Tag Archives: unconscious bias

People and Projects Interview

 

People and projects

People and Projects Podcast with Andy Kaufman

Recently Tom was interviewed by Andy Kaufman to discuss the importance of cultural intelligence.  Tom and Andy discuss various scenarios from project managing global virtual teams in the U.S. and Germany to planning a visit to China and strategies for facilitating successful virtual meetings.

Click here to Listen

How does Behaviour Inform our Perceptions?

hands

One of the challenges of working across borders is that certain behaviours and styles of communication and body language may not have the same meaning.

For example in countries such as Malaysia the etiquette for shaking hands is a soft hand to demonstrate respect; conversely in Australia a soft handshake can be interpreted as a lack of respect, sign of disinterest, weakness and insincerity. Our mental antenna goes up and we start to look for evidence to support these initial impressions. Are we going to find evidence to support our initial impressions? Most likely yes! The person more than likely will do or say something that will support these impressions. Our biases come to the surface. For example, at the conclusion of a meeting you may be thinking to yourself – “That soft handshake reinforced my initial perceptions. I knew I couldn’t trust him/her.” All of these interpretations can be made from a simple handshake.

I advise clients to not squeeze the hand. Often their response is “but you can tell so much about a person by their handshake.” Think about this for a moment. Is this a universal truth or is it culturally bound? When we interpret behaviours we tend to compare them based on our own cultural practices because we are familiar with them.

There are so many subtle cultural nuances. I had a coaching client from Nigeria who would ask me questions such as, how long do you look at someone in the eye, when does a look become a stare? Have you ever thought about this? My guess is probably no. Conversely, if you are in cultural environments where eye contact should be avoided, how would you know how much is too much?

In countries such as Australia if we go to a bar with friends and colleagues the norm is an unspoken assumption and practice of taking turns to buy the rounds of drinks. We don’t discuss this. It doesn’t matter if you are a guest or not, generally it is an equitable practice where payment of the drinks is shared equally. So imagine this scenario that was shared by one of my clients. He had an Indian manager visiting the Australian office. My client invited him out for a drink after work. My client brought all of the rounds of drinks and was annoyed and irritated that it wasn’t reciprocated. My clients’ internal dialogue was telling him ‘this guy is tight, not generous and has no sense of sharing’.   The following day at work he requested a report that wasn’t delivered on time. The thought processes of my client were, not only is he tight with his money, he is also unprofessional and unreliable. This example demonstrates how one misinformed behaviour can lead to inaccurate perceptions and interpretations. The perception of the Indian manager would have been ‘I am the guest, you are the host therefore you pay. I won’t offend you by offering to buy a drink, and when you come to India I will take you out and I will pay because you are the guest and I am the host.’

It is useful to have a dialogue. It can be uncomfortable raising certain conversation topics but communication and cultural awareness and knowledge can be improved immensely when people can pluck up the courage to raise the uncomfortable, awkward conversations.

The questions that we need to be thinking about are:

  • How can I develop flexibility and cultural agility?
  • How can I learn the important behaviours and values of the cultures that I am working across?
  • How can I understand what are the things in my culture that are important; and what impact do they have when I am dealing with people of different cultures?

 

Meeting the Challenges of Cultural Diversity

Last week I was a panelist for the discussion “Building Cultural Capability Networks” to further explore findings from Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century research. The Diversity Council of Australia surveyed over 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds working in Australia.

One of the challenges that I came away with was a longstanding challenge – how do we get organisations to pay greater attention to cultural diversity in Australia?   There are many compelling reasons to support greater diversity within our organisations, and yet while our diverse workforce continues to expand, we continue to inadequately support it.

Although countries such as Australia (and many other countries around the world) are highly multicultural societies, I believe that part of the cultural diversity apathy that exists in the Australian workplace is in part due to a lack of awareness, education and biases.

Some of the breakthroughs that I believe are needed to overcome these persistent institutional cultural barriers are:

  • Organisations need to review, educate and revise their current practices, strategies and objectives in terms of employee hiring, promotion, mentoring and leadership models; including succession planning to promote cultural diversity.
  • Double sponsorship should be promoted. Companies such as IKEA have a sponsorship/mentorship program that requires two people to be responsible for hiring decisions and sharing the development responsibilities for that individual.
  • Leaders and recruitment staff need greater education around unconscious and conscious cultural biases and the complexities of cultural identity i.e. alternative leadership models and communication styles. They need greater awareness of their own biases and should be made more accountable for their decisions and actions.
  • Improved understanding and appreciation of the value that cultural diversity brings to organisations and the ‘know how’ and skills to actually leverage these differences.
  • Senior Leaders must demonstrate their commitments to cultural diversity programs by truly getting behind them by modelling them through their actions and behaviours.

I urge you to read the Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century.

Diversity and Inclusion From an Asian Perspective

DIAN

Earlier this year I contributed to and reviewed a research paper – Examining Diversity & Inclusion From an Asian Perspective. The study was conducted by Community Business, a Hong Kong based organisation. The countries included in this study were Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Japan and China.

A previous study was a precursor to this paper. One of the findings was that diversity and inclusion in Asia are often considered western concepts that are sometimes at odds with local cultural norms and have little local relevance in the Asian context.

The purpose of this study was to:

  • Explore how relevant the concepts of diversity and inclusion are in Asia;
  • Uncover key diversity and inclusion dynamics at play in the different Asian markets;
  • Provide some recommendations for organisations to adapt their diversity and inclusion approaches that resonate locally.

This a very insightful paper that contains some really strong data and recommendations to support companies in their D & I strategies and approaches within the Asian context.

There were many interesting discussions in this paper, particularly the question “Is D & I a western construct.” The findings were that the majority of respondents agreed that it is a western concept – China (58%), Hong Kong (55%), Japan (61%) and Singapore (61%), India being the least at (21%). Interestingly, the Chinese and Japanese languages have no indigenous words for ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusion’, therefore the loosely translated words can be difficult for people to relate to. As each country is considered in their own context, the findings are an accurate display of the key D & I dynamics within each particular country included in this study.

Improved awareness of unconscious bias, greater transparency and continuous auditing of management processes, greater understanding of the importance of face, hierarchy and harmony; and addressing the assumption that proficiency in English equates to professional expertise are just some of the dynamics that this paper identifies.

The paper highlights the need for organisations to rethink their current D & I strategies, and the value of facilitating discussions with key stakeholders on the ground. Organisations must invest resources to support engagement with these key stakeholders in a bid to gain accurate understandings of the most pertinent issues at local levels. Only through this exposure can these issues be addressed in a culturally appropriate methodology.

Click here if you would like further information on this paper.

The Case for Diversity

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It is widely acknowledged that diversity in our leadership teams matters, that diversity is imperative for any organisation that wants to achieve and remain competitive. While the benefits are many and varied I want to draw your attention to a recent body of research ‘Diversity Matters’ conducted by McKinsey & Company.

One of the key findings from this study is companies in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity were 30% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. The authors contend, based on other studies and the correlation in this study between diversity and performance, that the more diverse an organisation is the more successful they are at winning top talent, customer orientation, employee satisfaction and effective decision-making.

While this research paper found that no organisation performed well in all areas of diversity (it is a select few who do) it highlights the ongoing demand for diversity training programs. While diversity policies and approaches are country specific, traditionally the common approach in countries such as the UK, U.S and Australia has been to adopt a single diversity program that covers all areas from gender and age, to race, ethnicity, sex, religion and disability. I contend that one of the problems with this approach is that some more visible areas of diversity such as gender, have received more focus than others, namely race and ethnicity.

A new mindset and approach to diversity needs to occur. The overall current characterisation and management of diversity is too broad, it commands greater depth; in other words a more individualised, tailored approach is required, it needs to be ‘unbundled’. Specific programmes that develop, monitor and promote ongoing continuous improvement need to be implemented. Some examples are unconscious bias training, cultural intelligence training, mentoring, or executive coaching. These programs provide greater rigour, understanding and appreciation that make real headway into changing attitudes, behaviours and outcomes.

Further to improving diversity, leaders must visibly demonstrate that they believe in the value of diversity and assert why it is a priority in a manner that influences, promotes and inspires others to also commit.

As the authors of ‘Diversity Matters’ point out “diversity matters because we live in a global world that has become deeply interconnected.” This research serves as an ongoing reminder of the headway that we have made to date in countries such as the U.S and U.K in diversity, the benefits to be gained and serves as a reminder that there is still much work to be done.

The Cultural Ceiling

lanternsI wanted to bring to your attention this month a recently released report that I had the good fortune of contributing to by way of a focus group.  The study was conducted by the Diversity Council Australia in partnership with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and IBM Australia, amongst others.  The research report ‘Cracking the Cultural Ceiling’ was based on a survey of more than 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds who were working within Australia.  My apologies to the international readers for this ‘parochial’ topic but I think you will be able to see some applications for this in your own countries.

There is a lot of focus currently in Australia about ‘Embracing the Asian Century’ and providing goods and services to the fastest growing region in the world.  The study looked at why, despite large numbers of entry level and middle level Asian managers, there are so few Asian leaders reaching the top in Australian organisations; and further how Australian organisations could realise the promise and potential of Asian talent.

Some of the key barriers that were identified as locking out Asian talent in Australia were:

  • Cultural bias and stereotyping
  • Westernised leadership models
  • Lack of relationship capital
  • The case for culture is misunderstood

This report highlights the under-representation of Asian leadership that is fundamentally hurting Australian organisations.  Given that 46% of Australian consumers are born overseas or have at least 1 parent born overseas, that over ¾ of Australia’s exports go to Asia and that by 2030 Asia will account for 60% of the global middle-class consumption, studies such as this deserve attention.

When I read statistics such as 30% of Asian talent are likely to leave their employer within the next year and that only 17% strongly agree that their organisations usilise their Asia capabilities well, indicates that Asian talent is being seriously undervalued and under-leveraged. The impact that this has on organisations, not just in terms of talent, but also innovation potential and the impact on existing and possible international markets, demonstrates wasted opportunities within the Australian landscape.  While ‘Cracking the Cultural Ceiling’ was an Australian based study, barriers such as those identified here continue to exist in a similar vein in other Western countries. You can also extrapolate this to other categories such as gender, generational, LGBT, the disabled and others.

Leadership needs to be re-defined, it isn’t a singular stationary model. Cultural intelligence needs to be built into the organisational DNA, it needs to be a business as usual process.  Cultural intelligence can assist organisations to navigate themselves successfully through the ambiguity and ever changing business and talent landscapes that exist even in local/domestic markets let alone cross-border markets.

While I support recommendations from this report such as improved leadership models, unconscious bias training, improved mentoring and professional networks of workers with Asian backgrounds, we need to take one-step back.  Before any of these can be implemented one of the key challenges I see is around supporting organisations to realise that the cultural ceiling does in fact exist within their organisations.  There needs to be a level of candidness that exposes organisational deficiencies, such as the under-valuing and under-representation of workforces and the cultural biases and stereotypes that continue to persist. This can be a confronting and intimidating exercise to say the least; hence it needs to be conducted in a supportive and well-planned manner that is deemed as the next step in the organisational growth structure.