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More Mores: Cultural Awareness & Its Workplace Value

Two years ago at the Orlando Universal in Florida, two children posed for photos with an actor dressed like a character from Despicable Me, a popular animated movie. This July, the resort — one among the most-visited ones in the world — was slapped with a civil-rights lawsuit.

Two years ago at the Orlando Universal in Florida, two children posed for photos with an actor dressed like a character from Despicable Me, a popular animated movie. This July, the resort — one among the most-visited ones in the world — was slapped with a civil-rights lawsuit.

A cursory glance reveals nothing untoward in the photos. Just two children posing with someone wearing a costume of an animated character they love. But for one apparently-innocuous detail. In both the photographs, the actor had made an OK symbol with his hand. While that gesture might be construed as okay in some places, it’s not in others.    

Culture now permeates the workplace as much — if not more — as it does all walks of daily life. Diversity has been and will continue to be an interpersonal foundation for any successful organization, but it also brings along the need for sensitization and learning from the perspective of Cultural Awareness.

India alone has 121 languages and 271 mother tongues, out of which 22 fall under the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India. In simple-speak, the average Indian workspace could have potential interpersonal interactions in at least 22 other languages apart from English and Hindi, and communication undertones involving possibly all of the cultural and traditional associations with those languages. Bottom-line? Cultural Awareness is an imperative for fostering an inclusive environment and strong interpersonal bonds in a workplace. 

Stepping Stone For A Diverse Workplace

Inclusion is fast becoming an aspirational trait for any company which sets out to be a bellwether. And by the virtue of its definition, Cultural Awareness is a key component for:

a.   Inculcating Cultural Competence in employees.

b.   Promulgating inclusion and mitigating (conscious and unconscious) bias in the workspace.

The public domain does have conversations that touch upon the benefits of a diverse workplace. But we at Dale Carnegie consider Inclusion as a core value, and hence have dedicated resources that shed light on the true potential of a genuinely-inclusive environment.  

Cultural Awareness From A Leader’s Perspective

As the decision-maker in an organization, leaders need to be privy to these elements that are pivotal for fostering Cultural Awareness among employees.

1.   Emphasis on building stronger teams: The idea here is simple, stronger relationships catalyse open communication. In the context of using Cultural Awareness for doing this, emphasis has to be placed on internal cultural differences. By acknowledging these, employees can unlearn incorrect stereotypes and notions, and make progress on the Cultural Competence Front.

2.   Growing the business network and reaching out to new stakeholders: Expanding into new territories will expose organizations to newer cultures, habits, traditions, apart from opening up a door for cross-cultural communication. The same notion holds water for stakeholders. Onboarding new clients from different geographical locations will also serve as an added incentive for employees to improve their Cultural Awareness and Cultural Competence.

3.   Setting up cross-cultural awareness programs: The idea is to get employees to recognize all of the cultural identities they interact with in their work environ, and to better their understanding of communication and other culture-based nuances, such as body language and other non-verbal cues, and the differences in perspectives that are rooted in their respective origins.

4.   Harassment training: Unconscious bias can often be difficult to spot in a workplace, leading to normalisation of detrimental behavior and unacceptable notions. On the surface, the idea of harassment training may sound like it solely focuses on weeding out the gender inequalities that pervade the workspace. But sensitization of employees on this topic could also have a tangential effect of introducing an open-minded approach towards other issues, a prerequisite for building Cultural Awareness.