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Posts Tagged ‘cultural differences’

August 15, 1993, was to have been the luckiest day in my life.  I landed in Montreal, Canada, as a permanent resident with a job already lined up!  Fluent in French and with a degree from a North American university, I was hired as a management trainee in a major Canadian institution.  Unlike most new immigrants to Canada, the obstacles of language, foreign qualifications and Canadian work experience were not standing in my way.  As you can see from my first professional photograph, my big, long hair framed a bright-eyed, smiling face that was filled with optimism.

Six months later, I was telling a different story.

I was struggling in an unhappy work environment with colleagues who were unhelpful and insensitive to my efforts to ‘fit in.’   And it was nobody’s fault.

I came from a hierarchical, formal workplace culture in the Jamaican public sector where ”junior officers” were expected to learn by listening attentively and taking notes in meetings with their “seniors.”  Meritocracy, the quality of written reports and giving the right information when it was asked for, put you on the path to promotion and success.  In Canada, I didn’t understand that it was okay and expected of trainees to speak up, participate and ask challenging questions in meetings with clients.  The feedback I got from my politically correct Canadian colleagues was that they viewed me as shy.  A few others bluntly questioned my level of interest and enthusiasm for the job.  This all came as a surprise.  Far from being shy, I have always been passionate about my work.

Caught in a mire of cultural misunderstanding, my experience was a source of bewilderment for both me and my employer.   According to a 2012 report by the Progress Career Planning Institute, the challenge persists to this day.   Workplace acculturation – the adoption of behaviours that are in harmony with the corporate culture – is a major hurdle for professional immigrants when trying to establish a career.

There is tremendous focus on attracting immigrant employees, language learning, cultural educational programs, fast-tracking foreign students’ permanent resident applications and, most importantly, guiding immigrants through the job search process.  But once the job offer is accepted, it must not be assumed that all is well.

‘Diversity’ is a politically correct buzzword 

During my job search prior to migrating to Canada, virtually every organization listed diversity among its corporate values.  Job postings and brochures had standard statements announcing the organization’s commitment to diversity, surrounded by photos of groups of smiling multi-ethnic employees.  There was no mention of workplace acculturation programs in recruitment materials and I didn’t feel the need to ask.

Now that workplace diversity is commonplace, diversity statistics may provide a breakdown of various groups within the employee population, but the experience of employees, whether reported or observed, can tell a different story.

Focus on workplace integration – for all employees

Rather than focusing primarily on hiring a diverse workforce, Canadian employers should take specific steps towards creating an integrated workforce – a place where everyone feels that they “fit in.”  When my colleagues joked that I was “different,” I didn’t quite understand what that meant.  It left me wondering quite often whether being different was a good or bad thing, and if I was fitting in.

Every employer wants a good fit between new employees and company culture.  This can be complicated when the new employee is an immigrant; and yet, how well current employees integrate with new immigrants is equally important. There is a case to be made for new immigrants and their Canadian colleagues to participate in workplace acculturation programs.

Based on my own work and integration experience, I would have the following recommendations for employers of new immigrants:

  • Avoid setting up programs designed specifically for ethnic groups, as this may lead to the creation of silos and a source of resentment for other employees.
  • Provide immediate peer support and allow for an adjustment period to allow new immigrant employees and their Canadian colleagues to work on integration.
  • Guide new immigrants towards social media networks and professional groups and encourage participation in the organization’s social events.
  • Stop giving and accepting “cultural differences” as an easy excuse for poor integration. Provide cross-cultural workshops and forums for open communication and conflict resolution.
  • Give new immigrants opportunities to apply their foreign experience: it may provide the organization with new ways of doing business, and even provide a competitive advantage.
  • Build mentorship programs for new immigrants, especially those in leadership positions and who are people managers, to ensure that cultural differences do not affect team-building and performance evaluation.

In my case, I was fortunate to meet several business contacts early on, and they introduced me to professional networks and associations.  It was through interacting with a good mix of foreign-born and Canadian colleagues that I learned more about the Canadian business environment, expanded my network and progressed in my career.  While I may still seem “different” at times, I work effectively with my Canadian co-workers, and they value my contribution and international experience.

Immigrants are here to stay…and more are coming

The Conference Board of Canada  says Canada will have to rely on immigration to fill gaps in a workforce depleted by slow growth and an aging population.    Statistics Canada predicts nearly half of Canada’s population will be immigrants, or children of immigrants, in less than 20 years from now.  In other words, the need for workplace acculturation programs is not going away.

 

Camille Isaacs-Morell came to Canada nearly 24 years ago from Jamaica and the USA where she gained extensive experience working with persons of various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.  She is a marketing professional and volunteer, passionately committed to making an impactful contribution to the creation of a truly integrated global village, where everyone has a fair chance to be successful.  

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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Empathy

A few years ago, I respected the request of a team member to go home at the drop of a cat. Yes, you read it correctly, at the drop of a cat. A fifty-something male member of my team stood teary-eyed in front of me and asked if he could go home to comfort his son who called to say that the family’s pet cat of 13 years was dying. Realizing that my team member was too distraught to complete an important report that we were set to discuss that afternoon, I let him go home and at the same time, I said that I would reschedule our meeting for the following day. In this situation, there was a healthy dose of empathy, balanced with the commitment to get the work done.

Empathy is that trait that allows you to understand the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view or emotional response to a situation. As workplaces become more team oriented, cross-functional and dependent on communications technology, leaders are challenged to balance empathy with the ability to make decisions that benefit the company’s human and financial capital.

Listen carefully

Experience has taught me that empathy involves active listening to what is being said, how it is being said and why it is being said. Empathy requires us to get to know employees, their professional aspirations, perspectives, cultural differences and experiences that shape who they are and what they bring to the job and the team.

Armed with this understanding, I have come to realize that setting healthy emotional and professional boundaries with others strikes the right balance between empathy and the ability to make sound management decisions.

Set healthy boundaries

Healthy emotional and professional boundaries involve giving appropriate empathetic responses without compromising the commitment to deliver corporate mandates. Some guiding principles I follow are provided below:

  • Never play psychologist to a distraught employee. Offer help by referrals to employee assistance programmes (EAP)
  • Set limits on the frequency and time to hear complaints
  • Mutually agree and commit to specific actions to resolve issues and problems in the workplace
  • Accommodate professional preferences (e.g. assign special projects) without compromising on requiring the delivery of core mandates
  • When making a special concession, be clear about the conditions – e.g. extra time off for personal reasons should be made up at a specific time in the future
  • Be respectful about conflicting opinions, but establish the final decision and move on
  • Respect employees who want to have only a professional relationship and are not interested in social interactions, as long as it does not disrupt team-building and teamwork

This post was prepared for Your Workplace and was published in YW blog posts on 5 December 2012.

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On August 12, the world’s largest multi-cultural event came to a close.  The 30th Summer Olympic Games in London ended after 16 exciting days of competition.  In the two weeks that follow, London will welcome participants to the Paralympic Games.  These events bring together athletes from many nations.  When the events come to a close, all participants return to their countries of origin… Well, not quite!  You only have to look at the multi-ethnic face of Team Canada to see that Canada may not be the country of origin of many of our athletes.  The multi-ethnic array of the team mirrors the multi-cultural mix of our country and so many other countries of the world.

Changing demographics in Canada and the emergence of potentially lucrative ethnic markets have brought attention, effort and investment in marketing to ethnic groups, with varying degrees of success.   “Multi-cultural marketing” may be a buzz-word for some and big business for others.  Here’s my take on some seemingly obvious fundamental truths, which, when understood, should dispel some persistent misconceptions and support successful multi-cultural marketing strategies.

Fundamental truths

  • Ethnic groups are not “just one big happy family.”  There are sub-groups and cultural differences.

For example, there are linguistic and cultural differences among Africans, people of colour from the Caribbean and African-Americans.  However, I often wonder what ROI has been achieved on Canada Post’s full-page ads in the Community Contact newspaper for MoneyGram transfers to Africa.  Community Contact is a Montreal-based newspaper that caters primarily to Black Anglophones of Caribbean origin, who are avid cricket fans.  I was quite surprised that Canada Post did not chose to advertise its promotion of the World Cup of Cricket last year in the Community Contact newspaper, but continued to advertise MoneyGram transfers to Africa – a service used primarily by Québec’s African community, which does not comprise the majority of the newspaper’s readers.  This example illustrates that Canada Post, like many marketers, don’t understand that there are cultural sub-groups in ethnic communities with different lifestyles, interests, preferences for products and services and more importantly, they use different community media channels.

  • Ethnicity does not always play into consumer choices.  Members of Canada’s various ethnic and cultural groups generally feel a sense of belonging to Canada. 

An Ethnic Diversity Survey conducted by Statistics Canada indicated that half of the population identifies with their ethnic or cultural group.  The study also found that ethnic attachments persist, but weaken over several generations and Canadian identity increases with the number of generations a person’s family had lived in Canada.

I do believe that strong ethnic attachments emerge under certain conditions, such as international competitions and cultural and sporting events.  It is important for marketers to understand the conditions in which ethnicity and cultural affiliations become relevant to consumer engagement and purchase behaviour.  For example, the victory of the Italian team in the World Cup of Soccer and the stellar performance of the Jamaican Olympic team in the track events elicited strong ethnic and cultural affiliations among second and third generation Canadians of Italian and Jamaican heritage.

  • Ethnic marketing should not only be limited to ethnic products.  There is a higher demand by ethnic groups for some non-ethnic products than among the general population. 

An Environics Multicultural Imperative study found that recent immigrant and second generation members of visible minority groups are highly educated, are interested in status symbols, recognition and appearance and are likely to own their own homes within the first six years of living in Canada.

For this reason, marketers in the banking, retail and home improvement sectors should pay particular attention to ethnic consumers.  It is important to understand when and where to invest in marketing activities geared to this audience and build worthwhile relationships without alienating non-ethnic clients.

That said, there are needs that are specific to ethnic markets that are not being met through the mainstream supply chain.  A good example is beauty products, particularly hair and skin care products specific to the needs of ethnic groups, are not widely available in the major retail stores.  With the new immigrant and ethnic populations growing at a rate faster than non-visible minority groups in Canada, retail marketers should consider ethnic products as potentially lucrative contributors to their product line-ups.

The BIG picture

Accepting these fundamental truths, I believe, is an essential step in the right direction for successful multi-cultural marketing.  But this is not enough.   Although some marketers may consider multi-cultural marketing as a branch or special practice of mainstream marketing, multi-cultural marketing will play an increasingly important role in understanding overall consumer trends in Canada.   

Statistics Canada predicts that by 2031, roughly one in every three people in the labor force could be foreign born.   The presence, needs and influence of these consumers cannot be ignored, and will have to be addressed in demand surveys and other market research activities, now and in future years.   Multi-cultural marketing in Canada will have to be integrated in the marketing plan of every business that intends to be sustainably successful.  This, in my view, is the BIG picture.

Consider the following areas to focus on:

  • Get to know more about ethnic and cultural communities – not just demographic profiles but also research consumer patterns and purchase motivations and how they differ from those of the general population.  (Be aware that most of the available research is on economic and sociological subjects with generalized conclsions and therefore must be read with caution as the disparities in economic and social conditions among ethnic groups could be misleading to marketers.)
  • Poll customers purchasing ethnic products – ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ ‘If not, can we order for you?’
  • Faith-based centres, ethnic/cultural associations, particularly among the older generation, are important centres of community life and open the door for local marketing activities such as the promotion of services discounted when bought/subscribed to by groups.
  • In marketing research surveys, integrate questions that will provide information relating to cultural differences (e.g. alcohol consumption, recreation, consumer purchases).
  • Acknowledge the Canadian identity of ethnic target market segments, while respecting their cultural values and differences in a positive way.

A final word

There is a growing body of research and resources to support multi-cultural marketing.  The studies cited in this blog as well as Marketing Magazine’s annual Multi-cultural conferences and featured articles provide some good information.  There may be other resources available and your comments and suggestions are welcome.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

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