Obviously, workplace diversity is the norm today. It may be colleagues in your country, offices abroad, or customers around the world. In any case, it is unlikely that you work only with those who share your background. Nor should you want to! Indeed, the benefits of workplace diversity are well known. A variety of talents and backgrounds results in increased creativity, innovation, and success.
Workplace Diversity can be a challenge
Just because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s easy. Consequently, we have talked about this subject here before. Where to begin though? Especially when dealing with multiple cultures. And how to figure it out without causing offense? Clearly, understanding the invisible values that inform the beliefs and behaviors of a group will require effort. However, we can give you a jumping off point.
Professor Geert Hofstede extensively studied cultural values in the workplace. As a result, he identified six dimensions of national culture. Each dimension is represented by two opposite values. Every culture falls on a continuum between them.
One dimension, for example, is High Power Distance vs. Low Power Distance. It shows the degree to which hierarchies are accepted, as opposed to greater equality among workers. As an illustration, a friend from Mexico told me about the hardest things for Mexicans to adapt to in the U.S. One was showing independent initiative at work. They were more accustomed to receiving direction and working hard to carry it out as given. Therefore, an expectation to innovate was new and stressful. This was not considered valued behavior at home. Understanding this could change the way you look at a colleague. Not understanding, on the other hand, might cause you to judge someone as being less motivated or capable.
Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture
Let’s look at each of the dimensions Professor Hofstede identified:
1. Power Distance
As described above.
Example: Saudi Arabia vs. New Zealand.
2. Individualism vs. Collectivism
Do people feel responsible mainly for themselves, or for the group? In cultures high in collectivism, there are stronger expectations to take on responsibility for family. More individualistic countries expect people to be free to live their own lives.
In fact, I often use this dimension to explain American behavior. Why are we so friendly but don’t become friends easily? Due to friendship coming with commitments which might infringe on our individual pursuits. We have to be careful!
Example: Unites States vs. South Korea
3. Masculinity vs. Femininity
A more “masculine” culture values achievement, assertiveness, and financial success. Alternatively, one that ranks higher on “femininity” prefers cooperation and caring for others.
Example: Japan vs. Sweden
4. Uncertainty Avoidance
Uncertainty avoidance expresses how comfortable a culture is with ambiguity. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance have rigid codes and don’t tolerate unorthodoxy, whereas low uncertainty avoidance nations are more relaxed.
Example: Pakistan vs. Jamaica
5. Long Term vs. Short Term Normative Orientation
This tells how cultures see their past, present, and future. Long term orientation indicates greater adherence to tradition and norms. Moreover, change may be unwelcome. In contrast, a short term normative orientation group is more concerned with adapting to the future.
Example: China vs. United Kingdom
6. Indulgence vs. Restraint
Cultures high on indulgence value enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake. Conversely, those that score higher on restraint may use social norms to limit individual gratification.
Example: Mexico vs. Egypt
If you’d like to see where different places fall on each dimension, then visit Hofstede Insights and type in the name of a country. Importantly, it has limitations. We are all individuals, and we are also influenced by cultures aside from our national one (e.g., region, city, family, religion, etc.). Still, it is a great place to start so that you can begin to reap the rewards of workplace diversity.
“National Culture”, https://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture, n.d.
“Country Comparison”, https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/, n.d.