Take a look at the foot traffic at a railway station in any of New Zealand’s main cities and the multi-cultural nature of our workforce will become evident. The diversity is astounding and encouraging. The variety is not just about gender or about ethnicity. It is not uncommon to find four generations, five languages, many ethnicities and a spectrum of worldviews in any workplace today.
For Shireen Chua this diversity is not only interesting, it forms the key focus of her career. Born in Malaysia of Chinese ethnicity and raised in New Zealand, Shireen is acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities facing the diverse workforce. “There is no doubt that the differences are greater than ever before,” says Shireen. “This leads to a complexity which can be daunting for the individual and for the company as a whole.” At the core are the individual’s personality, beliefs and values. These factors influence their perceptions of the primary human characteristics such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, gender, physical and mental ability. To a large extent people in the workforce have become accustomed to diversity of these characteristics and have at least a basic understanding of how to react appropriately.
When it comes to secondary characteristics such as marital/parental status, social status, nationality, language, accent, appearance, location, hobbies, educational background and religion the fluency with which the “average person” interacts in the workplace is placed under some strain. All of these characteristics influence how we behave and respond in our interactions with each other. However, take this to another level: if we move from diversity (encouraging the hiring of people of diverse backgrounds and diverse primary and secondary characteristics) to inclusion (making all people feel part of the organisation) then the challenges are significant. In an inclusive organisation the opinions, worldviews and values of all the employees, no matter how different, are respected.
Compromise or negotiate?
Some may frown at the concept that interactions (and in a sense values and norms) are not fixed but negotiated. “It does not mean that we need to compromise on what determines our identities or our personalities,” adds Shireen. “On the contrary, these diverse ways of thinking are very valuable to the organisation and they all need an opportunity to be heard.” But we need to acknowledge that the best solution to any problem can come from any source and that our behaviour should encourage all employees to feel comfortable enough to share their insights and to contribute to the best possible solution.
As Csaba Toth, Founder of ICQ Global and developer of Global DISC™ put it, “Diversity is the mixture of differences; inclusion is the right mixture of people managed with cultural intelligence. One is a minefield and other one is a gold mine.” The movement from one to the other requires building the necessary skills not only among people in the workforce but within the very core of the organisation. Cultural Intelligence means having the ability to interact effectively in any culturally diverse setting. It helps us understand the impact of organisational characteristics such as hierarchies and the placement of people at different levels, how different functions of the business interact (because, after all, marketers and engineers are diverse breeds), how one location deals with another (for example head office and a branch office).
Tolerate or belong?
What is the ultimate proof that we have successfully included people in the way we run our businesses? People feel they belong. Belonging is what happens when the level of cultural intelligence (CQ) in the organisation is high and pervasive. When people feel they belong, they have ownership of their work and they contribute at unprecedented levels.
Success comes when CQ influences how we communicate, how we see ourselves (both as individuals and as groups in the workplace) and what we focus on (i.e. the balance between task and relationship). People feel they belong when they are heard, included in the problem-solving processes (where appropriate) including how we process and share information, how we give explanations and the conclusions we reach. The highly effective organisation is attuned to its composite workforce and its growing diverse markets. This influences the decision-making cycles including the locus of control, how we interpret time, and how we distribute or constrain power.
Interacting, problem-solving and decision-making are the most subtle measurements of inclusion and the most effective companies strive towards constant improvement of these behaviours.
Watch this webinar where Shireen Chua discusses various tools which can be used to measure and improve the CQ of your organisation.
Then have a look at these TED Talks for more on CQ:
Shireen Chua is the Director of Third Culture Solutions Ltd. She is a Malaysian-Chinese Kiwi who has been educated in New Zealand completing her degree at Massey University (MSc Nut.Sci). Her MBA from Southern Cross University, Australia included a research project focusing on “Culture Matters: How NZ Organisations develop Intercultural Competency“. She is a certified Professional Coach, gaining her ACC with the International Coach Federation and is also certified by the Cultural Intelligence Center as a CQ Trainer (Advanced). This allows her to facilitate the “Developing Cultural Intelligence workshop“ using the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) assessment tool. She is also certified to train using the Global DiSC. Shireen is a lecturer on Massey’s Master of Advanced Leadership Practice (MALP).