Business Week Article Goes Beyond Diversity 101
Energy At Work Series empowers you to address the diversity training issues
covered in this article:
The Bottom Line, Relating
Across Differences, Conflict As Opportunity,
Teams in Motion,
Global Contrasts, Sexual
Capitalizing on Diversity:
Navigating the Seas of the Multicultural Workforce and Workplace
By: Michael L. Wheeler
Business Week article (13 pages),
Dec 14, 1998
Excerpts from article
The Strategic Corporate Challenge
Whether crossing national boundaries, or working in a multi-cultural team
at home, "businesses and individuals are under pressure to develop cross-cultural
abilities and skills," says * Lewis Brown Griggs, president of
Griggs Productions and an early pioneer in cross-cultural video training programs.
Among those abilities and skills are:
Corporations influence the world in powerful ways.
In the workplace, eradication of institutional biases, modeling for inclusion,
and win-win practices can be exhibited. But the difference between a sinking
ship and a successful voyage is the application of knowledge through corporate
strategies. It is here where companies can minimize conflict, use the tension
created by cultural differences to increase innovation and problem solving,
heighten employee utilization, improve communication and, indirectly, have
a positive impact on business and communities by leveraging cultural differences.
Griggs Productions has also provided a similar example
of common challenges people face across differences in the workplace (see
Exhibit 2). We see readily how contrasts around time, language, communication,
and relationship can have significant consequences in the workplace.
Exhibit 2 Culture Contrasts
The time challenge: pace; time is money; past-, present-, or future oriented;
fixed versus fluid (In some cultures there is no language regarding time).
The language challenge: is the culture relying on language, action, of
intuition to make judgements? The life goal challenge: harmony; goal-oriented;
short term/long term; approach to basic needs (scarcity-plenty). The communication
challenge: direct versus indirect; verbal versus nonverbal; meaning is derived
from high context versus low context; circular versus linear; formal versus
informal; expressive versus stoic. The work and activity challenge: if there
is a will, there is a way; long versus short hours; family and work balance;
live to work/work to live; being versus doing; task versus relationship; order
versus flexibility. The use of space challenge: different physical and psychological
space; private or public; near or far; closed or open. The power challenge:
who is in charge? Hierarchical; participative; patriarchal; equality. The
relationship challenge: differences in building and maintaining relationships
(family, organization, church, state, etc.); formal versus informal; individual
versus the group; cooperative versus competitive; task versus relationship.
The challenge of how to relate to oneself: as individual versus as part of
a group; as critic or as nurturer; as body, soul, or mind; as spiritual; as
integrated whole. The spirituality challenge: god-fearing; agnostic; atheist;
the notion of good versus bad; varying religions. The nature and environment
challenge: part of nature versus control of nature.
Source: Griggs Productions, Human Energy at
Work, Global Contrasts, 1996, San Francisco
Valuing our Ubuntu: Cultural research and motivation theory indicates that
people contribute most, give of themselves, when they feel valued. Deepak
Sethi believes, "Irrespective of talent, people will not give hearts
and mind unless they feel valued." Brendan Keegan confirms, "Our
fundamental value of treating the individual employee with dignity and respect
is transferable around the world. We do not create it, but rather seek to
draw out from the people we hire, their natural instinct for taking pride
in their work and their natural need to be treated with dignity and respect.
These needs are universal and the values supporting these needs can be universal
We find a value for individuals and respect can go a long way in companies.
An interesting example comes out of South Africa. Lente-Louise Louw, co-author
of Valuing Diversity: New Tools for a New Reality, and director, new product
development at Griggs Productions recalls an experience while working with
a large South African corporation based in Johannesburg. She explains, "During
the course of a survey I conducted in a large company well regarded for progressive
management, equitable salaries, good health care and other benefits, but steeped
in long standing prejudices about the capabilities of its ("lazy")
workers, there was great resistance to the questions I was putting directly
to workers regarding their own work practices. Despite the aid of a translator,
my words fell on deaf, unresponsive, and hostile ears. Finally, an older worker
spoke up. I will never forget the connection with this old man nor the experience.
He said, 'We leave our Ubuntu at home.' It became clear that the management's
denial of the workers "personhood," its lack of respect, lack of
knowledge, lack of recognition of workers as fellow human beings - effectively
shut down the process of UBUNTU. Ubuntu is a Nguni word that means 'the quality
of being human.' Its equivalent term is also found in other African languages
and is a key concept that regulates inter-personal relationships in African
culture. It shows itself in social interaction and is highly valued by African
people. Ubuntu provides a framework for diverse people to contribute to the
problem solving. Because of the trust, respect, and acceptance, people are
not afraid to participate and voice their ideas and feelings."
Corporate values can only go so far; it is the act of valuing an employee
that makes the difference. Given the demographic transformation of our times
it inherently means investing in our diverse people and with that comes the
challenge of diversity with its problems and opportunities. Says Louw, "Overall
we know there is strength, but it needs to be valued. Most importanlty, we
need the full participation of every individual and partnership and cannot
afford to lose any potential (UBUNTU) because a person's fullest self is devalued."
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