturally diverse staff showed me that representatives of different cultures might need different incentive strategies.
Motivation is closely connected with the notion of values that are, in turn, one of the important psychological aspects of cultural differences: cultures have different understandings of them. For example, white Americans are focused on their career, seeing it as a means of supporting their families and providing them with a wealthy and stable future; at the same time, many other nations understand family values as spending time with relatives, helping children and parents, etc.
In my managerial experience, I faced a case that illustrated this regularity. At You-The Spa, I managed fifteen employees, and one of them was a Mexican woman who worked very diligently and had good performance. I decided to reward her with a salary increase expecting that money would motivate her to continue demonstrating progress in professionalism and diligence.
However, her behavior changed: having been given higher pay, she tended to work less and to go home earlier to spend time with her family.
I saw that her understanding of family values included such factors as spending time with relatives and taking care of them; the higher salary was not included in the “list” of her primary values and thus did not become a means of motivation.
I had to change my strategy, and so I gave her additional responsibilities in order to show that she was an important player in the company, and this approach turned out to be effective as she continued to perform excellence.
Another psychological aspect of cultural difference is the perception of age. One of the classifications of cultures is an orientation to the future/past: for example, the US nation is more focused on the future while the Japanese and Chinese are oriented on the past. Comparing to white Americans who pay attention to one’s personal characteristics rather than age, Hispanic Americans and Asians are very respectful to age itself.
Having managerial experience in my professional background, I found it was sometimes difficult to work with employees who represented these cultures. My position implied that I instructed them and assessed their work; however, I felt that they expected me to explicitly demonstrate respect to their age and listen to their opinion. I considered this information and adapted my behavior to their expectations.
In addition, a psychological aspect that should be considered by managers is uncertainty avoidance. If a culture is characterized by a high level of uncertainty avoidance, an individual may be quite cautious in making decisions and feel uncomfortable when facing the necessity to take risks.
Depending on the cultural majority within an organization, its culture may be adapted to risk-taking or backward, quite conservative. For instance, I had an opportunity to observe two completely opposite approaches to risk-taking when I worked at Superior Homes Realty.
While one of two managers demonstrated a willingness to make risky decisions just after having looked at the numbers presented in a written plan, his colleague preferred fulfilling substantial preliminary work that included research thorough and risk estimation. The managers belonged to different cultural backgrounds.
Religion and Work
Working at You-The Spa exposed me to a culturally diverse business environment, which also gave me a new background in cross-cultural management. My company incorporated cultural diversity in its operations. For instance, the Spa was located in a Jewish area, and the majority of my clients were Jewish.
Though I had several Jewish employees as well, the team was diverse as we worked with colleagues representing different cultures and religions. Religion became one of the most significant aspects I had to pay attention to. I dealt with differences in religious holidays and different traditions among employees, such as attending synagogue or church.
Jewish workers and clients could not visit the Spa on Saturdays, and so I had to keep it closed because the area was very religious, and the rest of the businesses in that shopping strip were closed as well. On the other hand, the employees who could have worked on Saturday had to go to the Church on Sundays when the Spa was open. I had to adapt the schedule to their needs: on Sundays, Jewish staff was working with clients.
Considering this experience, I formulated policies concerning region to ensure that people from all religions could fit to work in my company and could feel comfortable considering their religious commitment. According to this policy, employees were to finish their assigned duties before their holidays.
Moreover, they were to delegate their unfinished tasks to their colleagues and update them on the job so that if any questions arose in their absence, the company’s projects would not stall. In addition, I cultivated a strong team spirit, and every employee was willing to support colleagues when necessary.
When working in New York and New Jersey Investment companies, I faced the necessity to make managerial decisions in order to solve controversial situations connected with employees’ religion.
The big number of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu immigrants became my colleagues, and that gave me the opportunity to feel that religious diversity in the workplace is a reality as well as the understanding that as a manager, I should respect and consider different practices and spiritual beliefs of my subordinates. Decisions on hiring, dismissal, or promotion based on employees’ religion can be classified as discrimination.
At Millennium Homes, I accommodated religious diversity, as my intention was to maintain a culturally diverse workforce. Hence, employees from different religions were given an opportunity to practice their beliefs as long as they did not hinder their work.
There were three Muslim workers in our office, and their religious practice required them to pray five times a day. Not only were they allowed praying, but also given a separate room where they conducted prayers. With this decision, I demonstrated respect towards the religion of my employees.
Moreover, I discussed religions and differences between them with the staff members, which led to a better understanding of the team, as well as reducing the emotional distance.
I talked to the colleagues to learn their values, attitudes, and needs connected with their religious practices in order to integrate them into the corporate culture; on the other hand, I did my best to respect private matters.
I came up with reasonable policies, such as adjusting schedules to the needs of the staff members who could not work on certain days. As a result, the employees demonstrated a willingness to step in for each other, and religious holidays did not confront with the schedule.
Some religions imply that a person should be dressed in a special way. I faced such situations at the Spa and in Superior Homes Realty. I could not allow employees to violate the dress code and had to insist on wearing their uniform every day.
Thus, I talked to those who resisted to wear the uniform and explained that my decision was not based on disrespect to their religion, but rather to keep a professional appearance. That helped me to solve this controversial situation.
Cultural Diversity as an Advantage
The increased attention to multiculturalism is not accidental; it can be explained by contemporary processes taking place in our society. For a long time, a typical American employee was considered to be a young white heterosexual Christian male.
During the 20th century, the situation has significantly evolved: the number of representatives of “minorities,” such as women, African Americans, Muslims, homosexuals have been growing. Minorities had to defend their rights to participate in the life of society and get workplaces; today, American society drastically struggles with any prejudices about gender, age, nationality, or religion at work.
In many cases, cultural diversity complicates this process, as representatives of different backgrounds find it difficult to understand each other. However, the notion of “cultural gaps” is replaced today by that of cultural diversity, which means that all ethnicities are respected and understood.
Each one possesses its wisdom; that is why it is necessary to understand that cultural diversity in the workplace is not a problem but rather a source of advantages. I had the opportunity to “test” this statement in my professional activity. Learning to understand these differences, I managed them and turned them into advantages in the workplace.
The biggest advantage of a culturally diverse team is the synergy effect that appears in its work. Since people have different attitudes and perceptions when participating in the donation organization activity, I involved students who represented dissimilar social groups and cultures.
The students’ input into the operation of the organization was very helpful because I needed various ideas on how to get donations from people who belong to different social and cultural groups. Working in a diverse team, I was able to learn about the attitude of various communities towards donations, and hence we came up with the appropriate methods to include all the members of the community without offending anyone.
Cultural Diversity as a Source of Opportunities
New York is a multicultural city where one can find people from all demographics. Thus when recruiting professional employees, I kept the issue of cultural diversity in mind. Though I avoided recruiting people based on the cultural background and regardless of their qualifications, I hired the most qualified people from different cultural groups at the You-The Spa.
The differences among workers brought variety to the Spa, and the clients enjoyed the opportunity to have their diverse needs and requirements met. I noticed that we got customers from different backgrounds because, with our culturally diverse staff, we could offer services found in other countries right in our Spa. Consequently, we built a large loyal clientele since they felt at home receiving services from people who understood their needs better.
In addition, our customers gave feedback about the services, and we used this information to improve our services. Attending international business shows relevant to the beauty, and health industry also helped me expand my background in cultural diversity, as well as optimize purchases and orders considering various needs of our clients.
Moreover, understanding the fact that customers are diverse and have different expectations is crucial for successful management. Products or services suitable for consumers from one cultural group might not be suitable for another. Spending time on identifying the unique needs of people will result in greater business and loyal clientele.
Serving at El Al Israel Airlines, Tel Aviv, Israel, also gave me an opportunity to work with customers from different cultures. Their expectations vary, and some of them complained if they felt their needs were not met adequately.
Quite often, clients’ complaints were connected with unused food offered to them during their flight. The experience at the airlines was valuable, as it significantly contributed to my notion of cultural diversity. For instance, Muslim women do not shake hands with males in public. Such knowledge was very useful when I was dealing with various customers.
One of our main goals was meeting the individual needs of our clients so that each of them could feel the company’s care. Consequently, we had many passengers who used our service regularly.
Managing Cultural Diversity at Work
My experience described above helped me understand that cultural diversity must be deliberately incorporated into a company’s culture. Being more than just a means of solving problems connected with different cultural backgrounds, this approach offers a way to build a strong team, avoid numerous threats, and create new opportunities.
In the course of our discussions, many myths about different cultures were disproved, and the new knowledge became the background for employees’ successful cooperation: they began to collaborate more actively. The staff treated each other with respect and trust. I also noticed that the number of conflicts in the workplace declined due to the discussions.
For example, two young employees had a permanent conflict as a result of specific miscommunication that constantly took place when they had to cooperate. Having observed their conversations and talked to both women, I noticed that one of them did not provide her colleague with the necessary information on the orders they worked on, avoided consulting and discussing details just replying, “It is obvious, was there something to discuss?”
These workers were the representatives of different cultures, and I explained to them the concept of “high and low context” in cross-cultural communication: while Americans prefer discussing things in detail and summarizing what has just been said, many other nations consider this unnecessary.
The employee changed the style of her communication, and their conversations were more intensively and discuss details. Discussion of cultural differences helped our team save time: instead of solving conflicts, we had an opportunity to focus on our work.
Introducing Cultural Diversity Hiring Policy
The observed background leads to the idea that being a source of advantages and opportunities; cultural diversity should become a company’s permanent policy: not only should an employer manage it but create and maintain it as an intangible asset.
At Millennium Homes, I had the responsibility of developing the employee manual and the policies in different fields of the company’s operation. The hiring policy was to avoid discrimination based on race, ethnicity, physical ability, gender, and age. I got many applications from candidates of diverse backgrounds, and as a result, I employed people who represented different nationalities and religions.
Implementation of the cultural diversity policy in hiring requires a manager to constantly expand his/her knowledge in the fields of cultural differences, cross-cultural communication, religion, cultural, and social psychology. This background helps to fulfill a competent evaluation of potential employees’ skills.
Managing Cultural Diversity In Company’s External Environment
Managing cultural diversity within a company is only one side of cross-cultural business communication that managers face nowadays. Considering that businesses go global, agents from different countries cooperate with each other, overcoming geographical and cultural borders.
Thus, for a manager, the notion of cultural diversity at work substantially expands by working with foreign suppliers, clients, and colleagues. When a company enters a foreign market, opens a subsidiary, or makes a purchase from a foreign contractor, managers have to carry out intercultural communication, which may be quite challenging for them.
For a US citizen, Asians may seem too evasive and intending to drag out negotiations; Russians pay too much attention to subjective impression and personal relation; a French male negotiator can kiss a woman’s hand to demonstrate his courtliness. A manager should thoroughly study the culture of a country his/her partner represents and try to avoid any prejudices towards any attitudes and behaviors that may seem strange for him/her.
As mentioned before, demographics in the US society have changed due to the process of globalization and intensive migration from one country to another.
The distance between the job opportunities of a “mainstream” white young Christian male heterosexual employee and a representative of “minorities” has substantially decreased, and most companies have a culturally diverse team, which makes cultural diversity a very important issue that must be considered by businesses.
However, the new tendency should be perceived not as an additional challenge, but an advantage and a source of new opportunities. Businesses with culturally diverse staff prove to operate in today’s business world successfully. In addition, understanding other cultures and cultivating respect towards them helps the team cooperate and reach a synergy effect.
Also, employees are able to avoid groundless conflicts and focus on their work rather than on arguments. Effective cultural diversity management helps understand the needs and expectations of different customers and contributes to the formation of loyal clientele.
Finally, to manage cultural diversity, a manager should expand his/her background in this field. Diversity is not limited by religious holidays and language; a gesture, a glance, or the formulation of a phrase can be an example of how different cultures are.
These efforts prove to be worth taking: respect towards diversity is important because the employees get a chance to be themselves without trying to fit into a certain culture, and bring their unique talents to the teamwork. Cultural diversity should be incorporated into the company’s policies combined with teaching workers this fundamental issue in the business environment.