We often see the expression “diversity training”, which indicate that “we” have to “train” others on how to work together. The first and most important person to educate with regard to the different cultures of employees in our organization is ourselves. Every workplace today has supervisors and employees from different cultures. To achieve harmony, we must learn and understand those cultures. We often find ourselves dealing with employees and supervisors, from different ethnic and national cultures, with above average intelligence and of a cooperative nature, who never come forward to us with useful suggestions for improvement, or critique of operations, even when we invite them to. The same happens in educational and training settings. Like everyone else, I thought that silence from such individuals was due to shyness or doubt as to how suggestions and critique would be construed. We make the mistake of assuming that because people attended western educational institutions and worked in western organizations, that they adopted our codes of conduct along the way. We seem to forget that the strongest culture of all is that of their homeland, and of their personal social and family environment. If we want our people to perform the way we desire and work as a team, we owe it to ourselves, to them, and to the organization, to educate ourselves on the different cultures our employees come from. In some cultures, courtesy and politeness in human interaction are the overriding factor, even this comes at the expense of openness and truthful reporting. In some other cultures, there is a patriarchal hierarchy. The father figure to whom one owes obedience, and whom one never questions, criticize, or critique, and to whom one never comes forward with suggestions, is represented by either parent, older relative, teacher, boss, political and religious leaders. In some other cultures, women are not supposed to speak or have personal opinions, let alone critique or suggest. If we take these three examples, we can see why people coming from such cultures do not provide the feedback we expect from them. They keep their thoughts to themselves. And we miss out on possibly great contributions. We also miss out on discovering root causes of snags in operations, and shortcomings in production and service delivery procedures, as well as root causes of employee discord. To achieve a unified work force and performing team, it is imperative that we learn the social mores and accepted work habits of the cultures our employees come from, through reading, questioning of others, and through “one-on-one” conversations with these same employees. It is only after educating ourselves in this area, that we can plan a variety of training and social activities to bring “rapprochement” among our employees, and between employees and ourselves, so that we can all function as one team. We must also be aware of the different religions and show understanding for special religious days. Once I invited a student I had, originally from Sri Lanka, to come with me to the big annual Restaurant and Food Services Show (I had received two invitations). I had not thought of his religion since we did not discuss religion in class. It is only when we were actually there and he was politely refusing invitations to sample the different beverages and foods that I learned that he was Moslem and it happened to be the Ramadan Holiday, when Moslems fast during the day and eat at night. I felt so embarrassed! However, when the owners of the booths learned this, they prepared for him and for me many boxes with wonderful cakes, pizzas, and other goodies to take home. I remember this until today because I did feel quite embarrassed at not “thinking” about this student’s religious holiday. It was fortunate that the student in question appreciated my invitation and did not begrudge my taking him to a food fest while he was fasting. I hope that this article has opened a new avenue of thought, and will lead to improved management and training. I look forward to your feedback, and your sharing experiences and suggestions on this subject.
By Claire Claire Belilos