October is Global Diversity Awareness Month, a perfect time to foster an inclusive environment for all ethnicities and cultures. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017, Asian and mixed-race people were the two fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population. Both groups increased 3 percent from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016, while non-Hispanic white grew by 5,000 people. These statistics demonstrate the continuous growth of ethnically diverse people in the U.S.
The U.S. is considered to be a huge melting pot by many. If you want to strengthen your cross-cultural and intercultural awareness, follow these 3 tips to demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- Show Respect Showing respect is important, especially if you are meeting someone from a different cultural background. Avoid making an assumption about where they may be from or born. This is true even if you might have a clue because nothing is more awkward than falsely identifying someone’s ethnicity, national origin, or race. If you do ask the person where they are from, and if they say, “I’m from Austin,” be respectful of the answer. Don’t push the person by saying, “But where are you really from?” because these questions are offensive and inappropriate. If the person responds, “I’m from Austin, and I was born in China,” show your interest, while avoiding the traps. What do these traps include? Condescension, over-enthusiasm, generalizations, stereotyping, and making assumptions about certain groups of people. Remember the Golden Rule may be somewhat outdated, as today it’s all about the Platinum Rule and treating others as they would like to be treated.
- Communicate Effectively to Differences This can be especially challenging if you don’t have a lot of experience speaking or interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. It’s important to understand how people communicate, verbally and nonverbally, because these subtle cues give hints to what is meant in the conversation. Depending on the culture, it may be appropriate to demonstrate your active listening by nodding and smiling. In some cultures, France for example, smiling would be inappropriate. Apologize if you made a mistake and quickly recover from awkward situations. But most importantly, research beforehand so you are on the same page when communicating specific job tasks and deadlines to accomplish goals, and avoid blame.
- Be Open-Minded and Flexible It’s important to be open-minded when meeting someone with a different cultural background. Easterners and Westerners, and many others don’t think alike, nor do they solve problems in a similar way. Avoid frustration and anger, by seeking to understand the basis for the cultural thought process. Negotiating and doing business is much easier. Strive to engage in productive conversations and facilitate work flow to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. If there are delays or unexplainable behavior, why be quick to judge? Simply ask what can be done to improve the current situation. Taking the extra step to communicate with an open heart and you will earn respect from your co-workers. Try to implement these methods to foster an inclusive work environment for everyone in the office.
Be observant, kind, and understanding to work colleagues. Be mindful of your thought process, words, assumptions, and avoid stereotypes about anyone. By treating people with respect and kindness, your cultural sensitivity will increase, creating an inviting, inclusive environment in the workplace.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, cross-cultural trainer, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, (3rd printing), was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Photo credit: Pxhere