#37 from R&D
Innovator Volume 2, Number 5 May 1993
Diversity: An Asset,
Not a Liability
Walton is a professional speaker, consultant, seminar leader and
author, who focuses on maximizing human performance with a global
perspective. She has
offices in Washington, D.C., and Santa Cruz, California.
it's probably inevitable that your organization will grow more
culturally diverse, and this reality calls for a change of
attitudes, strategies and methods.
When we think about multi-cultural issues in the 1990's,
we're not talking about non-discrimination or equal opportunity.
We're talking about using multiple cultural backgrounds as
culture, age, and gender make them see the world in different
perspectives are a key to creative thinking, and that, in turn, is
the key to successful R&D.
stop seeing diversity as a problem, and start seeing it as an
succeed, organizations must understand and use the skills,
traditions and backgrounds of a diverse workforce.
diversity gives businesses a key advantage in the world
wider range of viewpoints offers a spectrum of
talents—meticulous craftsmanship, for example—which can
improve many aspects of product and process research.
• you are
• you are
negotiating with people from abroad
• you are
launching a campaign to a new population (whether domestic or
situations like these, it’s an asset to have someone from that
population on your planning team?
Couldn’t the person whose accent made you uncomfortable
during a job interview have just the perspective you need to help
your R&D efforts?
Find the Staff You Want? Create It
appreciate cultural diversity, your organization can appeal to a
wider base of employees, and that in turn will improve your
staffing. As you make
diversity an integral part of policy and procedures, it's vital to
work at all levels and in all departments.
Plan strategically at top levels to incorporate
multicultural managing and motivating.
Recruit diverse leaders, not just staff.
Train supervisors in multicultural skills.
Review interviewing and selection procedures and criteria.
need to learn new skills as you begin to recruit and interview
candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Are you adapting
to the culturally-appropriate behavior of the people you're
interviewing? How do
you respond when others don’t act as you expect?
stereotypes can keep you from understanding what's really going
on, be alert to your assumptions.
Take eye contact as an example.
Most interviewers think a direct eye-to-eye gaze connotes
the desirable traits of honesty and attention.
But people from cultures with great respect for authority
may think this signifies disrespect, even (or especially) during
an interview. So when
someone refuses to look you in the eye, perhaps it reflects
culturally correct behavior, not deviousness!
immigrants are still learning the "rules" of the new
culture. They may be
uncomfortable with assertiveness, questioning an interviewer, or
volunteering information. "Self-marketing,"
in short, may still be a foreign concept to them.
continue to seek the personality traits you have always sought,
you may not hire the people you need.
By staying in this "cultural rut," you may lose
Learning Must be Mutual
As we start
taking cultural diversity seriously, we are embarking on a two-way
learning process. Just
as we need to learn about the culture of newcomers, they must
learn about ours. Coaching
and mentoring thus become indispensable.
This is also a two-way street:
As the newcomer learns what is expected and how to succeed,
the mentor gains insight into other cultures and customs.
general business practices (e.g., frequent witness
signature on lab notebooks);
the particular requirements or "culture" of your
organization (e.g., joining the Friday beer session);
what they must do to get promoted or succeed.
you're on the way to getting the staff you want, how do you manage
look at motivation. Remember
that motivations other than money may be equally important in
other cultures. Many
people are motivated by feeling that they are being heard and
respected, that they are making a meaningful contribution.
Receiving incentives and recognition as part of a team
may be more important, or more comfortable, than as an individual.
become more important as the workplace grows larger. Allow sufficient time to communicate with individuals and
groups. If I can
generalize for a moment, the purpose of communication for white
American males seems to be to transmit and receive information.
But for most women as well as culturally diverse
populations, communication also establishes and maintains relationships.
If you're concerned about employee retention and
effectiveness, take the time to build rapport with individuals and
support team spirit. Have
celebrations when the team reaches a goal.
that your terminology is understandable to everybody.
Our daily parlance is so chock-full of clichés and heavy
on slang that sometimes we are barely comprehensible to
foreigners. Do all
your employees understand when you "up the ante" or
"deep-six" a project?
(Remember that some people who seem to understand are just
trying to save themselves the embarrassment of asking a lot of
criticize employees in public?
Despite the common conception that only Asians are
concerned with saving face, it's also a concern of many others.
That's one good reason for correcting people in private.
If you must make an immediate correction, make it
general—don't single someone out.
For a chronic problem, schedule a private talk or use a
go-between. You can
also save face and increase team solidarity by instituting group
points to consider:
In some cultures, leaders act decisively, from the top
down—if they ask a subordinate's opinions, they lose respect.
In other cultures, conferring widely helps people "buy
into" the resulting decision.
In many cultures, youth lacks the high value it is accorded
in the United States. Because
it is more common to respect age, young managers must work harder
to earn respect than older managers.
To exploit the advantages of diversity, question all
assumptions; base employees evaluations on results, not
preconceptions; and demand that managers be accountable for
developing the talents of all employees.
effectively in the new reality of cultural diversity, you must be
able to hear and respect other points of view.
You must be ready to take risks, have a sense of humor, and
retain your intellectual curiosity.
You must look forward to new experiences.
R&D manager, your leadership in valuing cultural diversity can
influence the thoughts, attitudes and behaviors of your
organization. If you
understand that changing demographics represent a strategic
opportunity, you put yourself in a position to lead your
organization into the next century.