by Kevin | Dec 05, 2019

Understand your culture if you want to ‘manage diversity’

Consider for a second what you believe to be the most important ‘people’ challenges facing leaders in the 21st century. Most CEOs I ask this question to usually come up with the following examples; improving employee engagement, creating a sense of purpose and the need to build a positive organisational culture. Then they sometimes say, “and we need diversity”.

This article is not intending to extol the virtues of diversity. I am a believer in the benefits of diversity and this memo assumes you too believe it to be important.

This article is about why you may be making little progress.

So, you want to create a more diverse company? You probably have some metrics in mind; 50% of candidates for senior roles should be female or ethnicity ratios should reflect our community. You may have had these targets for some time but for some reason you’re not making much progress. Why not?

It’s your culture.

Let’s look at 4 well known culture dimensions and see what we can learn.

  1. Hierarchy v Egalitarian: You are more likely to drive diversity if your culture is egalitarian. Hierarchies are associated with a more negative attitude towards diversity. This is because a hierarchical system is expected and accepted, meaning that being different according to one’s status is not considered problematic. Moreover, hierarchies reflect a shared value of inequality, visible in policies and behaviours.

  2. Individualism v Collectivism: You are more likely to drive diversity in cultures with high individualism where group tensions are not necessarily as apparent or emphasized as much as collective cultures, therefore greater acceptance of out-group members is possible. People are viewed as individuals, not as members of a particular group. Thus, higher individualism is associated with a more positive attitude towards diversity
  3. Masculinity v Feminine: Feminine cultures are more likely to embrace diversity. In masculine cultures the perception of diverse groups being an additional source of threat and competition is fostered, since achievement and competition dictate social concerns. This can essentially be seen as promoting antagonistic inter-group relations. In feminine societies however, there is greater emphasis on social justice, harmony, solidarity and equality. In feminine cultures the willingness to integrate is much stronger than any motive to exclude.
  4. Uncertainty avoidance: High uncertainty avoidance is associated with conservatism, low tolerance for ambiguity and a dislike for novelty and change. Views and behaviour that are different from one’s own are threatening and not easily accepted. Low tolerance of ambiguity is a very significant impediment in the shaping of a positive diversity climate.

So, your culture needs to be egalitarian, individualistic, feminine and embrace ambiguity. If you would like to know whether you are likely to drive and embrace diversity, please contact us and learn your cultural tendencies.

Unless of course you don’t believe diversity is important.

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