Diversity and Inclusion Stategies: Intercultural Communication – Part I
It is easy to see that without the ability to communicate well across cultural boundaries, little in the way of creating diversity and inclusion programs can be made “real.” Diversity and inclusion has become in some respects, a cliche of a term for organizations to express their intent or the actuality of their recruitment and hiring practices being inclusive of a diverse pool of candidates. However, diversity and inclusion is larger in scope than merely recruitment and hiring and should include a foundational understanding of intercultural communication.
Organizations that wish to be diverse and inclusive will examine, assess, create or redesign their diversity and inclusion strategies to cover the following areas:
- Organizational biases: social categorization, stereotyping and prejudice
- Cultural competency leadership models
- Intercultural communications processes
- Organizational customs, norms and standards
- Recruitment, hiring and retention practices
- Training methodologies for diversity and inclusion
- Career development: appraisal and promotional practices
The first question we must ask and answer is: what is culture?
Culture is defined as the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.
Due to ethnocentric notions American workers have an expectation that some form of cultural assimilation take place so that other cultures learn our ways of communicating and doing business if working in America. These ethnocentric notions are at play in the underlying sentiment of American workers that we are a global workforce and as such the world is perceived as one place with one practice (the American way) and some are oblivious to national cultures, considering them irrelevant.
A case study analysis of NYC workforce centers and their aptly named Center Challenges Committee (a quality circle comprised of the system’s leadership and managerial employees) serves as the means of observation for Hureco Maverick’s intercultural communications model. Our model aims at building culturally competent leadership and creating diversity and inclusion programs.
The observation yielded two specific intercultural myths that were pervasive in the interaction of the committee members:
(1) The global village
(2) The universality myth
The myths were witnessed in the minority group (who happen to be of the majority/dominant culture in America). These are American-born committee members who expressed that the American norms, standards, practices and procedures apply to communication, no matter whom the speaker or audience is, and where s/he is. These worldviews, mind-sets and thought processes were problematic in creating cooperation and consensus for problem resolution amongst the committee members.
The myth of the world as a global village where everyone shares the same values is counterproductive to business and communication in manners that are equitable and fair to those who do not wish to be absorbed into another culture. While there is some assimilation that is reasonably expected in the workplace, we should not consider Americanisms as the ideal or “right” way of thinking and doing things and hence there is not universal way of thinking, perceiving and doing.
With these myths in mind we explore the questions needed for analysis and resolution. The overarching question is:
Were cultural competencies being used in committee communications?
To answer this question, additional questions and analysis of applicable models are required, one of which is Bennett’s six stages to intercultural sensitivity. With the additional examination questions including:
1. How are Bennett’s six stages to intercultural sensitivity observable in committee communication?
2. In what observable ways do we differ, and how did this affect the committee members’ communication using Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture?
3. Were managers observing nonverbal cultural sensitivities?
4. How to develop culturally competent/interculturally sensitive communicators?
Bennett describes six stages of intercultural sensitivity that he refers to as minimization.* These minimizations shrink other cultural nuances into minutia and sometimes oblivion as we attempt to calm our fears of difference by focusing on the similarities. Thus, we do not seek to have deeper insights into a culture that would reveal major differences in beliefs, norms, mores and values.
In observing the impact of the lack of acceptance of cultural diversity, we concluded that enhancing our communication comes about by focusing our effort on three constructs:
2. Intercultural communication sensitivity
We suggest that team-building can be used to overcome “othering” and viewing “people from the outside” as malevolent, beginning with learning more about the cultures of those we work with. We suggest simple ideas such as culturally themed gatherings and lunches, sharing of proverbs and folklore that can be applied to business and with spending time together in non-work-related situations.
The first three of Bennett’s six stages to intercultural sensitivity were observable in the committee’s interactions:
1. Denial of difference
2. Defense against difference
3. Minimization of difference
4. Acceptance of difference
5. Adaptations to difference
6. Integration of difference
A Closer Look
Members of the committee often spoke in terms of “the others,” with the Caucasian and African American native-born employees considering the Latino/Latina employees as the out-group, although they outnumbered the American native-born. The Latino/Latina employees considered and spoke of the American native-born as “the others,” from their perspectives. Both groups denied their difference and defended against their differences after Hureco Maverick conducted a series of “discrimination in the workplace” trainings in the fall of 2013. The committee even sought to minimize their difference for a period of time. This was exhibited in their desire to prove that “the others” were not an out-group but readily accepted. They sought to find similarities instead of seeking to understand, accept, and embrace their differences.
However, it was and is evident that there is a spoken conveyance (in non-political or discriminatory terms) of “the others” and an unspoken undergirding of stereotyping that has led to negative prejudice and negative behaviors against outsiders. It is interesting to witness both sides come together when there is a third group that can be “othered.” This is typically anyone who is in opposition of the committee and centers’ staffs’ collective goals; such as jobseekers who are ill-prepared for their interviews, employers who do not wish to hire the centers’ jobseekers and/or government administrators whose policies at times adversely affect the centers’ placement outcomes.
It is Hureco Maverick’s aim to ensure progression via upcoming online and offline team building exercises focused on nonverbal communication and kinesthetic behaviors, as these are the areas that require immediate attention – at times the unspoken screams! Cultural competency training and proprietary diversity and inclusion programmatic strategies will be used to move the committee from the unfavorable first three stages into areas of cultural acceptance, adaptation and integration.
In part two of this article, we’ll take a look at Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture to help shed some light on the nature of conflict amongst committee members and provide some insights on resolution.
Contact us today to learn more about our diversity and inclusion programs and cultural competency training!
*Dr. Milton Bennett is the creator of The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity – Bennett, Milton J. “Towards a Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity” in R. Michael Paige, ed. Education for the Intercultural Experience. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press