In this blog, I want to highlight how important it is to lose the “us and them” mindset in business and to recognize that because of the diversity in your team or organization, you can achieve excellence. The different perspectives and wisdom a variety of cultures brings to the table invites innovation, new ideas, and success. So yes, you can have your C.A.K.E. and eat it, too. C.A.K.E. is a mnemonic for Cultural Awareness equals Knowledge, which leads to Excellence.
Today your headquarters might be in the United States, but your IT department is in India, your manufacturing in China, and your sales team stationed all over the world. Yet dialogue within teams is immediate and multi-directional. We all need to be more comfortable in a transparent, cross-cultural workplace. In this real-time, very present world, we may feel that borders are receding. This is understandable, and as a result, opportunities arise if we are ready to lead and promote a mindset in our business that diversity works. It is all too easy to focus on negative stereotypes. Focusing on the positivity of cultural diversity within your organization is a must. It means sharing a belief that other cultures have already figured out answers to the business challenges we face.
“We and They”Don’t be too hard on yourself. Our DNA makes it difficult to promote inclusion.
Categorizing people is a basic part of human behavior. In his poem “We and They,” Rudyard Kipling describes our universal prejudice against anyone different from ourselves, and how people judge those outside their community as “other.” He includes himself in the “us and them” (or “we and they”) mindset. In the poem, he talks of his upbringing in India, where the British call the eating habits of Indians “scandalous” and the Indians are disgusted that the British eat the meat of a cow, an animal considered sacred by Hindus.
In the last verse, shown here, Kipling reaches the almost reluctant realization that there is no absolute definition of what “normal” is. “We and They” dramatizes how we are just as foreign to other people as they are to us.
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like us, are We
And everyone else is They.
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!)
Looking on We
As only a sort of They.
For businesses today, the poem can be used to introduce the idea of perspective. The greater the cultural mix in an organization, the greater the number of different perspectives. Manage and use this wealth of perspectives, and you have taken a first step toward capturing the value of diversity.
The need for both “we and they” is crucial to success. We should let go of the concept of any universal normality and sameness. We need the difference, we need the diversity. After all, if you are in a meeting with only people who think the same way you do, what are you doing in the meeting?
Easier Said Than DoneMoving away from the perceived safety of our own people is difficult.
According to psychologist Deborah Tannen, “We all know that we are unique individuals, but we tend to see ourselves as representatives of groups. It’s a natural tendency, since we must see the world in patterns in order to make sense of it; we wouldn’t be able to deal with the daily onslaught of people and objects if we couldn’t predict a lot about them and feel that we know who or what they are.”
Tannen underlines the fact that communities have historically classified people into groups and then established boundaries on membership. Inclusion or exclusion depends on family, tribe, class, religion, gender, skills, and the inescapable issue of culture. Nevertheless, business teams looking to succeed across borders will need to extend the membership of the societies or communities they are making. Research shows that culturally diverse groups are more innovative than homogenous groups.
As Tannen talks about the natural tendency to form groups, Turkish writer Elif Shafak introduces another hurdle to promoting the inclusion of people outside our own tribe: fear.
Right now, identity, migration, culture, and belonging seem to be at the forefront of political and social change. Knowing who we are and being included is so important. Shafak talks of the “liquid world” we live in, where so much can change so quickly. As human beings, we are afraid of unpredictability; Shafak explains that as a result of this fear, demagogues tell us that sameness will bring us safety and that we should all remain in our own tribes. This should not be a mindset that we instill in people. If we are ever going to learn anything in this life, we will learn it from people who are different from us. Diversity is precious—challenging and confusing at times, but nonetheless precious. So go on, have your C.A.K.E. and eat it, too.
Join me for the session, “Capturing the Value of Diversity,” on May 9 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO. Look for his book, The Eight Great Beacons of Cultural Awareness, available in the ATD Bookstore.