What started as a very strange but interesting game for Nick Marshal (the character of Mel Gibson in “What Women Want”) after he had an accident that allowed him to read inside women’s minds, ended up in a very complex process of knowing the woman. Marshal was a chauvinist alpha male, working in advertising, considering himself superior to women in terms of creativity, ingenuity and intellect, all attributes necessary in the advertising domain in particular, and in the entire range of businesses, in general. Marshal got to know that women are more than he thought they were, discovering the beauty and the complexity of their mind, but also their high professionalism, ethical code of conduct and their original thinking. Actually, having the power to read women’s minds, he used this ability for stealing the ideas of Darcy McGuire, a talented women hired in the same company where Nick Marshal worked. He discovers in this way that not only women are skilled and highly competent professionals who deserve equal treatment instead of lascivious looks for the way they dress, but that he can learn a lot from knowing women, letting them express as they are and act in their personal manner when it comes to work or to social relationships (Meyers, 2000).
This Hollywood movie represents a real lesson for embracing cultural diversity at work. The cultural diversity should not be about discriminating those who are different than the majority, nor should it be about tolerance. It should be about embracing and celebrating each other’s differences. As Brislin (2008) observes, the nowadays business environment becomes each day more diverse, with people coming from different corners of the world, from different cultures, different races and ethnicities, different beliefs and religions, different ages and orientations interacting in a global community. Therefore, accepting cultural differences as a natural way of life is mandatory in the current working environment.
Besides the punctual advantage that comes from making business in various corners of the world, with business partners from various cultural diversity backgrounds, developing strong partnership with these is a gain on a long term period, as they reveal themselves as they are and together with these, they are sharing their know – how.
Referring to some statistics, Pride, Hughes and Kapoor (2011) state that in United States, women represent 47 percent of the total workforce, Hispanics represent 14 percent of the U.S. workforce, while the African Americans count for 11% of the country’s workers. This statistics talks about the workforce market adaptability to absorb workers with diverse cultural background, but also about a job market that knows how to integrate the diversity in the workplace.
As Pride et al. (2011) observe, there are visible differences when it comes to dealing with the employee condition, from various cultural backgrounds: while White males tend to challenge the authority, Asian workers are submissive, with a sense of respect and esteem enrooted in their beings and Hispanic employees often bring music and family to job. Similarly, what for the majority of people might seem as unapproachability because of an applicant’s avoidance of making eye contact, his/her culture might perceive this gesture as a sign of respect, as looking a person into his/her eyes is impolite (Pride et al., 2011).
These small differences between employees might be challenging, indeed, in a work place. On the other hand, they could represent a real delight in a working place, if properly understood and integrated. Understanding the cultural diversity is a sine qua non job function, as there should be dedicated people within any company that employs diverse workforce, in order to make the working environment pleasant for them and integrated within the organizational culture of the company.
Besides reading about different cultures or discussing with representatives of various cultures (minority groups), one could also try stepping into their shoes. Spending one day with them just to see, know, and feel what the others feel. This should be an exercise for everybody, to get to know each other and to understand what the other is doing different and how this might be helpful to them or to understand with what the others are dealing each day at work.
The ping – pong ball and sock experiment revealed the efficiency of this exercise. Holding a sock over the right hand while keeping the fingers folded around the ball inside the sock tied with tape brings serious challenges to a regular working day. Managing the subway ticket with the left hand with limited help from the right hand was a highly complex task. Pouring the coffee indicated visible signs of clumsiness, on the table and on the suit. Using the keyboard of the computer, the telephone, the copy machine or reading a business report made me understand the complexity of activities to which the left – handed needed to adjust, as some of them became ambidextrous.
We all have different ways of looking at life, of looking at work; we work with different procedures or processes that have probably the same result, but for sure a different efficiency and productivity. This is why, getting to know other ways of acting, sharing experiences, beliefs, opinions and ideas, leads to increased efficiency and productivity.
Understanding the differences between people, between employees with diverse cultural background is the key to appreciating them and to improving the working relationship, making work beneficial and more pleasant for everybody.
Brislin, R., W. (2008) Working with cultural differences: dealing effectively with diversity in the workplace. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Myers, N. (2002) What women want. United States: Paramount Pictures.
Pride, W., M., Hughes, R., J. & Kapoor, J., R. (2011) Business. Mason: South Cengae Learning.