As World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development 2023 fast approaches, observed on the 21st of May each year, we consider the real impact of misunderstanding or misrepresenting cultural differences, not only the threat that it poses for global peace and prosperity, but how it touches businesses and their people today.
The scale of the issue
World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is observed on 21 May of each year. According to the United Nations there is a frightening statistic regarding cultural intolerance in that, “Three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension,” an indicator of how cultural differences can be major disruptors to peace and prosperity.
As societies become increasingly connected there is a greater need to understand the benefits derived from fostering tolerance, understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity. Culture is a critical contributor and enabler of business success and sustainable development, and as such, it is fast becoming a top global issue. As a result, cultural diversity is commonly recognised by many businesses as a key element of their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and employee retention strategies.
Working towards inclusion
Businesses are purposefully enhancing their working environments by acknowledging cultural differences, which fosters mutual respect, opens communication, and creates opportunities for people from different backgrounds. This adds to the diversity in the frame of reference of each of their employees. Successful global businesses are embracing diverse workforces and the benefits in creativity and innovation that they bring. This is easier to do in a remote work environment as teams naturally become increasingly multi-cultural and diverse with geographic location becoming less significant and technological advancements supporting the ability to work almost anywhere.
As businesses recognise the value of cultural diversity, the more fundamental it becomes. Cultural diversity allows for diverse employees to bring different skills sets and experiences together to enable creative and innovative problem solving, which in turn creates high levels of employee satisfaction in being able to meaningfully contribute to their work environment. The catalyst to harness these benefits comes through inclusion and a sense of belonging that allows for the psychological safety that is required to be able to express alternative, and sometimes contradictory ideas, which can be difficult to achieve otherwise.
Using dialogue as a mechanism to enable understanding as diversity increases
Cultural diversity, as with all diversity, can be challenging if employees or teams have been predominantly homogenous. Assumptions lead to frustration and misunderstanding, which can affect productivity and profitability. Left untreated, this can cause operational issues and structural disparities, as well as negatively affecting the attraction and retention of minority groups.
The use of dialogue can be a formal and informal solution that ensures purposeful and ongoing communication. This can be a very powerful tool used to build relationships and deal with misunderstanding and the relating frustration that may have crept in. Dialogue is necessary to continuously facilitate the development of cultural intelligence, an absolute requirement for high performing multi-cultural teams.
The success of remote teams often hinges on high levels of cultural intelligence and a common ethos of all members of the team to assume positive intent of others in all situations. The assumption of positive intent is reliant on the willingness and ability to seek understanding; as well as a commitment to take the time to ensure shared meaning. To do this effectively requires engagement at a personal level to understand the experience and perspective of an individual.
Making cultural diversity personal
Nelson Mandela famously said, “One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.” This special day of observance in the form of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development provides each of us with the opportunity to understand the cultural diversity that is all around us as a way to better understand our own frames of reference, as well as how we experience our own culture and that of others, making an effort to develop our personal cultural intelligence.
Through improved understanding of cultural diversity, there is an opportunity to build cultural tolerance through dialogue which leads to cultural intelligence, three essential elements to peace and sustainable development which begins with each individual.
This World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, I implore you to take the time to promote and highlight the significance and benefits of cultural diversity.