Ok, this is a topic highly promoted mostly in the so called “multinational companies”. And at some points I would truly agree that indeed diversity can bring a big added value to any business. While the traditional notion of workplace diversity may refer to representations of various races, genders and religious backgrounds, today’s concept of workplace diversity is all – encompassing. Aside from these variables, considerations are also made on: personality, age, cognitive style, skill-set, education, background and more. The focus of workplace diversity now lies on the promotion of individuality within an organization, acknowledging that every person can bring something different to the table. An organization that is committed to a diverse workforce, therefore, is one that aims to harness a pool of individuals with unique qualities, seeing this combination of differences as a potential for growth rather than opportunities for conflict.
Let’s see first the background theory. Attached to this commitment is also an intention to nurture and develop the potential of each individual. So what is it about diversity that can give organizations an edge?
Here I try to sum up 5 advantages I can consider of having a diverse workforce.
1.Various opinions and perspectives
Employees with different background and experiences will bring together a variety of perspectives, thereby evoking alternative solutions and approaches when discussing a topic or issue. If managed well, the strengths and best insights of every individual can be harnessed to heighten productivity and deliver better results. The composition of a team will dictate its potential for success. There needs to be a mix of capabilities to ensure that essential components and skills from strategic planning, execution, follow up to communication abilities and conflict resolution are present.
At times we overlook the need for diversity, given the pressures that a limited pool of resources puts in organizations. However, if we give in to this pressure, we will ultimate suffer the consequences of having a workforce composed of individuals that can only see things from the same perspective and are unable to contribute different points of view or alternatives due to their limited and similar background, exposure and experience. This amalgamation of diverse individuals also sets the stage for creativity as different ideas can be tested against one another, and new ones may be birthed. Employees stand to experience more personal growth in an environment where they are exposed to differences in culture, opinions and ideas.
2.Growth of employees
Employees stand to experience more personal growth in an environment where they are exposed to differences in culture, opinions and ideas.
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” goes the Aristotelian saying. 🙂 But the following can also be said: The more you know, the better your capacity to test and refine your own perspectives and opinions. Employers will have to improve their ability to adapt to different circumstances in a diverse environment. They have to work through differences in personality, culture and background. Underlying ethnocentric notions may finally be brought to the fore and confronted as they learn to work with different styles and cultures.
3. Unity of diverse strengths
Diversity also presents the opportunity to unite specific strengths to the advantage of the organization. As every person has different skills and possesses varying strengths, these can be combined for greater performance and productivity. Technical strengths in one individual can be united with the management strengths of another, and the sales strength of yet another. Likewise, the cultural expertise of diverse individuals can be leveraged for the benefit of the company. Especially for global organizations, diversity in a workforce can optimize an organization’s ability to meet the needs of each market. Representatives of specific demographics can be paired with clients of the similar backgrounds, helping clients feel more comfortable and sense an affinity with the employee, and thereby, the organization.
4.Make company attractive
From the marketplace perspective, a company that promotes workplace diversity and an inclusive work environment adds to its attractiveness as an employer. A work place that is open to exploring new ideas and styles is especially appealing for the adventurous open-minded employees of Generation Y. If an organization makes it known that they focus on what individuals can bring to the table more than the candidate’s socioeconomic background, ethnicity and the like, they are more likely to attract a diverse range of applicants.
5. The schedule advantage
There is also a practical advantage in having a diverse workforce. As individuals have their unique time commitments, having a varied group helps ensure that work tasks can be fulfilled at all times of the year. Various races are represented particularly in their roles that involve shift work. Acknowledging that various ethnicities and religions have different celebrations they adhere to, making sure they have a diverse group of employees ensures there is a workforce across different festival periods during the year.
THE CHALLENGES OF DIVERSITY
Now let’s look realistically at all the aspects I mentioned above an I will demonstrate that the title of this post “Diversity is the best way to succeed” is in fact a veritable lie.
There are, however, natural obstacles to embracing and implementing diversity in an organization. We would be ignoring the challenges firstly of advocating diversity and then managing it in a manner than ensures it is a strength, and not a human resource and operational nightmare. The goal is to create an environment where every employee has opportunities to be successful and where their differences are leveraged for the success of the organization. The challenge is “the issue of inclusion” or “muscle memory” as one of the main obstacles to workplace diversity, referring to the attitude that says “This is how it has always been done. Why change it?”
Hidden biases form a major component in the formation of this “muscle memory”. Subconsciously, every person has a tendency to draw on their hidden biases when making decisions about who they think will be the best candidate for a particular role or opportunity. They may favor people of a particular race or educational background, gender or individuals of a certain a personality type. A quick glance at the leadership composition of an organization can reveal predispositions that they are inclined towards. You may hear phrases like “It’s not intentional,” . “It’s just this feeling that I’m more comfortable with people like me.” Concerning this is advisable that people, especially managers, must be aware of their personal biases and understand that they may be preventing them from considering other possibilities.
CLASH OF APPROACHES
There is also the very real issue of differences in perspectives leading to a clash of approaches. Culture, personality and background differences can erect social divisions between employees that they need to recognize and overcome. Naturally, this can present disruptions when working in teams as individuals learn to adapt and understand on another. However, this can turn to an advantage if individuals recognize that different, sometimes conflicting ideas, are important to make sure a team does not have tunnel vision. We can see it as a “dynamic tension” that can bring the best results.
So with other words : it is simply better to leave Rome to the Romans. Such theories about diversity are just theories, but in reality saying that “Diversity is the best way to succeed” is of course a lie. The best way to succeed is not Diversity, The best way to succeed is Professionalism.
The art of persuasion makes the difference.
And this is one of the most crucial business skills. Without the ability to persuade others to support your ideas, you won’t be able to attract the support you need to turn those ideas into realities. And though most people are unaware of it, the ways you seek to persuade others and the kinds of arguments you find persuasive are deeply rooted in your culture’s philosophical, religious, and educational assumptions and attitudes. Far from being universal, then, the art of persuasion is one that is profoundly culture-based.
That was the hard lesson which I learned during my career working with people coming from different culture than mine. My longest experience is with Germans, but I also had opportunities to work with French, British, American, Brazilian, Japanese, Chinese, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, and many others; usually all in the automotive industry. But I must admit that the most easiest for me was to work with Latin, American and British people. But now after some years in the field I have learned the German style too. I realized that being persuasive in German environment would require a different approach than in American environment for example. Talking with Americans was quite easy for me to persuade them, a but Germans are a bit the opposite. I feel more comfortable between Americans and Latins anyway. But I am already very used with Germans too.
When I think back to my first meetings with German managers and colleagues, I wish I had understood the difference and hadn’ t let their feedback get under my skin. If I had held my cool, I might have been able to salvage the situation. I was born in Romania and I also spend my school years in Romanian culture as well, I did have some short time jobs in 100% Romanian environment also. Before having the first contact with Germans I was used to behave as all Romanians do. But later on, I have discovered that all Latin cultures are pretty much the similar. Romanian, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese culture have something in common. But American and Germans are 2 totally different cultures.
Therefore, when I worked with my Latin people I had almost not problem to share my ideas and to make them clear for everybody. I did that with Americans too. What I did is (and I still do) are projects in engineering in automotive industry, discussing new design solution and creating new products, with other words mechanical engineering and design stuff. Currently I also do quality engineering.
When I was offered a similar position as mechanical engineer working for a German company in automotive industry, things were different. After visiting several German automotive plants, observing the systems and processes there, and meeting with dozens of experts and end users, I have collected a set of recommendations that I thought it would meet the company’s strategic and budgetary goals. So, I traveled to Germany couple of times to work there for a while and finally to participate to some meetings concerning the part design I was working for and to make a sort of a one-hour presentation in front of decision makers and a group of German managers. The success of those meetings would have given me the opportunity to get other future innovative projects and therefore at my first such a meeting in preparation, I thought carefully about how to give the most persuasive presentation, practicing my arguments, anticipating questions that might arise, and preparing responses to those questions. I was in fact applying the American style of persuasion.
I delivered my presentation in a small auditorium with the directors seated in rows of upholstered chairs. I began by getting right to the point, explaining the strategies I would recommend based on my findings. But before I had finished with the first slide, one of the manager raised his hand and protested, he said:
“How did you get to these conclusions? You are giving us your recommendations, but I don’t understand how you got here. How many people did you interview? What questions did you ask?” Then another manager jumped in: “Please explain us what methodology you used for analyzing your data and how that led you to come to these findings.”
I was taken aback. I assured them that the methodology behind my recommendations was sound, but the questions and challenges continued. The more they questioned me, the more I got the feeling that they were attacking my credibility which puzzled and annoyed me. I have a master degree in material science and engineering and my expertise in injection molding and plastic parts design was widely acknowledged so far. Their effort to test my conclusions, I felt, showed a real lack of respect. What arrogance to think that they would be better able to judge than I am! So I reacted defensively, and the presentation went downhill from there. I kick myself now for having allowed their approach to derail my point. Needless to say, they did not approve my recommendations, and some weeks of research time went down the drain.
The stone wall I ran into illustrates the hard truth that our ability to persuade others depends not simply on the strength of our message, but on how we build our arguments and the persuasive techniques we employ.
On the other side one of my German colleague who worked some years in the U.S.A. experienced similar failures at persuading others, though the cultural disconnect ran in the opposite direction. He recalled problems he’ d had the first few times he tried to make a persuasive argument before a group of his American colleagues. He’ d carefully launched his presentation by laying the foundation for his conclusions, setting the parameters, outlining his data and his methodology, and explaining the premise of his argument. He was taken aback when his American boss told him:
“In your next presentation, get right to the point. You lost their attention before you even got to the important part.” My german colleague was unsure. “These are intelligent people,” he thought “Why would they swallow my argument if I haven’t built it carefully for them from the ground up?”
The opposing reactions that me and my German colleague received reflect the cultural differences between German and American styles of persuasion. The approach taken by the Germans is based on a specific style of reasoning that is deeply ingrained in the cultural psyche. Later on my colleague told me:
“In Germany, we try to understand the theoretical concept before adapting it to the practical situation. To understand something, we first want to analyze all of the conceptual data before coming to a conclusion. When colleagues from cultures like the U.S.A or the U.K. make presentations to us, we don’t realize that they were taught to think differently from us. So when they begin by presenting conclusions and recommendations without setting up the parameters and how they got to those conclusions, it can actually shock us, We may feel insulted. Do they think we are stupid-that we will just swallow anything? Or we may question whether their decision was well thought out. This reaction is based on our deep-seated belief that you cannot come to a conclusion without first defining the parameters”
My colleague’s time in the United States taught him that Americans have a very different approach. They focus on practicalities rather than theory, so they are much more likely to begin with their recommendations. Unfortunately, this reasoning method can backfire when making presentations to an audience whose method of thinking is the opposite-as I discovered.
THERE ARE TWO STYLES OF REASONING: PRINCIPLES-FIRST VERSUS APPLICATIONS-FIRST
I. Principles-first reasoning (sometimes referred to as deductive reasoning) derives conclusions or facts from general principles or concepts.
For example, we may start with a general principle like “All men are mortal.” Then we move to a more specific example: “Elon Musk is a man.” This leads us to the conclusion, “Elon Musk will eventually, die.” Similarly, we may start with the general principle “Everything made of copper conducts electricity.” Then we show that the old statue of a leprechaun your grandmother left you is 100% copper. Based on these points, we can arrive at the conclusion, “Your grandmother’s statue will conduct electricity.”
In both examples, we started with the general principle and moved from it to a practical conclusion.
II.Applications-first reasoning (sometimes called inductive reasoning), general conclusions are reached based on a pattern of factual observations from the real world.
For example if you travel to Seattle 100X during January and February, and you observe at every visit that the temperature is considerably below zero, you will conclude that “Seattle winters are cold” (and that a winter visit to Seattle calls for a warm coat as well as a scarf, wool hat, glove and ear warmers). In this case, you observe data from the real world, and, based on these empirical observations, you draw broader conclusions.
Most people are capable of practicing both principles-first and applications-first reasoning. But your habitual pattern of reasoning is heavily influenced by the kind of thinking emphasized in your culture’s educational structure. As a result, you can quickly run into problems when working with people who are most accustomed to other modes of reasoning.
Take math class as an example. In a course using the applications-first method, you first learn the formula and practice applying it. After seeing how this formula leads to the right answer again and again, you then move on to understand the concept or principle underpinning it. This means you may spend 80% of your time focusing on the concrete tool and how to apply it and only 20% of your time considering its conceptual or theoretical explanation. School systems in Anglo-Saxon countries tend to emphasize this method of teaching.
By contrast, in a principles-first math class, you first prove the general principle, and only then use it to develop a concrete formula that can be applied to various problems. As a French manager once told me, “We had to calculate the value of pi as a class before we used pi in a formula.” In this kind of math class, you may spend 80% of your time focusing on the concepts or theories underpinning the general mathematical principles and only 20% of your time applying those principles to concrete problems. School systems in Latin Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania), the Germanic countries (Germany, Austria) and Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina) tend to emphasize this method of teaching.
In business, as in school, people from principles-first cultures generally want to understand the WHY behind their boss’s request before they move to action. Meanwhile, applications-first learners tend to focus less on the WHY and more on the HOW. One of the most common frustrations among French employees with American bosses is that the American tells them what to do without explaining why they need to do it. From the French perspective, this can feel demotivating, even disrespectful. By contrast, American bosses may feel that French workers are uncooperative because, instead of acting quickly, they always ask “Why?” and are not ready to act until they have received a suitable response.
In the U.K. for example the learning is all about concept. Only after we struggle through the theoretical we do get to the practical application. The U.S. was exactly the opposite. Compared with other European cultures, the United Kingdom is quite applications-first. But when the United Kingdom is measured against the United States, it appears strongly principles-first-a vivid illustration of the power of cultural relativity to shape our perceptions.
You may be wondering where the Asian cultures fall on the persuading scale, since they don’t appear in the diagram. Actually, the view of the world most common in Asian cultures is so different from that of European-influenced cultures that an entirely different frame of reference, unrelated to the persuading scale, comes into play.
HOLISTIC THINKING: THE ASIAN APPROACH TO PERSUASION
Across Western countries, we see strong differences between applications-first and principles-first patterns of thinking. But when considering the differences between Asian and Western thought patterns, we need to use a different lens. Asians have what we refer to as holistic thought patterns, while Westerners tend to have what we will call a specific approach.
I give you here some best example of psychological research which clearly show these 2 patterns of thinking. In the 1st study two distinguishable professors: Prof. Richard Nisbett (from University of Michigan and prof. Takahiko Masuda (University of Alberta) presented 20s animated video vignettes of underwater scenes to Japanese and American participants.
Afterwards, participants were asked what they had seen and the first sentence of each response was categorized. The results of the study were remarkable.
While the Americans mentioned larger, faster-moving, brightly colored objects in the foreground (such as the big fish visible in the illustration) the Japanese spoke more about what was going on in the background (for example, the plants or the small frog to the bottom left). In addition, the Japanese spoke twice as often as the Americans about the inter-dependencies between the objects up front and the objects in the background. As one Japanese woman explained “ I naturally look at all the items behind and around the large fish to determine what kind of fish they are.”
In a 2nd study, Americans and Japanese were asked to “take a photo of a person”. The Americans most frequently took a close-up, showing all the features of the person’s face, while the Japanese showed the person in his or her environment instead with the human figure quite small in relationship to the background
In the 3rd study prof. Nisbett and prof.Masuda asked American and Taiwanese students to read narratives an watch videos of silent comedies – for example, a film about a day in the life of a woman during which circumstances conspire to prevent her from getting to work and then to summarize them. In their summaries the Americans made about 30% more statement referring to central figures of the stories than their Taiwanese counterparts did.
Notice the common pattern in all three studies. The Americans focus on individual figures separate from their environment, while the Asians give more attention to backgrounds and to the links between these backgrounds and the central figures.
So the same happens in the multinational work environment with multinational managers. While Western European and Anglo-Saxon managers generally follow the American tendencies of specific thinking patterns, East Asians respond as Japanese and Taiwanese did in this research.When Westerners and Asians discuss these studies, the dialog is the following:
Western participant: but the instructions said to take a photo of a person, and the picture on the left is a photo of a person.The picture on the right is a photo of a landscape. Why would the Japanese take a photo of a landscape when they have been asked to take a photo of a person?
Asian Participant: The photo on the left is not a photo of the person. It is a close-up of a face. How can I determine anything about the person by looking at it? The photo on the right is a photo of a person, the entire person, including surrounding elements so you can determine something about that person. Why would Americans take a close-up a face which leaves out all of the important details?
Perhaps it is not surprising that Westerners and Asians tend to display these different patterns of interpretation. A common tenet of westerners philosophies and religions is that you can remove an item from its environment and analyze it separately. Cultural theorists call this specific thinking.
Chinese religions and philosophies, by contrast, have traditionally emphasized inter-dependencies and interconnectedness. Ancient Chinese thought was holistic, meaning that the Chinese attended to the field in which an object was located, believing that action always occurs in a field of forces that influence the action Taoism, which influenced Buddhism and Confucianism, proposes that the universe works harmoniously, its various elements dependent upon one another. The terms yin and yang (literally “dark” and light”) describe how seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent.
With this background in mind, after considering the fish and photo research studies we can say that: Chinese people think from macro to micro, whereas Western people think from micro to macro.
For example, when writing an address, the Chinese write in sequence of province, city, district, block, gate number. The Westerners do just the opposite they start with the number of a single house and gradually work their way up to the city and state. In the same way, Chinese put the surname first, whereas the Westerners do it the other way around. And Chinese put the year before month and date. Again, it’s the opposite in the West.
It’s easy to see how these differences in the characteristic sequence of thinking may cause difficulty or misunderstanding when people from Asian and Western cultures are involved in conversation.
A typical example is that Westerners may think that the Chinese are going all around the key points without addressing them deliberately, while East Asians may experience Westerners as trying to make a decision by isolating a single factor and ignoring significant inter dependencies. This difference affects how business thinking is perceived in Western and Asian cultures. In the eyes of Asian business leaders ,European and American executives tend to make decisions without taking much time to consider the broader implications their actions.
AVOIDING THE PITFALLS, REAPING THE BENEFITS
With words like “diversity” and “global” all the rage, many companies are seeking to create multinational, multicultural teams in an effort to reap benefits in the form of added creativity and greater understanding of global markets. However, as we’ve seen, cultural differences can be fraught with challenges. Effective cross-cultural collaboration can take more time than mono-cultural collaboration and often needs to be managed more closely, here are two simple tips that can help you realize the benefits of such collaboration while avoiding the dangers.
Tip 1 = on a multicultural team, you can save time by having as few people in the group work across cultures as possible. For example, if you are building a global team that includes small groups of participants from four countries, choose one or two people from each country-the most internationally experienced of the bunch-to do most of the cross-cultural collaborating. Meanwhile you can leave the others to work in the local way that is most natural to them. That way, you can have the innovation from the combination of cultures, while avoiding the inefficiency that comes with the dash of cultures.
Tip 2 = think carefully about your larger objectives before you mix cultures up. If your goal is innovation or creative, the more cultural diversity the better, as long as the process is managed carefully. But if your goal is simple speed and efficiency, then mono-cultural is probably better than multicultural.
So that being said, in order to be successful in your business apply ProfesSionalism thinking first, not Diversity.