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The Need for Multi-Cultural Leadership in Corporate Culture

By Katherine King, founder of Invisible Culture

Office dynamics have been steadily changing in the last 50 years, but leadership choices have not always followed the demands of the ever-evolving global workforce. ¾ of people believe that management sets the tone, so decision makers can influence how the diversity and inclusion conversation moves forward. The challenge is that multi-cultural leadership isn’t only a competency to develop in a set of individuals – it is a corporate cultural choice.

To create a corporate culture that embraces multi-cultural leadership – the directive and modeling has to come from the top. Change is inevitable, but not always comfortable so it is important to support existing leadership structures as they navigate the muddy waters of creating inclusive productivity during and after a global pandemic. The management competencies of the 20st century are certainly still relevant, but no longer sufficient to successfully motivate people forward.

In the past, it was fairly common to have workers who lived in the same town and shared the same values, beliefs and assumptions about the world. Advancements in technology and ease of travel changed that. People started to move around more often for business, but somehow our competency for interaction didn’t keep up with the pace of the new nature of our intersectionality. We have moved from similarity-driven workplaces to difference-based ones.

It may require generations to build a fair multi-cultural workplace, but it starts with bridges between the accomplishments of the past and the uncertain needs of the multi-cultural future. That requires a leader who can see the solutions from multiple angles, is ready to adapt behaviors, but who is anchored into their core leadership values. People respect leaders who don’t waver on their values, but they do lose respect for those who don’t know how to communicate their values effectively across cultures.

Corporate Culture of Feedback

Studies by Gallup reveal that only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work. In 2004, researchers at the University of London found that upward feedback was almost non-existent because two-way feedback loops are usually stifled due to voices staying silent in fear. Leadership has to work with human resources to build an organization that isn’t afraid to hear the truth from their employees.  Organizations that reward people for speaking up and encourage 2-way safe feedback will generate more efficient flow of information and find solutions to challenges as multiple perspectives emerge.

Rebranding the Multiple Roles of HR

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Traditionally, HR is tossed the thankless job of interrupting tasks and demanding compliance, but HR plays more valuable roles than just that. In fact, employees may not often take full advantage of its many developmental tools that can be the difference between success and failure.

Katherine King
Katherine King

When HR is respected it’s a win-win for organizations and individuals, because their experts can significantly decrease misunderstandings that may lead to expensive mistakes and retention issues. By rebranding human resource departments as the “Solution Center” in an organization, people can function and show up for themselves and others in more deliberate and constructive ways.

Appointing a Chief Equity Officer

Hiring a CEqO, who is of minority descent and has an organization development or psychology background in subconscious bias development, is paramount. A common mistake that occurred in the Spring of 2020 was made by some organizations when they announced having a DEI person ready, when in fact they gave a title to someone without the support, salary, or educational background to go with the position. This is one example of how flash decisions can result in further marginalization. The rushed scramble to state new corporate values and make the face of their leadership more inclusive may have been a positive step forward. But a CEqO with the necessary expertise in subconscious bias is needed to safely shift through issues of “tokenism to allyship”.

The ideal CEqO can manage this global paradigm shift by having at their fingertips vetted coaches, interculturalists, and outside training consultants who can bring a breath of fresh perspective to their strategies.

The Multi-Cultural Future

The more we recognize and embrace the values of multiple cultures, the better we can set up systems that support all parties and worldviews in a safe and productive way. The reason why multicultural leadership is so fraught with uncertainty is that cross-cultural interactions are inherently blind – that is to say, everyone has blindspots and are therefore just out of the reach of obvious awareness. The more different we are from each other, the more those blindspots are amplified.

Employees often report a sense of relief when the cultural or DEI “elephant” in the room is called out (with equality based communication) and people are better able to match their good intent of working well together to their actual actions. Of course this takes a great deal of understanding, acceptance, and time. But skilled organizational dynamics experts and leaders can manage and help the process along. The easiest starting point for a human resource manager is to make coaching a must for all C-Suite executives. In addition, cross-cultural training that is anchored in certified coaching methods can facilitate the change process forward and give it this moment in history the gravitas it deserves. In the banking and finance sector, those leaders must function within today’s diverse demands. Countless DEI initiatives have failed because of a lack of authentic buy-in from the top. When the c-suite is behind shifts that empower traditionally marginalized communities, it increases productivity (multiple perspectives) as well as doing the world a whole lot of good.  92% of employees report that they seek a new job because their boss lacked empathy and we know retention costs billions of dollars.

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