Learn what workforce diversification can do for your company
by Matthew Corbitt
August 23, 2017

According to an article by Andrea Durkin, principal of Sparkplug, a consulting firm based in Washington D.C., globalism has taken root in the hearts of millennials. Borders are being erased, and immigrants are flooding into western countries by the millions. Circumstances dictate actions, and businesses are compelled to either respond properly or become a relic of the past. Regardless of your personal opinion, the erosion of the nation state is occurring. The question is, “How are you going to respond?”

With great change comes great opportunity. The migrant crisis is an opportunity for businesses to grow and expand. Migrants require housing, jobs, clothing and many other necessities for living. For the leaders of the construction industry, the migrant crisis is an opportunity for government housing contracts, cheap labor and cultural expansion. Immigrants bring various opportunities to the table, not the least being their particular insights and cultural distinctions. By respecting their native culture and learning from it, construction leaders in the United States can gain a powerful edge in business over foreign competition.

Exploring Multicultural Leadership

Simply put, multicultural leadership is a leadership framework that respects the differences between cultures and attempts to make room for different cultural perspectives within the context of an organization. Multicultural leadership is not limited to widely diverse cultures: it can also be used within subcultures. For example, in the U.S., we all share a cultural superstructure despite one’s location, race or gender. However, differing regions and metropolitan areas articulate American culture differently, thereby creating microcosms of culture or subcultures. These microcosms create a variety of subcultures that can be used to create a multicultural organization.

An example of the differences and similarities of two American cultures is seen in a comparison between northern California and Detroit, Michigan. Comparing these cultures allows us to grasp the immensity of the gap that must be bridged among cultures even on our own soil. The cultures from California to Michigan are vastly different, yet both still have the same, base DNA. The cultural differences between these two areas can cause conflict if not properly understood and utilized. Both cultures have powerful assets to offer while suffering from certain liabilities.

The difference between cultures is even starker when they are compared across the globe. Multicultural leadership can take on an even greater breadth when examining cultures that have radically different ideals. According to the GLOBE study, many east-Asian cultures strongly believe in a collective mindset, while in the U.S., a rugged individualistic mindset is vaunted. Bridging Chinese and American cultural values takes great effort due to the distance between cultural values. However, a synthesis of both cultures creates a cultural alloy stronger than either on its own. In order to obtain and maximize the effectiveness of a multicultural leadership structure, certain principles must be attended to regularly. 

The Benefits for Your Company

What can multicultural leadership do for your company? In the construction industry, any given problem can be solved in a number of different ways, and often the best solutions are those created by a team of leaders with varying backgrounds and cultures.  

Creativity is influenced by one's culture. The American way may be to address a problem with a more expensive solution than someone from a country that lacks readily available resources. Notwithstanding, an individual from China or India may bring vastly different influences when addressing a problem.

The blending of many cultural influences can create solutions more creative and ingenious than any one culture or society could produce on its own. By combining diverse cultures, ingenious solutions can be manifest with greater clarity and potency.

Multicultural Leadership/Followership Principles

Becoming a multicultural leader is not easy, nor is engaging with people of other cultures. Ethnocentrism is a natural process that results from having an appreciation of one’s own culture. Overcoming one's biases and preconceptions can be difficult. However, to gain that competitive advantage in the workforce today, becoming a student of other cultures and ways of life can be extremely rewarding.

A multicultural leader is not simply a facilitator of other cultures, but the leader’s goal should be to forge a new culture among all followers; thereby encouraging multicultural followership. This doesn’t mean creating a fractured workplace, but instead synthesizing the strengths of multicultural followers in a positive way. Your company culture should have notes and accents of other cultures’ best and brightest people.

There are three basic principles to keep in mind when transitioning from an ethnocentric leadership/followership model to a multicultural leadership/followership model.

  1. A multicultural leader or follower must set aside preconceptions and biases and work toward the genuine appreciation of another culture's way of doing things.
  2. By respecting another culture's way of handling problems, the multicultural leader must embrace and execute a wide variety of leadership styles, while the follower must be receptive to various leadership models.
  3. A leader must have the ability to take the best of other cultures, and melt these concepts into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Appreciation for Other World Views

To become a great multicultural leader or follower, one must abandon prejudice and some core biases that result from tribalism; a result of human nature and the respect for one’s own culture above others.  The multicultural individual must see the way other cultures work, and respect their particular ways of doing things. When a leader is doing business within that culture, the leader or follower must adapt to the culture's way of handling certain situations.

When a leader is building a business within the context of any culture, the dominant culture needs to be the foundational or base layer of the company’s culture. When building a business in the U.S., the undertone of the business’s culture should be a reflection of American values. However, when building a business in Japan, the leader, even if he/she is American, must use Japanese culture as the foundation of the business's culture.               

Embracing a Wide Variety of Leadership Styles

Different cultures lead differently. Americans believe that leaders must make quick and accurate decisions, while in France and Germany leaders are expected to think slowly and through any and all possibilities. A leader in the U.S. can learn a variety of leadership styles by studying immigrants and cultures from various parts of the world. This helps a leader lead more effectively in multiple countries and across multiple cultures all over the globe.

Situational awareness will illuminate exactly what kind of leadership is required. For example, when attempting a cultural reformation within a company, it may be best to let the idea grow organically, soliciting input from others. However, when the time reaches critical mass, a dictatorial decision may be required to move the company along. Perhaps the greatest danger for a leader is to pigeonhole himself/herself into a single type of leadership. Leaders are required to adapt and overcome.  

Forging a New Culture

In the construction industry, the implementation of diversity can be a problem. A jobsite can quickly become a scene of pandemonium when a leader attempts to accommodate every aspect of every culture.

When pushing for diversity in the workplace, the goal should never be to hit a quota of various cultures. The goal should be to steal the best of the other cultures. This utilitarian, pragmatic way of viewing multiculturalism is the key to bringing diversity into the construction environment. A multicultural follower will understand that when creating a new culture, certain practices of one's own culture must be subject to the newly formed culture established by the whole.

Pragmatism should be the driving force behind any multicultural push. Simply put, if it works, do it. A pragmatic individual uses diversity, and has the ability to work within various fields across many cultures. This leader and follower retains the ability to forge a complimentary culture wherever the leader may be. The ability to adapt and forge a culture should be a key ability in the repertoire of any leader.

Two Cautions

Two major challenges should be carefully monitored when attempting to create a multicultural workplace: discrimination and communication failure. A strong multicultural organization can be destroyed quickly by failing to monitor both of these inevitable issues.

Discrimination is caused by ethnocentrism or prejudice. Humanity gravitates toward like-minded people and the different, rebellious, or non-conformists are shunned. To form a multicultural company or leadership structure, differing views and ways of doing things must be celebrated and encouraged. When a manager or leader begins to be surrounded by people who think and act identically, discrimination on some level is taking place. A leader should take proactive steps in order to allow a group to maintain a multicultural membership.

Multiculturalism can and often does lead to communication failure. Even if both parties are using the English language, nomenclature is often the product of regional peculiarities, thereby confusing even simple, routine tasks. If not monitored, this communication failure will lead to discrimination and fracturing within the group. For a multicultural organization to thrive, communications must be monitored and clarity must be achieved.

 

The rise of globalism brings many challenges, but also great opportunity. A multicultural workplace brings strength, creativity and effectiveness, as well as its fair share of challenges. As different cultures begin the process of globalization, businesses must adapt to the challenges and overcome the obstacles, emerging stronger and more profitable than before.