Many talent development (TD) professionals would agree that in today’s climate it is important to create a workplace environment that respects and appreciates customers’ and co-workers’ myriad differences. After all, only by fully understanding others’ behavioral norms can individuals and organizations bridge the social and cultural divides that hinder the development of productive relationships.
Cultural Awareness and Inclusion is one of the 23 capabilities in ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model, and it resides in the Developing Personal Capability domain. It details what cultural awareness skills TD experts need to have to foster an inclusive work environment that respects the different perspectives, backgrounds, customs, abilities, and norms of all people.
A TD professional with capability in this area needs to be knowledgeable of:
- Approaches to encourage and promote workplace diversity and inclusion
- Cultural differences in the workplace (for example, styles of communication, organizational and business customs, attire, and family obligations)
- Social and cultural norms that influence decision making and behavior
- Methods and techniques to foster cultural awareness, encourage cultural sensitivity, and broaden viewpoints
“Cultural awareness needs to be reinforced by TD professionals within their organizations,” maintains Bahaa Hussein, a Cairo, Egypt-based executive and international facilitator of ATD’s Master Trainer, Master Performance Consultant, and Instructional Design Certificate programs. Hussein has trained individuals from more than 45 nationalities throughout Europe and the Middle East for more than 30 years.
He claims that today’s instant communications and ease of travel have turned the world into a small village in many ways. But to navigate that turf assuredly, executives must adapt readily to the diversity around them, he contends. They must develop their personal skills.
The first cultural development imperative for TD professionals is to acquire an acute sense of self-awareness, claims Hussein. After all, they will not be able to recognize the distinctive differences of individuals from other cultures until they understand themselves better.
Those skills include understanding and accepting their identifiable traits from the perspective of individuals from other cultures, he explains. Only then can they become the agile “engines” that drive effective diversity initiatives within their organizations.
According to ATD’s Talent Development Body of Knowledge, self-awareness is difficult because most deeply held beliefs and values (of either a person or an organization) are ingrained and even unconscious. The model also stipulates that TD professionals must recognize how personal differences can affect the workplace as well as the images and feelings they create. Different cultures have different values, attitudes, and beliefs about numerous traditions, such as communications, business customs, family obligations, personal values, and attire. Identifying unconscious and implicit bias is difficult but necessary work.
Too often, claims Hussein, organizations accept these responsibilities on an ad hoc basis in hopes that cultural understanding will occur on its own. Well-structured programs that help people achieve this elusive goal are rare, he laments.
To illustrate the point, Hussein cites his own experience as an L&D director for a regional company in the Middle East that covered markets that spanned from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. He led a 10-person team of training professionals from throughout the region.
“While some may think those markets would share a single culture of values and practices, the reality is that there are still important distinctions. Those unaware of them could be caught in an unproductive loophole,” he says.
Hussein met the challenge by creating a distinctive L&D departmental culture then expanding it to influence a wider corporate culture.
“Together, we succeeded because we marched together with our common values rather than accentuated our differences.” He credited the continuous communication and alignment that were facilitated by technology and ensured cooperation on common projects and goals as the key to creating an inclusive workplace.
Highlights came twice a year, he says, when team members would meet to celebrate their joint successes and share stories of their many collaborations.