Monday, June 4, 2007

Diversity and Cultural Identity in the Workplace

Last Saturday during the mentoring workshop I found myself thinking; ''What is the place of cultural identity and multi-culturalism in the twenty first century corporate world?'' This I believe, is a question that has not been fully addressed. I began to reflect on this issue as I listened to a 2004 member of the World of Work Training and Internship Programme, talk about her mentoring/internship experiences at DeBeers (a huge mining conglomerate). As well as the cultural adjustments that had to be made because essentially, the corporate environment does not recognise cultural backgrounds and differences.
In a country like South Africa where cultural heritage and identity is highly contested, it is interesting that though the constitution does make a concerted effort to recognise individual cultural differences, labour laws do not really take them into consideration. How important is cultural integration/tolerance in the workplace? Is this issue being adequately addressed and if not, does it need to be taken into cognisance? In Nigeria, for example, where cultural backgrounds and customs are not as openly contested, some of these customs actually become an impediment in the corporate arena. For instance, the distance between an elder and a young person are firmly maintained. Your boss, whether your line manager or chief executive is formerly addressed as ''Sir'', ''Madam'' or ''Mr'' that and ''Miss/Mrs'' this. In that kind of very formal and sometimes rigidly hierarchical type of environment, creativity, innovation and spontaneity is likely to be stifled.
The question; ''what is the place of cultural identity in the workplace and how can it be integrated into the corporate environment in an African context?'' raises challenges and debates. However, cultural tolerance and respect for ethnic diversity, needs to play a more active role in African and indeed global organisational corporate culture.


Thomas Blaser said...

It is for this reason I get itchy when people talk about fitting in with the company culture and how important this is. Translated, it means that those who are perceived not to fit in do not have a place in the organisation. Now, we have perhaps to define better what 'culture' here means. It is probably more than language, custom, tradition and so on. So it also includes the brand of the organisation, how things are done and so on.

Ijeoma Uche-Okeke said...

I agree with you Thomas that it is important to define what 'culture' means in the corporate context. I was referring to language, custom, tradition e.t.c. These are important factors to consider in the African corporate environment, I believe. And as you say, translated in today's context, 'culture' is a way to keep people who are perceived not to fit into this mold out.

Thomas Blaser said...

On the other hand, we can overcome this 'cultural divide'. It is not that we are trapped in our culture and tradition. And for companies perhaps, you need a certain culture because that is what makes the company tick and brings in the money. The question is then perhaps how we overcome these differences?