This year again we will be marking on May 21st World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, a day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate cultural diversity.
It is an event born out of conviction that cultural diversity is a driving force for development. For businesses, diversity makes us more competitive, relevant and innovative.
Individuals working in a culturally diverse environment also report feeling more fulfilled – be it intellectually, emotionally or spiritually – than those who don’t. My experience of working in multi-cultural environments and with multicultural teams has certainly enriched my life.
We are staunch supporters of cultural diversity at Nestlé. We’re not saying this because it’s the right thing to say – we simply wouldn’t exist without it. We count 273,000 employees around the world, representing 175 different nationalities. The diversity of our company is reflected both in our people and in the thousands of products that we sell around the world – in 186 markets – tailored to the local preferences of our diverse consumer base.
Propping up diversity
If cultural diversity is a good thing, it doesn’t come naturally – it needs to be nurtured. Because it often challenges our own beliefs, norms and social behavior, it can be tempting to retreat to what we know – because it’s safe and comfortable.
Physiologically, individuals are hard-wired to make unconscious decisions – our decisions are not only the result of rational thought processes, they’re also based on instinct and previous experiences. This explains why we’ve made our training on unconscious bias mandatory to all our employees, while embedding diversity and inclusion in all of our people practices – so that our workplace becomes not only diverse, but inclusive as well.
To be sure, diverse and multicultural teams are more challenging to manage at the beginning. They demand that we question ourselves more regularly – but, in the end, the outcome far outweighs the extra effort. Teams are more creative, more in tune with the different societal trends, and thus better able to respond to the needs of consumers and society.
There’s not one magic recipe for diversity and inclusion – diversity and inclusion is above all a mindset. A combination of respect, openness and curiosity will go a long way in nurturing a diverse and inclusive environment. This holds true when interacting with consumers, customers, business partners, as well as with our colleagues.
I experienced my biggest personal and professional growth when on an international assignment outside my home country. I remember having difficulty to adjust in the beginning. I gave myself time to observe. Whenever I noticed little things that I didn’t understand, instead of assuming, I would ask questions. Communication is key. Researching other cultures goes a long way, too.
Another piece of advice: avoiding generalizations at all costs. It can be tempting to lump everyone in the same group and to paint them with the same brush. But remember that, regardless of their culture, people are just that – individuals with different experiences, different worldviews.
When you are open to learn and adapt, working across cultures can be a truly enriching experience.