Multiculturalism is rapidly becoming the norm in today's business climate. Globalization has forced companies to begin marketing worldwide and the result is that companies must diversify their workforce in order to successfully compete on the world stage. Companies such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Google, General Motors and many more have all entered the globalization era by diversifying and creating a multicultural workforce.
A multicultural workforce can mean different things to different people but at its core it would include employees from a variety of different religious, ethnic, racial, and gender backgrounds. In the past such diversification was unusual in most businesses but globalization and the recognition that a combination of cultural influences can improve the overall quality of a company has forced business owners and managers to change their hiring practices.
In America there has always been a blending of cultures. Immigration was an important part of the American landscape and, without it; there is little likelihood that American business would have emerged as the world leader. The Irish, the Germans, the Chinese, and many others played a major part in the development of the American economy. Each of these cultural groups brought something new to what became the American "melting pot" but until very recently these groups were expected to assimilate, that is, discard or modify their cultural heritages in order to become a part of the American culture. This often times resulted in the members of these immigrant cultures, whether Irish, German or Chinese, abandoning their own language, rituals and customs in order to fit in; in order to become Americanized.
This process of assimilation was not unique to America. It occurred in other nations to a greater and lesser degree as well. Until the onset of globalization it was the rule rather than the exception. In order to succeed in the business world, it was necessary for an individual to become one with the culture in which he or she lived. With globalization, however, this proposition has been altered.
Prior to the recent surge in multiculturalism around the world, the classic example of the concept at work was the United Kingdom. Because of its long history of colonization the United Kingdom was exposed to a wide variety of cultures. Immigrants from British colonies throughout the world found themselves working within the British economy and doing so while maintaining their cultural identity. The British government openly promoted multiculturalism to some degree as an alternative to the cultural assimilation practiced in the United States and elsewhere. People living in the United Kingdom were encouraged to live according to their own cultural customs and mores. A tolerance for bilingual communication and loose immigration control was the standard throughout the British rule. What was once a concept limited to practice in only the British Empire has now become the standard throughout most of the world.
Prior to the evolution of the computer, the cell phone, and jet-propelled transit, economies developed in a microcosm. Companies were limited to specified markets in their own little corner of the world. International commerce was extremely limited. Trade occurred between differing nations but it was highly specialized. Rubber came from India, cheap toys came from Japan, and watches came from Switzerland. For years this was how the world worked. Beginning with the end of the Second World War and continuing onward the entire landscape of world trade has been altered. Improved communication technology and transportation has opened up the possibilities for world trade. Information that once took days and weeks to exchange now occurs almost instantly and travel that once required days can now be completed in hours.
The world of business is entirely different than it once was (Klein, 1997). Businesses that still operate within the microcosm that once existed face the very real possibility that they will not survive. Parochial thought and required assimilation are monikers for failure. Multiculturalism and the diversity that accompanies it are an accepted part of international trade.
Proponents of multiculturalism argue that diversity generates better decision making. Differing viewpoints and methods allows for the expression of ideas that might otherwise be foreclosed and overlooked. In a recent psychological study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin the authors found that living successfully in another culture helps one to be more creative in a variety of circumstances (Maddux, 2010). Businesses can take advantage of this factor by integrating employees from a variety of cultural backgrounds into their company framework.
Managing a global corporation can bring with it some unusual cultural adaptations (Thomas, 2004). There exist substantial differences between cultures and a failure to recognize and honor these differences can have disastrous results for businesses attempting to transact business across these cultures. For instance, in western cultures such as the United States or Europe, business relationships are based on contracts. Western-based businesses are accustomed to relying upon these contracts to establish the parameters of their business activities. In eastern cultures, however, business relationships are much more personal. Business persons in such cultures are not accustomed rigid adherence to contracts. They look to their long standing relationship with the business people involved to adjust their business decisions. Until that relationship is established and developed business persons in eastern cultures are reluctant to go forward with the closing of the deal. Americans and Europeans may view this apparent reluctance as disinterest while in reality it is just the eastern cultures way of placing the relationship in front of the contract.
Similarly, western cultures, particularly Americans, look upon their own language, English, as the language of choice in business negotiations. There is general expectation, based on years of experience, that English will be used but as the United States and other western nations economies become less dominant internationally other nations are beginning to expect business to be conducted in their own language. For westerners unfamiliar with the nuiances of such languages they run the risk of offending or alienating such business relations without meaning to do so. The use of personnel familiar with both cultures can ease any potential misunderstandings and can actually promote a deeper understanding.
Non-verbal communication is also an important element of transacting business. What may be acceptable in one culture may be totally unacceptable in another. For example, eastern cultures tend to be more reserved and quiet in their approach while western cultures are more outgoing and gregarious. To a business person from an eastern culture, a vociferous, aggressive manner is likely to be considered impolite and almost certain to stall any negotiations. For the westerner, the apparent laid back manner of a Chinese or Indian business person may be construed as disinterest. It is incumbent for any company contemplating active participation in international business to utilize the multicultural talents of personnel sensitive to these differences in approach.
Another area where there are strong differences between cultures involved in international business is in the area of the importance of the individual. In western cultures individualism is promoted. Group concerns are not afforded much consideration and the interest of the individual is paramount. This individualism tends to manifest itself in the workforce where workers tend to be highly independent and reluctant to work in groups to affectuate groups. In eastern cultures groups and institutions are afforded much more respect. In these cultures the focus is on conformity and cooperation. The individual is considered far less important than the group and, in fact, the pursuit of personal goals and asperations is viewed quite negatively. Placing the group's interest in front of the individual results in a feeling of common interest and cooperation.
In the multicultural company, therefore, employees come to a group setting with different idea of how a given task should be approached. These different ideas are deep seeded and the members of the group may not even be consciously aware of how their thinking is affected by these ideas. It is incumbent that a company engaged in international business be sensitive to these differences and utilize the talents of personnel experienced in the coordination of such differences. Otherwise, serious breakdowns can occur in communication between the participants (WT100, 2006).
Although there are problems in the use of a multicultural workforce there are also considerable advantages. One of the advantages has already been addressed in the fact that the resultiing diversity tends to increase the creativity. This diversity also opens the company to greater acceptance among differing groups and nationalities. When differenting ideas and approachs are considered and representatives from differing cultures are represented at the negotiating table the likelihood of constructive business being accomplished is increased.
As more and more companies begin participation in the international marketplace differences between cultures must be afforded greater consideration. The moral and intellectual superiority that has been demonstrated by some world economic powers must be curtailed. The attitude that "we" are right and "they" are wrong must be abandoned (Gudykunst, 2003). Such attitudes lead to feelings of exclusion in those considered wrong and feelings of superiority and prejudice in those considering themselves right.…