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Different culture

Cultural and diversity differences are a strength in a business

Written by Nathalie Vervaet, Sales Enablement Specialist at Panasonic Mobile Solutions Business Division – Europe.

Cultural and diversity differences are a strength in a business

People are people, so how can it be, that you and I get along so awfully?” I wouldn’t call it poetry but it’s the opening line from that classic Depeche Mode pop song and it always springs to mind when I think about cultural differences in business.

Before joining Panasonic, I had studied business psychology and worked internationally in many different cultures - from South Africa to the Middle East - and in my experience, a diverse mix of people and cultures only adds to the strength of a team and to business. And I’m pleased to say that the science backs it up!

As far back as 2015, McKinsey Company research demonstrated that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.

When gathering personal feedback, I also believe garnering a wide range of diverse opinions is also healthy for individuals and for teams but sometimes we don’t tend to naturally seek out this diversity. As an example, I often like to run a little experiment in my training and presentations. It goes something like this:

Write down the name of ten most trusted colleagues in your workplace. Now put three columns alongside the names entitled: Gender, Age and Ethnicity…and fill out the columns. Notice any patterns of commonality? In most cases, we tend to trust and congregate towards people where we share one or more of these same factors. It’s not scientific and, of course, not universal but it does make people stop and think.

If we ask for advice and feedback from people very similar to us, will it not be more prone to bias? If we were to seek opinion from further outside our immediate trusted colleagues, maybe we would receive more neutral and valuable feedback.

top 10

Header image source: oneinpunch/shutterstock.com

Turning to cultural differences, there has been some incredibly interesting work by Professor Geert Hofstede in this area. He advocates the importance of an international perspective and breaks cultural attitudes down into the 6-D model of national culture – Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism-Collectivism, Masculinity-Femininity, Long-Short Term Orientation and Indulgence v Restraint. The explanations of these terms can be found in his short videos here.

6d

[Based on Professor Geert Hofstede: 6D model of national culture/ own illustration]

He then looks at cultural attitudes by country and the differences between national societies. The results are extensive – and fascinating - and you can even compare the cultural differences between countries. For example, picking on my home country Belgium, we rank highly in the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension. We like certainty, so want to own our own home rather than rent and have benefits systems in place to cater for the worst possible scenario.

Of course, the upshot of all this research is not to stereotype but to provide insight. The more culturally diverse and the more understanding we are of each other’s cultures, the more success we have. In today’s multinational companies, that’s a terrific advantage if we recognise and use our diverse cultural strengths. It also strikes me that in a world of increasing digital communications, where we can be face-to-face in video calls with colleagues from around the world at the press of a button, it’s a strength we should harness even further.

As Depeche Mode said, “People are people” but even with our differences there is no need to “get along awfully” – our differences in business are one of our major strengths!

 

Find out more about the 6-D model of national culture.

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