In the aftermath of the deeply disturbing racist, brutal, and fatal act against George Floyd, and the revelation of similar acts against other black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour, one wonders if organizations are thinking about and reviewing how they manage diversity. The die has been cast, and it seems to me that organizations cannot languish any longer, if they have been doing so, in a state of complacence. To continue as such is tantamount to concurring with the status quo, and that has both serious moral and business implications.
If organizations, big, medium, or small, regard themselves as microcosms of society, because they draw their human resources from it, it falls upon them to act as leaders and exemplars of positive change. This is because they have set up and possess the resources to do so, such as systems, infrastructure, labour, and expertise. With this idea in mind, organizations may find themselves at the threshold of significant opportunities to create positive change about how they treat employees who are different from the dominant majority under their charge. It is also completely unsatisfactory merely to appear as leaders in this endeavour, because eventually, they will be detected and discredited for lip-service. Authentic organizations need to learn and practice this change themselves, demonstrate it, and live it.
What are some of the ways they can do this?
One effective and specific way to undertake this change imperative is to organize formal and professional assessments of intercultural competence for the organization as the basis of an intercultural development program. While organizations decide if this recommendation is the right choice and path for them, let me offer some insights that may be used for deliberation.
In the following paragraphs, you will find a list of practices that organizations use that I have categorized as examples of the five orientations of the Intercultural Development Continuum TM. The IDC TM describes five orientations to cultural differences and similarities that range from monocultural to intercultural. The orientations are: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance, and Adaptation.
Licensed and Copyright, 2019 Mitchell R. Hammer, Ph.D.
Organizations may use the categorization tool I have devised (Sights on Success Consulting, Copyright 2020) to determine which practices are desirable for them to aspire to, and which to re-evaluate.
Denial Orientation (monocultural)
A Denial mindset reflects a more limited capability for understanding and appropriately responding to cultural differences in values, beliefs, perceptions, emotional responses, and behaviours. Denial consists of a disinterest in other cultures and a more active avoidance of cultural differences. Individuals and organizations with a denial orientation often do not see differences in perceptions and behaviour as “cultural.” A Denial orientation is characteristic of individuals and organizations who have limited experience with other cultural groups and therefore tend to operate with broad stereotypes and generalizations about the cultural “other.” When Denial is present in the workplace, cultural diversity oftentimes feels “ignored.”
Management of diversity according to the Denial Orientation
Diversity is invisible and inaudible. Organizations may still be struggling with the business case for diversity and are not convinced that diversity works.
There are no policies in place that declare the organization’s position on diversity and how it is managed. There is little acknowledgement of cultural and other kinds of diversity in the organization and no concerted effort to recruit individuals from such backgrounds. Employees who are visibly and audibly different and from invisible minority backgrounds keep a low profile.
There are few or no individuals in the organization who have learned about or have expertise in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and equity or have participated in intercultural competence development.
Defense Polarization Orientation (monocultural)
Polarization is an evaluative mindset that views cultural differences from an “us versus them” perspective. Polarization can take the form of Defense (“My cultural practices are superior to other cultural practices”) or Reversal (“Other cultures are better than mine”). Within Defense, cultural differences are often seen as divisive and threatening to one’s own “way of doing things.” When Polarization is present in an organization, diversity typically feels “uncomfortable.”
Management of diversity according to the Defense Polarization Orientation
Diversity is considered a threat to the organization’s vision, mission, identity, and culture. It is managed through a bottom-up recruitment approach. There is resistance to the hiring of candidates from minority backgrounds on the part of managers including resistance to work placement and internship programs. Managers rely on negative stereotypes of minorities to justify their reluctance to recruit them, work with them, and identify them for advancement opportunities, etc.
The approach to intercultural training is ad hoc. For example, intercultural training is used as a remedial measure for disciplining isolated employees involved in intercultural conflicts.
Training is organized for new hires mainly to orient them to the organizational culture. The latter is seen as a monolith where values remain fixed and do not evolve. New hires are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture. The “sink or swim” approach for new hires is part of the prevailing mindset. Those who survived this approach and continue to work for the organization expect new hires to be treated the same way they were to maintain “fairness” and continuity.
Cultural diversity is understood mainly as a visible characteristic – there is no attempt to learn about values and beliefs that underscore cultural differences.
Minimization Orientation (transition between monocultural and intercultural orientations)
Minimization highlights commonalities in both human similarity (basic needs) and universalism (universal values and principles) that can mask a deeper understanding of cultural differences.
Minimization can take one of two forms: (a) the highlighting of commonalities due to limited cultural self-understanding, which is more commonly experienced by dominant group members within a cultural community; or (b) the highlighting of commonalities as a strategy for navigating the values and practices largely determined by the dominant culture group, which is more often experienced by non-dominant group members within a larger cultural community.
This latter strategy can have survival value for non-dominant culture members and often takes the form of “go along to get along.” When Minimization exists in organizations, diversity often feels “not heard.”
Management of diversity according to the Minimization Orientation
Diversity is managed through recruitment and other front-ended approaches. There is less emphasis on long-term strategies and retention.
The management of diversity is a mid-level management responsibility; not an upper- management or executive level responsibility.
Diversity is promoted mainly by emphasizing its benefits. For example, a celebratory or festive approach to cultural diversity is taken and similarities among cultures such as food, music, and art are emphasized and used as bridging strategies to allay fears about difference or strangeness.
Diversity is underestimated, undervalued, and underemployed at a loss to the organization:
- Diversity is present in diminishing numbers from entry-level to the upper echelons of the organization.
- There is a concentration of employees from racial, ethnic, and other diversity and minority groups at the entry-level of the organization.
- There is a concentration of employees from racial, ethnic, and other diversity and minority groups in specific occupations and sections of the organization.
Inclusion is not seen as an organization-wide and individual responsibility or the responsibility of leaders at all levels of the organization.
Individuals from ethno-cultural groups are identified as spokespersons or cultural interpreters for everyone associated with the group. These individuals are identified to create a buffer between the management and the concentration of ethno-cultural individuals in entry-level jobs and may remove the managers from direct responsibility in resolving internal or intra-cultural issues.
In intercultural training, there is a focus on culture-specific knowledge acquisition while culture-general knowledge is not known about or acquired. There is a limited focus on developing cultural self-awareness. Participation in intercultural training is voluntary and ad hoc.
The traditions, customs, and practices of the dominant majority are maintained as an integral part of organizational culture and applied to everyone to build engagement, organizational identity, and unity.
Informal methods of distributing information and gathering feedback regarding diversity are used instead of professional and formal assessment instruments to appear non-threatening and to curb perceived or potential resistance to participation. This is because it is assumed that employees who identify with the dominant culture would be resistant to hiring more diversity into the organization.
The organization may hire employees from minority backgrounds for targeted and highly visible positions to appear inclusive, but this may be an example of tokenism instead.
Acceptance Orientation (intercultural or ethno-relative)
With an Acceptance orientation, individuals and organizations recognize and appreciate patterns of cultural differences and commonalities in their own and other cultures. An Acceptance orientation is curious to learn how a cultural pattern of behaviour makes sense within different cultural communities. This involves contrastive self-reflection between one’s own culturally learned perceptions and behaviors and perceptions and practices of different cultural groups. While curious, individuals and organizations with an Acceptance mindset are not fully able to appropriately adapt to cultural difference. Someone or an organization with an Acceptance orientation may be challenged as well to make ethical or moral decisions across cultural groups. While a person or organization within Acceptance embraces a deeper understanding of cultural differences, this can lead to them struggling with reconciling behavior in another cultural group that they consider unethical or immoral from their own cultural viewpoint. When Acceptance is present in organizations, diversity feels “understood.”
Management of diversity according to the Acceptance Orientation
Diversity is integrated into the organization’s vision, mission, purpose, and values in strategic and meaningful ways. There is a strong desire to be inclusive by focusing on the retention of minorities. The organization believes that it is important to appreciate and balance both the benefits and the costs involved in recruiting and retaining minorities.
There is a combined focus on learning culture-specific and culture-general knowledge. Developing cultural self-awareness is considered important for becoming more interculturally competent. Intercultural training is normalized and offered on a regular basis as part of professional and leadership development programs. Organizational leaders research and experiment with ways to redistribute and share resources that will create equity for minorities.
Adaptation Orientation (intercultural or ethno-relative)
An Adaptation orientation consists of both Cognitive Frameshifting (shifting one’s cultural perspective) and Behavioral Code-Shifting (changing behaviour in authentic and culturally appropriate ways). Adaptation enables deep cultural bridging across diverse communities using an increased repertoire of cultural frameworks and practices in navigating cultural commonalities and differences. An Adaptation mindset sees adaptation in performance (behaviour). When an Adaptation mindset is present in the workplace, diversity feels “valued and involved.”
Management of diversity according to the Adaptation Orientation
Diversity, inclusion, and equity are integrated into the organization’s vision, mission, purpose, values, and strategic planning based on a deep understanding of these concepts.
Leaders at every level of the organization:
- participate in intercultural development training and they advocate it for the whole organization. They are vocal and visible about their participation.
- have developed a deep understanding and clarity about the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and equity.
- commit to continuous learning and acquiring expertise in managing diversity.
- practice and model the attitudes, skills, and knowledge associated with intercultural competence.
- focus on succession planning and leadership development of all minorities.
- help to actualize equity by creating and capitalizing on opportunities to redistribute and share resources with minorities.
As you may infer from the paragraphs above, the management of diversity becomes more inclusive and equitable with the increase in intercultural competence according to the Intercultural Development Continuum TM. It is also noticeable that leadership development in intercultural competence can give rise to organizations that are more inclusive and equitable and so, a strong focus on learning and accountability is necessary to reduce the gap between knowing/talking and doing.
If organizations are committed to the change imperative in how they manage diversity in the aftermath of brutal and fatal racist acts against black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour, it is important for them to gain organizational self-awareness about their orientation to and actual capability with regard to cultural differences and similarities. They can do so by requesting for a formal and professional assessment of intercultural competence to be arranged and to discuss this opportunity with a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory®.
Angeline S. Chia, M.Ed. (Human Resources Development) is a Qualified Administrator of the IDI® and an ICF certified leadership coach. She offers training for organizations and individuals in intercultural competence development. She can be reached for enquiries and a consultation by email at [email protected] . More information about her intercultural competence development program is available at https://sightsonsuccessconsulting.com .