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The Business Forum Journal



By Henry H. Goldman


One of the most obvious consequences of entering into the global arena is cultural diversity, an issue with which the United States has only recently been confronted.  Business professionals must be prepared to understand that traditions and customs may be different than expected when the business moves into unfamiliar climes.  There are a number of issues that need to be identified and discussed when conducting business abroad.  Most of these can be related to cultural diversity.

There are both costs and concerns relating to the management of diversity.  These concerns include, but are not limited, to such items as internal and external communications, intra-organizational and inter-organizational conflict, and employee turnover. 

In the United States, the business community is just now beginning to comprehend the cultural differences that exist within the country, let alone, globally.  Americans are still trying to manage for acculturation.  This term refers to methods by which cultural differences between a dominant culture and minority or subcultures are resolved and managed. 

Southeast Asia, as a region, seems to have, long since, successfully dealt with the issues of diversity.  Nations like Singapore and Malaysia have populations composed of dozens of ethnic groups.  Chinese and Malays mingle easily with Indians and Africans.  Religions meet together in ways that western nations have yet to understand.  Both the benefits and the challenges stemming from a multicultural workforce can be viewed as something with which American businesses must consider; something already clearly understood by most companies headquartered outside the United States. 

One of the larger hotel chains headquartered in Sydney and managing many properties throughout the Asia Pacific region can provide a case-in-point for dealing with cultural diversity.  The Park Royal is the chain�s prime property in Kuala Lumpur, the former capital of Malaysia.  The managers and staff of the Park Royal take their jobs very seriously and revel in their cultural diversity: The general manager is an Australian, appointed by headquarters; the food and beverage manager hails from New Zealand.  The manager in charge of overall customer service in Chinese, the room manager is a local citizen of Malaysia.  One of the senior marketing staff is from a Middle Eastern country, while the senior chef is German.  The under chefs are Swiss.  The housekeeping staff are mostly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, while the concierge is from Madras, in India.

The hotel enjoys a global clientele and caters to people from all cultures.  The dining rooms and restaurants regularly feature foods representative of a particular ethnicity.  The Asia-Pacific Hotel Group has solved the problems associated with cultural diversity: the make the most of it.

There are really no easy answers to the challenges of managing a culturally diverse workforce.  There are, however, a goodly number of common characteristics of employee values, managerial philosophy, and organizational behavior that are present within companies having effective diversity management programs.  But, these same characteristics are also present where diversity comes naturally.  These characteristics are listed below:

  •         Managers and employees must understand that a diverse workforce will embody different perspectives and approaches to work and must truly value variety of opinion and insight.

  •        The leadership of the organization must recognize both the learning opportunities and the challenges that the expression of different perspectives presents for an organization.

  •        The organizational culture must create an expectation of high standards of performance from everyone.

  •        The organizational culture must stimulate personal development.

  •        The organizational culture must encourage openness, even in places where the local culture is not as o pen as management would like.

  •        The organizational culture must make all workers feel valued.

  •        The organizational culture must have a well articulated and widely understood mission and accompanying vision.

  •        The organization must have a relatively egalitarian, nonbureaucratic structure.

Henry H. Goldman is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is the Managing Director of the Goldman Nelson Group.  Henry got his Masters Degree at the University of Iowa and did his Doctoral Studies at the University of Southern California.  He is a Certified Professional Consultant to Management (CPCM); and has published numerous articles in trade journals and was Associate Editor of Taking Stock: A Survey on the Practice and Future of Change Management (Berlin, Germany).  He is a member of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD); Association of Professional Consultants (APC) and the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC). Henry has consulted and/or offered training in South Africa, Tanzania, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Barbados, Georgia, Kosovo, Tajikistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and of course North America. He has also taught at Baker University: Lee�s Summit, MO, 2008, Adjunct Professor of International Business; National Graduate School: Falmouth, MA, 2004-2008, Adjunct Professor of Quality Management; California State University: Fullerton, 2005-2006, Lecturer on Taxation; University of California: Berkeley, 2002, Adjunct Professor of Management; University of Macau (China), Adjunct Professor of Management, 2001-2003.

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