A Case in Light of Cultural Diversity

“Indian MNCs that have embarked on an African expedition are getting a true taste of adventure when dealing with the local talent.

For Marico’s executive vice-president and HR head Ashutosh Telang, the challenge presented itself three years ago, at a formal interaction with employees in South Africa. An attempt to get the employees to speak up about the issues they faced was met with silence.” – The Economic Times

Introduction to Cultural Diversity


Cultural diversity is an inclusive concept focused directly as well as indirectly on people issues. Its definition in an organizational context extends beyond the legal matters and that of equal employment opportunities. In a world that transforms every entity into a global entity at the pace of lightning, cultural diversity is as critical as any other aspect of workplace demographic divide.

As a whole, cultural diversity is about mutual learning. It involves the exchange of ideas, values, thought-processes and ways of working, amongst people belonging to culturally dissimilar backgrounds and using them for development.

There can be no doubt that culturally diverse organizations are complicated. Some of the challenges that they present are as follows:

1. Conflict in operations with regard to the modus operandi
2. Communication concerns, both written and verbal
3. Blurred understanding regarding personal and professional values
4. Increased groupism and office gossip

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If one was to explain ‘diversity implementation’ in a sentence or two it would be – thinking about the strategic issues being faced by an organization and implementing the best-fit (cultural) alternative to the concern. Or, strategically thinking about the people issues and solving them by focusing on the root of problem, which has apparently arisen because of cultural disparities.
Having said that does not bring us to the conclusion that cultural diversity is all about conflicts and compromises. CareerBuilder India writes how promoting cultural diversity at a workplace works and its advantages. Some of the boons are as follows:

1. An enhanced understanding of mutual learning and mutual benefits
2. Increased access to overseas markets
3. Better management of overseas operations and easier management of expatriates
4. Increased willingness to work in teams
5. Commitment to equality and respect towards differing values
6. Better time-management given the fact that different cultures manage time differently

Importance of Body-Language in Cultural Diversity

Take eye contact as an example; while in countries like the United States of America maintaining eye contact as you speak is important, continuously looking into someone’s eyes is regarded as being bold and disrespectful in Middle-Eastern countries. Signs and symbols convey a different meaning in different cultures. Read a few examples below:

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1. The ‘OK’ sign: Well, that’s not really an OK sign. In Japan people use it as a symbol of money and those of French origin perceive it as ‘worthless’.
2. The ‘Thumbs Up’: A word of caution – use this one with extreme caution because in many cultures it is a non-verbal communication of sexual insult.

Likewise, keeping crossed-legs on the table is concerned offensive and unprofessional in some cultures while in others, it is just a way of relaxation.

In a culturally diversified organization, it becomes essential to manage and respect the personal values of people belonging to dissimilar backgrounds. An inherent advantage of diversity is that people can focus on organizational values more than the personal ones. Since everyone has to follow a streamlined process that is decided by the organizational norms rather than the cultural ones, there is little space for disparities and grudges.

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