Are you falling for them?
Many managers and organizational leaders are holding to myths regarding diversity in the workplace. These myths limit businesses by keeping them “culturally blind,” which masks problems and prevents growth. Identifying the two primary myths that keep organizations from seeing culture clearly is an important first step toward problem solving and positive growth.
Myth #1: Acknowledging cultural difference is the same thing as judging it. People that pay attention to cultural differences are racist, sexist, offensive, or ethnocentric.
Reality Check: Acknowledging difference does not equate to labeling it good or bad. Acknowledging difference simply means recognizing that it exists. This recognition leads to a respect for the fact that cultural difference can lead to behavioral difference, and the fact that these differences can have an impact on the functioning of an organization. If the first step of recognition is never achieved, it is impossible to take effective steps to manage or leverage these differences in a positive way.
What can I do? Create open communication about cultural and cultural differences. Encourage acknowledgment of differences while refraining from judgment.
Myth #2: diversity in an organization only causes problems. It is true that diversity can complicate factors, especially when it goes unrecognized and appropriate steps are not taken to manage it effectively. These problems mostly arise in the areas of “convergent operations,” where it’s helpful for individuals to think and act in similar ways. Diversity issues tend to impact communication, policies, agreements, and timelines most strongly.
Reality Check: Despite the fact that diversity can sometimes make things more complicated, it can also be tremendous strength when properly leveraged. Different cultures bring different perspectives and strengths to an organization. These different perspectives can help organizations both reach their customers more effectively, understand their own organization better, and avoid stagnation or “groupthink.” Organizations that manage diversity proactively and effectively tend to be more flexible, adaptable, and creative, as well as better problem-solvers.
What can I do? Encourage different perspectives, and leverage the strength that diversity brings.
Myth #3: Most people are inherently the same, and the best way to approach them is by following the “golden rule.” While trying to treat others the way you would like to be treated is a good start and a significantly better approach than treating people badly, it is only a starting point. Ignoring difference and focusing only on perceived similarities causes us to project our own ideas, beliefs, and preferences on others. This is true even when working different people within the same culture.
Reality Check: Real respect takes the process one step further: treat others the way they would like to be treated. It is impossible to determine what way that is if differences are minimized or ignored. Truly effective interpersonal skills require empathy, the ability to understand another person’s perspective from their own viewpoint, moving beyond imagining how you would feel in their shoes to understanding how they feel in their shoes. This is true for person-to-person contact and for the organization as a whole.
What can I do? For real respect, take time to get to know someone’s perspective, and communicate with empathy.
Leveraged properly, diversity can be on the greatest assets an organization can possess. Before that can happen, however, it must be acknowledged and respected. To maximize the effectiveness of your organization, don’t ignore culture — use it.
Adler, N.J. and Gundersen, A. (2002). International dimensions of organizational behavior. Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.