Unless you work at your family owned and operated Italian restaurant, chances are your workplace is going to employ people from a variety of different cultural backgrounds. There are very few places these days that you can go without encountering someone of a different ethnic, religious, cultural or gender orientated background. I am a strong believer that diversity is something that everyone should rejoice in because even if you might not agree with someone else’s way of thinking, the chance to interact with people from other backgrounds is an eye-opening experience and a great learning opportunity that allows us to look at the world from a different perspective.
Cross-cultural training is becoming the focus of many multinational companies and even some smaller ones. Ideally, organizations want to hire people that already have these skills, especially for managerial positions. However, is culture sensitivity training enough? The following is an excerpt from The Rise of the Global Employee, published by the Australian School of Business:
Back when all this globalization stuff was becoming mainstream, (a.k.a. managers finally realized that cultural differences needed to be addressed since they were offending people left, right and centre) companies were under the impression that they could lump all their employees into one big lecture hall, feed them some cultural stereotypes on what sorts of behaviours are deemed normal and acceptable and assume that everyone would get along just peachy after that. After all, this was the Age of Information and Technology and you could take whatever golden piece of wisdom you found on Wikipedia to the bank.
Their newly trained employees remained ill-equipped to work in a multinational company. This was due to a number of reasons however the main reason was that for all their cross-cultural training, employees were still unable to look at each individual as a person and not just a stereotype.
When people work for a multinational company, they too become multinational. The Asian employees are taught to see things from a global perspective much like the Americans are. According to the Business Spectator, “they see themselves as ‘global citizens’ – modern, cosmopolitan and sophisticated.” They integrate themselves into a more diverse culture and become atypical of their country in many senses. These employees will then proceed to get frustrated when they are labelled and treated as something other than what they are.
So is cross-cultural diversity training bad? No, of course not. Is it enough? Once again, no. An article from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) actually outlines a situation where diversity training actually made a situation worse. If not done correctly, it can actually promote prejudices and stereotypes instead of teaching people how to work well with others from another background. People begin to be seen by their culture instead of their individuality. The article, which is titled “Diversity Training Doesn’t Work” goes on to suggest that instead of cross-cultural training and diversity session, corporations promote communication training as an alternative and teach employees how to listen and speak with each other as people.
My recommendation falls in line with HBR’s suggestion. Communicate. Talk to other people. Go out in the world deliberately to meet new people and talk with them. Chances are you will find it immensely interesting and rewarding as you travel the world simply to have a conversation. Whether you are a student, a professional or recently retired, consider participating in some sort of international exchange program or internship. You are guaranteed to learn at least a little bit about a certain skill and a lot about what makes people and their cultural backgrounds unique. These unique experiences will prepare you well for the globalized workplace no matter what industry you pursue.