‘Whether it’s your customers or your workforce, respecting diversity and treating people inclusively is the right thing to do, plain and simple. It’s also the smart thing to do, because if you’re appealing to the widest range of people, you’re strengthening your ability to grow, attract the best talent and innovate.’
Stereotyping, unconscious bias, and lack of awareness are leading to experiences of exclusion for customers. Customers are more powerful than ever before, and prefer to buy from organisations which treat them respectfully and fairly, and openly support diversity.
Less than half of the people surveyed believed organisations treat customers respectfully, regardless of their personal characteristics. As Australians, we live in a country where one in five people speaks a language other than English at home, 18% of people have a disability, 11% of people identify as LGBTI.
Diversity is not just ‘something HR manages’. Understanding the diversity of the Australian community is about accessing and servicing the broader client base, and about better business results.
I’ll never forget the moment. I was facilitating a Global Teams program in Shanghai for Country leaders of the IT department of a multinational client. It was a well-earned coffee break and Eric, a participant from Hong Kong approached me with a question which has stayed with me ever since.
“Why is it?’ he asked gazing around the room, “that he’s from Delhi, she’s from Tokyo, he’s from KL, he’s from Bangkok…we’re all speaking English as our second language, and we all understand each other perfectly well.” He then paused and subtly turned to direct his gaze at Ben from Melbourne. “And yet, we can barely understand a word Ben is saying.”
I asked myself, “Why are Australians so hard to understand?!” Australians often don’t realise how confusing their communication style can be. Australians use the English language in a particular way, have a unique approach to hierarchy and use banter and teasing to build rapport. Colleagues and clients who aren’t Australian can find this style difficult to understand.
After years of research and working closely with Australian businesses to improve communication in their global teams, Beasley Intercultural is excited to release our Working with Australians eLearning Program. This Program is designed to demystify Australian cultural and business practices.
The Working with Australians eLearning:
Provides practical strategies to develop rapport with Australians
Enables participants to understand how Australians communicate at work
Outlines how respect and hierarchy are demonstrated in business
As you observe the Australia Day Public Holiday think about your newly arrived team members or colleagues working offshore. Could they use some help understanding Australians and the unique Australian communication style?
We work with clients at what we like to call the ‘pointy end’ of change – businesses which are ‘Going Global’.
This isn’t easy, it may involve mergers and acquisitions, working with very powerful Asian investors and clients, and running operations in developing country environments with high levels of ambiguity and risk.
The top 5 issues we see when ‘Going Global’ are:
1. Developing global strategy based on the assumption that the world is the same as the originating country of the business. What may have worked in one country, and at one point in time, doesn’t necessarily work in different cultural, political and economic contexts.
2. Not understanding the complexity of different stakeholder contexts. Policy settings and foreign governments are far more involved in license to operate and business decisions in many contexts.
3. Not anticipating or managing real risks. Building risk management strategies based on the ‘home’ country of board and senior executive team members, not the global and local context.
4. Not investing in developing the required awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability in staff at the forefront of change. Staff often are the ones bearing the brunt of change, and poor skills development leads to disengagement and lack of performance.
5. Assuming that culture is something that ‘other people have’ and you are culturally neutral. To be effective, it’s critical to understand the assumptions and biases of your worldview and how they may be perceived.
Tamerlaine and the Senior Consulting team regularly work with Boards and Executive Teams at their global strategy meetings, both in Australia and offshore. These advisory services mitigate common risks and ensures our clients can apply strategies to maximise performance and global business results.
It seems an opportune time to reflect on what leading for inclusion actually looks like. Inclusive leaders involve everyone, not only the people like them, the people they feel comfortable with, or the people who they find the least challenging.
To lead inclusively is not always easy. It requires stretching to the edge of your comfort zone, working with people who may have different preferences, different ways of seeing the world, and of living their lives.
As demonstrated so clearly in the US election process, it’s all too easy to neglect people whose voices are less accessible. It’s easy to ignore those with less power or privilege, or those who are different to you. We all have a responsibility to contribute to an environment of tolerance and respect, to overcome our differences and seek to find common ground.
Leaders have a responsibility to set the tone, to call-out behaviour which isn’t appropriate, and to create a vision of the future.
To lead inclusively in our businesses and our organisations means we need to ensure everyone has a sense of belonging. We need to ensure staff can bring their whole selves, all of their talents, their experience and their best intentions to the task at hand.
Beasley Intercultural Inclusive Leadership programs are now being delivered to participants in more than 15 countries around the globe. Click here for more information.
A major new report ‘Leadership at Work – Do Australian leaders have what it takes?’ has just been released by the Centre for Workplace Leadership, the largest ever survey of leadership in Australia. The findings are sobering. Most organisations do not have the leadership required to survive and thrive in the 21st century. It was really interesting to attend the launch of the report in Sydney and engage in dialogue with members of the Centre for Workplace Leadership team.
What’s happening in Australian organisations:
1. Australian workplaces are underperforming.
2. They don’t get the basics of leadership and management right.
3. Few organisations report high levels of innovation.
4. Leaders are not well-trained for the job.
5. There is underinvestment in leadership development, especially at the frontline.
6. Leadership doesn’t reflect wider social diversity. Australia has an ageing leadership, lacking cultural and gender diversity and with low formal qualifications.
7. Many senior leaders don’t draw on strategic advice – they don’t access external or diverse perspectives, contributing to a lack of risk awareness and capacity to innovate.
So, for the good news. There is a clear relationship between leadership capability and high performance, and the more training leaders receive, the better their firms perform. There is a correlation between improvements in self efficacy, leadership capability and workplace outcomes.
Key areas for quick wins are:
1. Get the basics right: Set clear goals and KPI’S, make them visible. Monitor performance, address issues, ensure continuous improvement.
2. Enable innovation: Build a culture of learning. A growth mindset is critical.
3. Develop leaders: Ensure leadership development is at frontline levels, not just senior leadership. Access training, coaching and mentoring.
4. Access strategic advice: In times of market and competitive pressure and volatility, leaders need help to ‘make sense’ of what’s happening and make informed decisions.
We’re all leading turnaround businesses defined by the realities of complexity, ambiguity and change. Investment in leadership pays dividends. It is also critical to enable performance.
It’s good to shine a light on what’s really happening – to frame an issue and make it explicit. But when we have the numbers, and we know they need to be better, what do we do? There is no ‘silver bullet’, no ‘magic wand’. As Rebecca Lim from Westpac so succinctly said “it’s not easy, but that shouldn’t stop us from getting started”. Change is a process. It doesn’t happen in one step. So, we’ve got the awareness, there’s some desire, it’s now time to build capability.
The next stage of the conversation needs to address: what works; what’s challenging; and how do we do this well? Without supporting capability, there’s the risk such reports will result in racial stereotyping and reinforcement of bias. Let’s focus on how inclusion works, how leaders can engage more effectively within and across cultures, and how they can support a high-performance culture where everyone contributes their best.
Find out more about our Inclusive Leadership Program. We have delivered the program in well over 15 countries, and it’s making a difference.
Diversity and inclusion strategies in many organisations have a very strong gender focus. Many of our clients are currently broadening this approach to also involve cultural capability. As a starting point, it’s good to have a framework for development. The following action list is one we’ve developed to assist with this process.
1. Make it about ALL of us
We ALL have a complex cultural identity, and we all need to participate fully, contribute our skills and leverage our diverse world views, life-experience and understanding. Members of cultural minority groups have experienced marginalization and bias, and it’s important these patterns aren’t exacerbated through stereotyping. A key element of capability is the capacity to be self-aware, engage and work collaboratively and respectfully with people from a broad range of backgrounds.
2. Get expert advice
You wouldn’t expect a single Australian to be able to clearly articulate Australian culture on behalf of all of us! Be careful of assuming people from diverse cultural backgrounds are representatives for all members of their culture or any of the cultures they identify with. Employee engagement and diversity networks are powerful and can advocate for key issues and provide a valuable voice to management and leadership. Be careful however of relying on volunteers to design cultural transformation and inclusion initiatives. These initiatives must be nuanced appropriately – poorly designed ‘cultural awareness’ programs are worse than nothing at all and can exacerbate stereotyping.
3. Measure performance and benchmark
Actively research cultural capability and inclusion within your organization. Include cultural inclusion in employee engagement surveys. Provide anonymous channels for feedback regarding employee engagement and sentiments regarding cultural inclusion. Beware of using US models for defining cultural identity- they are designed for a different demographic and cultural categorisations which don’t apply in Australia.
4. Make it strategic
Ensure senior people in the business are engaged with the business case. Get clear on why you are addressing this issue, what are the performance and business outcomes?
If this really matters, work out the value to your business of achieving goals or the risk if you don’t and allocate a budget to address the issues. Develop a plan of action, allocate resources and key performance indicators for results, define accountability and track performance.
5. Focus on capability, not just awareness
Awareness is a first step, but it’s not the end point! Our APKC® ‘Awareness, Perspective, Knowledge, Capability’ model emphasises the importance of a holistic approach to develop capability and achieve results. Apply the 70:20:10 rule and best practice adult learning principles to ensure learning makes a difference to performance!
Don’t hesitate to give us a call if you’d like to discuss how we can assist with developing cultural capability in your organisation.
Productivity and ‘high performance’ are key buzzwords in today’s economy. Businesses and organisations must extract the optimal output from limited resources and achieve more for less. We also have an aging population, and are entering an era of skills shortage and the global ‘war for talent’.
One of the more underestimated areas of capacity in our economy is the capacity to better leverage the cultural diversity of our population, the upside of migration, and the benefits associated with our location in the fastest growing economic region in the world.
All too often cultural diversity in Australia is perceived to involve ‘being nice to people from different cultures’, ‘chopsticks and manners’ or ‘overcoming barriers such as language’. To define diversity in such terms is to radically misunderstand our place in the world, our population and our economic future. While it is critical to treat people with respect, such paternalistic attitudes demean the contribution of migrants and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the sophistication of skills and global knowledge of many who come to Australia seeking a better life for themselves and their families. As so clearly stated by Frank Lowy, and Rupert Murdoch in their recent lectures, migrants make an economic contribution which far outweighs any costs which may be incurred by the state in their arrival.
We are a diverse nation. 25% of Australians were born overseas. To understand diversity is to understand and service the Australian market.
In our work with ASX 200 listed and multinational companies, we frequently see leaders struggling to negotiate the complexity of operating in emerging markets. We see managers challenged by creating inclusive and functioning team cultures when staff come from enormously diverse cultural backgrounds.
Research by Asialink business shows, less than 40% of Board members and less than 50% of senior executives in leading Australian companies have any experience in Asia. Yet nearly 10% of Australians have Asian cultural heritage, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in Australia other than English. Clearly, the diversity of our population is not being reflected at senior leadership levels.
Many organisations initially attempt to achieve ‘the numbers’ of diversity without recognising it’s a process of organisational change. What’s the point of hiring senior talent from Singapore with high-level networks if that individual isn’t taken seriously in the Board room due to their lack of ‘local experience’ or capacity to talk about rugby results?
Going global requires reflection on the supposed universalism of communication processes at leadership levels. The capacity to communicate with people who have different notions of rapport building, and to believe in the validity of anothers’ perspective without a shared sporting code or cultural approach to humour is critical.
Research, and experience tells us, that diverse teams can be more productive, more creative and more innovative than mono-cultural teams. However, such benefits are only realised if teams can tap into the diversity dividend. This means ensuring all team members are able to fully participate, engage and share perspectives, opinions and maintain a sense of their authentic self at work.
The capacity for leaders of diverse teams to create an inclusive and participatory high-performance culture is critical. Key skills include: structuring meetings in such a way that all people feel confident and capable of contributing; creating a shared sense of vision and direction; enabling feedback on what’s working and what’s not; and most importantly, ensuring delivery and performance is not negotiable.
Recently, when I spoke at the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia Conference with Peter Scanlon on a panel session on productive diversity, I was struck by the lack of business participation in the forum. It’s time for our business sector to realise that effective diversity management is effective business management and a strategic investment in productivity outcomes.
Diversity is the key to our economic future and a significant contributor to enable a creative, innovative and growing economy.
It’s time for our leaders to lift their game. Diversity management is about productivity and effectiveness in a globally interdependent economy. It’s about focusing on what matters to build a shared sense of vision to unite rather than divide. It’s about building capability to engage with, understand and negotiate complexity, ambiguity and the cultures of our region.
Thoughts and reflections on Tim Southphommasane’s book, by BI Consultant Ramona Singh
In “Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From”, Tim Soutphommasane builds a convincing case for the success of Australian multiculturalism. He tackles controversial subjects such as migration, refugees, racism, and comparisons between the Australian model and those of Canada, the USA, the UK and Europe. His evidence is compelling as he argues that, rather than declare Australian multiculturalism a failure, it can be held up as an exemplary model, in which the right to express one’s cultural heritage exists alongside the responsibility to fulfils one’s duties as an Australian citizen – a commitment which the overwhelming majority of Australians of all origins adhere to.
More than 25% of Australians are born overseas, and roughly 45% of us have at least one parent who was born overseas. Having been born in Bombay to a Dutch mother and Indian father who later built our family’s life here in Australia, I fit into both of these categories. In my primary school class, Frank Tripoli and I were the only two olive-skinned children, and we both copped our fair share of racism. But as I grew up I watched Australia slowly change, and overt racism was something I never experienced again. The things I was ridiculed for at school – my mother’s accent, my mixed race family, my sandwiches, my name and the colour of my skin – slowly became acceptable, things to be proud of rather than ashamed.
It always puzzles me to hear people say that multiculturalism doesn’t work here, when I see evidence of it all around me. Not just my own experience, but the glaringly obvious yet easily overlooked way that, especially in our major cities, intercultural friendships and culturally diverse workplaces are the norm, bi-lingual Australians speak English with an Australian accent while retaining their mother tongue, and the children of immigrants outperform children of non-immigrant Australians in education and highly skilled occupations.
If, like me, you believe Australian multiculturalism is a success story, you will love this book. If you have your doubts, you’ll be interested in what Soutphommasane has to say. Multiculturalism in Australia does work, and this book will tell you why.
The challenge to find out what’s really going on and what people really think
Enabling stakeholder feedback and two-way information flows can be challenging. However, intercultural communication skills and appropriate process are vital when engaging in stakeholder consultations with culturally diverse groups. People in different organisational and cultural contexts have vastly different ways of interacting and engaging, and if you want to get feedback and know what people really think, there are some key strategies to ensure greater success:
1. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve
Don’t underestimate the power of thoroughly working through this with your team. Before embarking on stakeholder dialogue, ensure your team have a shared understanding of why this is necessary and the process which will occur. It can be immensely confusing to stakeholders and minimise trust if different reasons are mentioned by different representatives from the organiser.
2. Engage with a representational group
Knowing who to engage with is critical. In many cultural contexts, the most accessible people may not be the most representational. They may be the most available, be the gender who are traditionally ‘spokespeople’ or the best English speakers.
Sometimes it’s better to use various engagement strategies for people at different levels. For example, a Country representative may meet for a formal lunch with senior Ministers or bureaucrats, while country staff meet with mid-level managers over a more formal casual lunch or small meetings.
3. Know how your intent might be perceived
In non-democratic political contexts, sharing information without permission can be risky. What may be perceived as ‘sharing opinions’ in a Western context may be seen as criticism of the government in other cultures with potentially damaging personal consequences.
Don’t assume trust is a given or transparency and disclosure are easy. In communist or socialist governments and in very hierarchical cultures, information is power and rarely shared openly. Instead it travels through trusted networks as a tradeable commodity and source of favour.
4. Negotiate a process which meets everyone’s needs
When asking stakeholders what their needs are, sometimes it’s best to consult those with experience and knowledge of what works best.
For instance in most Asian cultures, putting people from different levels an organisation in a room and asking ‘what they think’ is highly ineffective. In many cases, the boss will speak on behalf of their team who will remain silent and share only positive information.
Often it’s more effective to have multiple smaller consultations rather than one large gathering. Wherever possible, ensure your stakeholders are in their comfort zone. Go to their world and where they feel comfortable.
5. Ensure language is inclusive and relevant
Wherever possible, ensure stakeholders are speaking their first and most fluent language. There are significant risks in conducting stakeholder engagement in English in non-English speaking countries.
Effectively engaging with local stakeholders can provide information to significantly influence project success and minimise the potential for violation of safeguards. Knowing in advance how your actions may be perceived, likely challenges and pitfalls and strategies to avoid them can minimise cost overruns, poor management choices and reduce risk.
The people ‘on the ground’ are the usually the most valuable resource in terms of insight and knowledge. Development of staff and employing specialist facilitators with the intercultural essentials of awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability, is critical.