How Cultural Awareness Drives Workplace Diversity

There is nothing like working in a congenial, welcoming, inclusive, safe environment, especially in a diverse, multi-cultural setting. People want to work in a collaborative, supportive atmosphere where personal and professional growth is enjoyed. As an employer, you would want to create such working climate conducive to productivity, creativity and high morale.

Yet conflicts, misunderstandings happen at times because people in the workplace are heterogeneous; they come from different cultural backgrounds, thus have different concepts of people and of the world.

Cultural Differences
To make things more complicated, cultural differences include not only ethnicity, but also
generational or age, gender, education, family background, religious affiliation, time orientation, work ethics, and more. Within one’s ethnic culture, differences also exist such as language, ways of doing, learning and interacting.

All these differences contribute to workplace diversity, the fuel that energizes a diversity-driven organization like yours toward success, but which can also lead to your company’s doom, if workplace diversity issues, such as discrimination and harassment, are allowed to seep in, pester and destroy one of your firm’s pillars: your people.

People differ in the way they think and behave; some are not as sensitive to, or they may lack understanding of others’cultures, so much so that they may or may not intentionally hurt others through their words and actions.

Diversitydoes not thrive in the soil of alienation, discontent and employees’ low morale.

Cultural Awareness: What, Why
Your company may be committed to diversity, and you can have your diversity programs in place with the help of your HR and Diversity team. But how can you be sure each of the people working within embraces diversity and respect the differences they encounter? How can the value of diversity and inclusion become a lived-experience for each of  your staff, from the lowliest position to your top managers?

Have you also deeply reflected on your own cultural biases?

The solution to the challenges of workplace diversity lies in cultural awareness.

Cultural awareness is not assuming that people are generally the same everywhere; it is not assuming that people from the same race or ethnicity share the same culture. It is also not assigning meaning to others’ reality through the lens of your own culture.

Cultural awareness is the recognition people are different because they are shaped, informed by their respective cultural values, ideas and beliefs; they see, interpret and evaluate others and the world differently from one another. 

Through cultural awareness, one becomes sensitive in terms of being careful not to offend someone through careless or hurtful words and actions just because someone is different, or  “foreign.”

The cultivation of the skill of cultural awareness leads to an inner transformation in the person, as an understanding, appreciation of others from different cultures takes place.

Therefore, it is essential to include a training program for cultural awareness in your company’s diversity initiatives.

How: Levels of Cultural Awareness
According to a paper on the topic co-authored by Stephanie Quappe, the Cologne based founder of Intercultural Change Management and Giovanna Cantatore, a Consultant and Product Manager with the Park
 Li Group, Ltd., there are 4 levels of how people develop cultural awareness.

First stage: Parochial stage – it is the level at which people think their way is the only way of doing things. They do not appreciate the influence of cultural differences.

Second stage: Ethnocentric stage – at this level, people are already aware of other people’s ways of doing things, yet they still consider their own way the best one.

Third stage: Synergistic stage – People are aware of their own way as well as others’ ways of doing things. At this stage, they choose the better way to deal with the situation. They also recognize cultural differences provide both benefits and problems, but they use cultural diversity to drive the new solutions and alternatives.

Final stage: Participatory stage – People are willing to open their lines of communication and dialogue with someone from a different cultural context to explore new meanings, new rules in order to address the needs of the situation at hand.

Moral Value of Cultural Awareness
As seen from the above-mentioned levels, cultivating cultural awareness, one becomes familiar with new cultural beliefs and practices in others’ cultural context, while at the same time becomes more aware of one’s own beliefs, values as well as biases and prejudices.

Becoming more culturally sensitive and aware of others’ cultural background, people can forge better relationships, meaningful exchanges with co-workers, enhance collaboration and team work, thus boost your company’s bottom line.

More than profit, providing employees with an opportunity to learn new values for the common good is a company’s social responsibility. Better working relationships, better work performance, greater economic success, yes.

Beyond that, however, is the greater good of establishing peace, unity not only within the confines of the workplace but extending to the communities it serves.

As Peter Drucker once said, “But economic performance is not the only responsibility of a business, any more than educational performance is the only responsibility of a school or health care the only responsibility of a hospital.”

It was also Peter Drucker who reminded us of the Hippocratic oath of the Greek physician: Primum non nocere – that is, “ above all, not knowingly to do harm” – as the first responsibility of a professional. Thus, Drucker wrote in his book on Management: No professional, be he a doctor, lawyer, or manager, can promise that he will indeed do good for his client. All he can do is try. But he can promise that he will not knowingly do harm.”

Thus, by helping inculcate the skill of cultural awareness in your company to lessen or mitigate the problems that come with cultural differences and promote cultural diversity, you are living out your first responsibility as a business professional to not knowingly do harm.