Creating Respect in Multicultural Workforces
- 584 Asians
- 124 Africans
- 95 East/West Europeans
- 55 Russians, Latvians, Estonians
- 84 Latin Americans
- 52 North Americans
- 6 Australian and New Zealanders
About half of the people in this global village will speak one of the following languages
- 165 Mandarin
- 83 Hindi / Urdu
- 86 English
- 64 Spanish
- 58 Russian
- 37 Arabic
The other half will speak Bengali, Portuguese, Indonesian, Japanese, German, French and some 200 other languages.
Think of the communication in this village. Now, think of this communication in your global workforce. Today’s workforce has grown to be vast, innovative, and interculturally prominent.
Several studies and research articles have been completed on the advantages of a multicultural workforce. It’s no surprise that diverse teams are more productive, creative, and out-perform non-diverse organizations. As positive and motivating the research, there is still a large challenge in managing teams when there are cultural and communication barriers.
Mike Bondy, VP, GM Asia Operations, at Emerge moved to Japan from Canada and has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 20+ years. He has received first-hand knowledge on tackling the obstacles of intercultural communication in the workplace. Mike spoke of three challenges he has seen in the workforce and how he has overcome the obstacles over time:
1. Language, Culture, Customs
This is always an obstacle when working in a multicultural environment. Studying the language is an idea, but that can only get you through fun greetings as people attempt to say hello in another language. My strategy or thought on this is that you always need to understand who is in the room with you and be respectful of them. If English is the main language in a meeting make sure that people understand what is happening. If you have a bilingual person in the meeting ask them in advance to support those who may have trouble understanding.
Since I can speak Japanese when meeting with Japanese people I always offer the option to speak in their language and I will support their request. So, to me, it is being respectful and aware of the situation.
2. Making Culture the Excuse
I see many times people saying, “oh, it is because they are [insert stereotype].” This is a very poor way to approach a multicultural environment and will only create tension within a team or organization. For this, culture training or fun events to break down barriers are always a good way to gain a better understanding.
3. Know Your Surroundings
People should always remember where they are and that the customs/culture of the land should take precedent. Nothing is worse than someone who says, “We don’t do that in my country, so why do I have to do that here?” Of course, exceptions would be religious beliefs or something very strict within a culture. And in those cases, it is important for Managers or Leaders in the company to create an environment to support people with strict beliefs. For example, offering prayer rooms or making sure to meet food restrictions, etc.
A significant theme that continued throughout Mike’s thoughts on overcoming the challenges of multicultural workplaces
“Most importantly, be able to have a sense of humor when people make mistakes or if you make a mistake. You will never ever know everything. I have lived in Japan for over 20 years and I am sure I make mistakes daily.”