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  • audreybevan

Cultural diversity comes with risks

Denying that cultural diversity comes with risks, would be to deny the very practical realities of multicultural teams.

There is no denying that cultural diversity is a good thing. The case has been made time and time again on why it is important to have cultural diversity throughout companies and governments, including at their highest levels. So why is it that in decades, progress in cultural understanding and representation has been so slow? It’s simple, it comes down to the basic fact that it’s easier to work with someone that resembles us.

Some organisations have tried to increase the awareness of their staff with webinars, culture days and statements on their website. But what changes after these initiatives? Very little. Managers go back to their desks and the reality remains – it’s hard to work with someone who is different, who thinks in a foreign language, who lives by different cultural codes and who reads messages and behaviours with a different interpretation.

Managers weigh up the risks to their success and career. On the one hand they have a safe, comfortable option with a team who looks like them, who instinctively understands what they are saying and who can laugh about the same things. But most of the time this will only lead to unexceptional team performance. On the other hand, when a manager has a team that comes from different cultures the risk is higher, but the possibility of greater returns is considerably improved. Sure there will be more misunderstandings, and there will be more effort required to understand each other, but if managed correctly the benefits far outweigh the cons. The team will be able to better tap into market opportunities, effectively engage with clients and be innovative.

For managers to be able to embrace the risk (and opportunities) that cultural diversity brings, the business needs to have the frameworks to support them. And I don’t mean webinars, or online training sessions!

Organisations need to genuinely question their processes, their policies, their behaviours (not the published ones, the real ones), their structures, the dynamics of their teams and commit to working with their staff in practical ways. Only then can an organisation change – deeply change – and experience the growth, employee engagement, and efficiencies that cultural diversity can bring.

Stop the token diversity days and webinars and spend your energy on getting practical with the risks (perceived and real ones) that need to be addressed. And watch your organisation realise the benefits of cultural diversity.


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