Our recent Intercultural Awareness training, hosted by Alison Browning introduced a wide range of thought-provoking points on the different trainings and initiatives that can be put in place to promote intercultural awareness in the workplace. I found the session utterly fascinating, and it inspired me to reflect on the role played by cultural awareness in our diversity and inclusion strategy.
As I have discussed in more detail in previous blog posts, diversity can bring wide-ranging benefits for businesses. We all have a personal model of the world, built on our individual culture, background and experiences, which allow us to interpret things in unique ways, otherwise known as neurodiversity. Having a team that can bring a variety of perspectives is what makes a business work. Recent academic research in the journal of Organization Science, featured in Forbes, found that having a multicultural team improves performance by roughly 28 percent.
Crucially, building a multicultural workplace feeds into recruitment. In a competitive economy where talent is in high demand, multiculturalism helps create a more inclusive, and ultimately more attractive recruitment process – drawing in the next generation of talent individuals relied upon by businesses.
We are multicultural at heart
Global organisations are multicultural by nature. NTT DATA UK is only one part of a bigger organisation that spans over 50 countries. With clients, colleagues, and partners around the world, it is only natural to have a team full of many cultures, and even within the UK alone, we are a team made up of multiple different nationalities. In fact, 50 percent of our workforce in the UK are Indian, so this forms a major part of our culture.
We also work with near-shore and off-shore delivery teams in countries like Romania, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, so our multicultural ethos goes beyond just our nuclear family at NTT DATA UK to include our extended teams as well. It’s important to recognise that multiculturalism is not just about skin colour. A group of Europeans sitting around a table may be similar in appearance but very different in culture.
Being multicultural is beneficial for us because people from a multicultural background play a crucial role in accelerating the connections required for diverse teams to thrive. Many of our clients are multicultural themselves, so individuals on the team may be of the same background or culture as that of our clients, making it both faster and easier to build relationships due to their shared experiences. Having an immediate cultural link with clients helps to build intimate relationships.
Putting intercultural awareness at the heart of recruitment
Public engagement with diversity is continuing to build momentum and is an increasingly important factor for job seekers. Research from Glassdoor found that two-thirds of job seekers consider a diverse workforce as important when evaluating companies and job offers.
NTT DATA UK hires talent based on values, not background or culture. We don’t want to assimilate people; we want people to adhere to certain values that form the foundation of our success, and we promote an open culture to allow people to be their authentic selves at work.
When conducting interviews, it’s important that the interviewers themselves are representative of the multiculturalism that you possess at your organisation. This makes it easier for interviewees to see themselves as a part of your company. Diversity and inclusion must be a reality in the organisation, and not just talked about, During the recruitment process the candidate needs to understand what you are actually doing, so they are making an informed decision. .
Celebrating diversity virtually
At NTT DATA UK, one of the things we do to build awareness of other cultures is celebrate them. Celebrating different cultures gives people an opportunity to learn about religious holidays or cultural practices that they might not otherwise be aware of. When we were still working in the office, we had summer picnics where people would bring in their national dish, which was a fantastic way to learn about the culture of others.
Remote working certainly has its benefits, but you can’t celebrate culture in the same way. Nowadays, we must try to continue these celebrations from home and this responsibility falls on the shoulders of managers and business leaders.
Teams are built on a foundation of trust, which requires both intimacy and vulnerability, so we must prepare teams to work virtually across cultures through knowledge sharing and continue to celebrate diversity via social media and virtual events. One of the things we have done in recent weeks to cater for this shift is hosting various cultural events to celebrate religions holidays and bring the team together. We also make sure that our network events are recorded to improve accessibility and allow people to watch them in their own time.
Amplifying cultural differences within the leadership team
One of our biggest focus points currently is to acknowledge and celebrate the cultural diversity we have within our leadership team. Although it’s more important that the team is diverse, celebrating diversity in leadership provides others – who may feel at a disadvantage due to their own culture – with role models and the comfort of knowing that anyone can be a leader.
We have implemented initiatives like ‘a day in the life of the leadership team’ which gives junior members of the team the opportunity to ask questions to the leadership team. These schemes not only help to build relationships through intimacy and trust, but also reinforces our values as an open organisation that succeeds as a team.
Understanding the importance of effective communication
However, multicultural collaboration can only be successful when teams are sufficiently prepared to overcome any potential barriers to productivity and efficiency. To help us to bridge any gaps we may have internally, we have cultural awareness training, as well as individuals with cultural expertise that support our teams in engaging effectively with teams overseas. By making it our own personal responsibility to communicate in a way that works for everyone, we are one step closer to building a stronger team. While training makes us more aware and respectful of other cultures, having that support there to streamline communication ensures that our relationship building is more successful.
We are fortunate to live in a country where we have a long history of immigration and a growing multicultural population. Now, it’s about acknowledging that and learning from one another to make our society the best we can be.
It is vital for leaders to not retreat into status quo monoculturalism, and instead embrace all the opportunities for expansion and growth offered by building a thriving multicultural business.