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Myriad differences, multiple benefits: Embracing multiculturalism in the workplace

What an eye opening experience moving from Albania – an Eastern European country where 97% of the population were native born Albanians, to Toronto – one of the most multicultural cities in the world, where over 180 languages are spoken…

It was a move that exposed me to people of myriad different cultural backgrounds, which is how I came to understand the importance of multiculturalism in school, work and the wider community.

Bringing together a diverse group of people who may have different values, beliefs, traditions and family backgrounds can be challenging. However, there are many, often reported, positive benefits to multiculturalism in the world @work. Respected advisor to the Australian Government Josef Assaf AO says, “Cultural diversity confers social and economic dividends; it creates jobs and generates profits and, equally importantly, it promotes artistic exchange and connects us with the rest of the world.”[1]

Here are five reasons why I think multiculturalism is important in the workplace:

  1. Multiculturalism expands your cultural awareness
    Working alongside people from a variety of cultural backgrounds can expand your cultural awareness. Once you expand your horizon, you will improve your knowledge about the world beyond your own borders. You’ll no longer think that all of Eastern Europe is the same, or that everyone there eats potatoes! Your desire to learn and expand your knowledge about different cultures will not be solely restricted to traveling with Lonely Planet; it can be satisfied with daily chats with your colleague from Slovenia or Singapore at lunch time.
  2. Multiculturalism builds respect and better understanding of cultural differences
    Diversity in the work environment can contribute to development and positive experiences as it can lead to increased conversations. Communications and conversations that emerge throughout the organisation lead to respect among employees who have a better understanding and appreciation of their co-workers, the viewpoints they bring to the team, and appropriate interactions.
  3. Multiculturalism improves customer service
    In recruitment, our clients and candidates come from all walks of life. I am a strong believer that having a multicultural workforce shows an inclusive face to the public. Clients and candidates have confidence in someone who ‘speaks their language’. Whether that is a native speaker or simply an understanding that specific holidays, customs or familial commitments impact us at work, even a small business can demonstrate its ability to engage with global talent in the market.
  4. Multiculturalism improves your problem solving skills
    Different cultures have different ways of approaching problems. In a workplace with a diverse cultural backgrounds, people approach situations with their own unique perspectives. A variety of viewpoints brings together a wide array of ideas that enhance the capability of the team.
  5. Did someone say food?
    Last but not least, when working in a multicultural workplace, you’re likely to see a variety of edible treats, which hopefully your colleagues are willing to share. Speaking from experience, I can say that I didn’t mind all the compliments I received about my Russian salad.

What are some of the benefits you have seen from embracing multiculturalism in your workplace?

 

[1] Diversity in the Workplace, Joseph Assaf, Department of Social Services, 16 May 2018

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Posted in The Interchange Bench, The world @work

It’s not just about bringing croissants to morning tea!

Going back to see my family in France recently caused me to reflect on Australian multiculturalism. Did you realise that in Australia one in four of us was born overseas?

I was born in Bar-le-Duc, a small town in France to a French mother and Moroccan father. My fiancé is German born Russian, and we live (soon to be married) in Melbourne, Australia.

I have always been fascinated and sometimes challenged by different cultures. From a very young age, I developed an instinctive ability to adapt to other cultures. Spending my summer breaks at my grandma’s in Morocco, I was not the little French girl anymore – In my heart I deeply felt like a Moroccan girl. It has not only been adapting to another language, I even feel the tone of my voice and my facial expressions changing in different cultural situations.

However, when you move to a new country, you take it to the next level… Sometimes you find yourself completely lost, and not only in translation!

Allow me to share a memorable story from my time as a stewardess on a beautiful catamaran in The Kimberley. Freshly arrived from France, I decided to take up the challenge of working as a crew member in a team of seven. As the only woman! The challenge was real for many different reasons, but the language barrier created some hilarious situations.

There we were, on the first night on the boat and these deckhands start sharing stories about “Old Mate”. What followed was every night, when we were hanging out in the galley to do the dishes and share a beer, I would hear them mentioning their Old Mate again and again. After nearly a week, tired of being the only one who didn’t know this guy, I got the courage to finally ask, who is this Old Mate that everyone knows? In case you’re not familiar with the colloquialism, using Old Mate in place of the subject’s name in an anecdote assumes that the listener can identify them within the context – or not. Sometimes Old Mate’s a generic person who is irrelevant to the point of the story.

When I first started working in a professional environment, I thought I was doing a great job by arousing interest, soliciting for business and suggesting to clients they seduce candidates without realising the literal translation of those words and their cultural implications!

People are curious by nature, so when they notice my accent in person or on the phone it’s often a great conversation starter. I still make the occasional faux pas, but I’ve learnt how to own it by making it my point difference, whether I’m networking or socialising.

Cultural competence, in brief, is the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultures. In today’s workplaces, cultural diversity is part of everyday life. If I were to think about why embracing – actually I’d say celebrating – cultural diversity matters, I would put it in the following terms: Capturing unique talent; Boosting innovation; Encouraging productivity.

Of course your attitude towards cultural differences depends on your world view, but I would highly recommend investing in developing your cross-cultural skills… which is not just about bringing croissants to morning tea.

Given Australia’s multicultural society, how do you make the most of the different cultures in your world @work? What’s different about you that works to your advantage?

 

Interested in French style? Join me for Slade Chats with ‘French Chic’ Caroline Vosse – FrenChicTouch blogger, public speaker and entrepreneur at 6pm on Wednesday 13 June 2018. Click here  for details.

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Posted in Slade Business Support, The world @work