There has been an evident trend in organisations over the last two decades towards an increased awareness of human diversity in the workplace. In order to address the increase in cultural and gender diversity in business, many training institutions have offered diversity programmes. In many cases these programmes have provided the opportunity to increase our personal awareness regarding cultural and gender diversity. Understanding our own prejudices creates some understanding of the difficulties of cultural or gender minorities and initiates a move towards appreciating diversity in the workplace. In this article, Barbara Ferreira addresses pertinent questions surrounding diversity in the workplace and encourages us to develop intercultural competence within our organisations.
by Barbara Ferreira
Barbara Ferreira is the Lead Change Practitioner at Petanque Consultancy. Petanque Consulting is a South African-based consultancy offering process design, project management and change management services. Please visit http://www.petanque-c.com/ for more information. Barbara’s academic career includes her BA (Hons) (Psych) cum laude; MA (Coaching) Middlesex University; and an Advanced Certificate in Leadership Graduate School of Business, UCT.
Why intercultural competence? While diversity programmes are a necessary and effective starting point with regard to understanding diversity, many participants are left with the question: “So where to from here? What do I do with this new awareness? How do I respond appropriately in cross-cultural engagements?” While leaders and human resource practitioners and employees understand and appreciate that people are culturally diverse, how do we manage this complex phenomenon? How do we effectively work and lead within culturally-diverse environments and teams without either alienating critical role-players or, often, feeling alienated ourselves? How do we effectively unravel the complexity of competing cultural value systems, and how do we reconcile these differences to the benefit of all?
With the exponential increase in globalisation and social networking, many of us engage on a weekly and sometimes daily basis with people living in different countries and having different cultural backgrounds. In any one given week I may be attending a free webinar from the United States of America, discussing business opportunities with a possible partner in Sweden, having dinner with someone from Uganda in my home, and considering a possible work opportunity in Kuwait. I don’t think I’m all that different from many South Africans. Living and working effectively across cultures may have been a luxury before. However, I would contend that learning to work effectively across cultures is a necessity for business leaders and Human Resource practitioners, whatever the industry or business or social context in which you live and work. »