Best Practices in Leading Diverse Organizations
While many articles on diversity focus on obvious differences – such as gender and race – the authors chose to focus on culture, which they believe is understudied in American organizations.
They have observed that most organizational efforts at “diversity training” tend to help participants identify key characteristics of other groups, rather than becoming aware of our own cultural identify and how we need to adapt our thinking, reactions, and behaviors. They point to many American’s reluctance to even admit we have an “American culture.” They go on to state that it is obvious to those from other countries that we do, in fact, have a distinctive culture.
As a personal example, our department offers a certificate program in professional English communication for non-native English speakers. We are finding that the participants are just as interested in learning to understand and interact appropriately in an American business culture as they are in learning communication skills. They tell us that the cultural differences and expectations are some of their major obstacles to effective communication in the professional workplace.
Hofstede suggests that we have certain workplace expectations (that may be unknown to us) that are based on our culture. There are four cultural dimensions that are especially relevant to organizations:
- Power distance, that is how far away an individual is from those who have power
- Uncertainty avoidance and tolerance of ambiguity
As a whole, American culture values individualism, a low power distance, acceptance of ambiguity, and operates in a masculine manner. Our traditional leadership theories and management philosophies are based on this. Our interpretations of certain behaviors in the workplace are colored by the lens of our cultural values, which in turn impact our actions as leaders. However, as our workplaces become more diverse, leaders need to recognize that traditional American leadership models will not work in all cases and with all people.
One of the things that I appreciated about this chapter is that it reflects some of my own dis-ease with the American ethnocentric leadership models. I also appreciated that the authors recognized that diversity isn’t a “program” but an integral part of an organization’s culture. The perspective of focusing on common goals and interests instead of how people are different is also a much more positive and productive attitude.
Questions: Leadership development in the US tends to emphasize practical experience and individual development while other cultures might choose to emphasize other aspects. What implications do you think the US leadership model has on creating culturally intelligent leaders?
The term “managing diversity” is used often in this chapter and elsewhere. Do you think diversity can be “managed”? What does it mean to “manage” diversity?