As businesses continue to grow their operations in different countries, the need to make workplaces more and more diverse has never been so important. Employees from different cultures are bringing divergent thinking and original ideas to their workplaces and together they are changing the face of the global economy. Even though the collective imaginations of people from diverse cultural backgrounds are producing great outcomes for society and the economy, the roadblocks to overcome still existing cultural stereotypes and preconceptions are many.
Culture is the plethora of differences that characterize the world today. According to anthropologist Cristina De Rossi, culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things. These cultural dimensions contribute to an organization’s character and success, however, employee cultural diversity sometimes creates cultural barriers in the workplace.
What are cultural barriers?
Cultural barriers are challenges to cross-cultural communication within an organization. When people from different cultures who might speak different languages, have different cultural beliefs or use different gestures and symbols to communicate, their cultural differences might become barriers to workplace success. This happens because of a lack of cultural awareness, knowledge, and communication.
Here are 5 ways to overcome cultural barriers and embrace cultural difference:
Ensure clear and polite communication
Clear and polite communication reduces the chances of surprises, crises, and confrontation. Both employers and employees should take diversity and cultural difference into account while drafting communication material. This can include:
- using simple words
- using visual methods to communicate results
- avoiding slang words and phrases
Learn about different cultures
Asking polite questions about each other’s cultures and expressing willingness to learn about different cultural backgrounds can foster workplace relationships. It is important to create a culture of inquiry where asking questions is encouraged! Being patient and understanding towards beliefs and norms of different cultures, speaking against discrimination at the workplace, and continuously learning about changing cultures are all an effective way to make workplaces more inclusive.
Work towards accommodating cultural difference
According to Equality Challenge Unit, implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realizing. And the only way to accommodate cultural difference is to recognize unconscious bias. An individual can accommodate cultural difference by being sensitive towards different cultures and an organization can accommodate cultural difference by understanding, for example, different religious customs or encouraging cultural celebrations.
Diversity recruiting’s ability to produce creative outcomes has limits within the ability of a workforce to share cultural knowledge. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of Harvard Business Review writes, “Studies mapping the social networks of organizations have found higher levels of creativity in groups that are more interconnected, particularly when creative and intrapreneurial individuals are a central node [part] in those networks.”
The evidence shows that knowledge sharing and collective contribution produce creative outcomes. Knowledge from different cultural backgrounds and experiences stimulates cultural inclusion and results in innovation. Thus, it is beneficial for both individuals and organizations to make knowledge sharing an important part of their culture.
Employ diversity training
Another way to overcome cultural barriers is to ensure there is an inclusion of people of different cultural backgrounds in the workplace. Diversity training can potentially foster inclusive work culture, encourage teamwork and leadership, create new opportunities, and thereby create a positive work culture. This training will help employees understand and embrace the cultural differences of their coworkers, and coworkers to embrace each other.
Hence, accommodating cultural commonalities and differences is extremely important to overcoming cultural barriers. This is also something to keep in mind while drafting communication material that is sent out to staff and clients.
Jigna Kotecha is a blogger at LatPro.com, an award-winning employment website working to connect talented job seekers with employers who value diversity. She is also a Media, Culture, and Communication graduate student at New York University, where she is focusing on digital media, culture, and storytelling. She has reported stories on gender rights as a journalist and conducted research on the topics of gender and diversity for non-profits.