Cultural diversity, cosmopolitan businesses and innovation

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”

Malcom Forbes

Multiculturalism is not a new concept. Big societies have been created across a splendid mixture where various cultures have converged to give way to new characteristics, ideologies and different shades. They have had to learn to live merge and evolve together.

What it does is relatively new in the way the concept is extrapolated to the business environment. Cultural diversity has continued showing exponential figures, the opening of markets and internationalization of the great majority of actors in the business environment since recent years.

From an external prism, it is important to note that organizations not only have been exposed to this phenomenon by increasing cross-border transactions, confronting values and totally different from the original beliefs, but also because many territories include several cultures that coexist simultaneously.

Beyond this, interactions don’t only come from external factors – companies based in other locations-, but that internally in the same human capital constitution the structure has varied, including institutions that stay in the same place and don’t have any international activities. We meet with people from different backgrounds: ethnicities, religions, races, nationalities … In different chain of command positions, with many responsibilities and even with different objectives than its stakeholders. We can then say that we play with a trilogy that works as an articulated and transversal process: the correlation of the culture of the society of origin and / or host, corporate culture itself and the intrinsic culture of the person.

This is therefore an extraordinary process where we find tangible benefits for business competitiveness, greater cultural diversity, effectiveness and creativity. A company that is different is a company with an invaluable competitive advantage. From interactions come new complements, improving the ecosystem of the organization and be fostered in a culture of innovation and growth, bringing openness of knowledge and know-how that is singular and plural. Undoubtedly it translates into an incredible result of better understanding of business objectives and needs of its stakeholders.

In a seminar on the topic, a person –mistakenly-, commented: “My company is totally multicultural; we have more than 50 nationalities that work there”. Here we must make a strategic stop to shed light on this issue. In this context, a company can be considered ‘monoculture’ even if it has a wide variety of nationalities. The difference lies in whether policies, behaviors and values reflect the interests of different cultural groups, without provisions that are only applicable to the majority.

This is the beginning of the proper management of cultural diversity, followed by communication as fundamental to understanding the needs of all groups and how to integrate them into policies that promote equal leadership.

Communication and dialogue will align the trilogy of values society-culture, business-culture, and individual. This will set up a management plan for diversity that should include the overall strategic plan of the institution and it will be materialized in programs and tactical activities to improve management (working groups, regulatory policies, actions to promote equality in promotion, etc).

The starting point should be the analysis and research of the diversity situation in companies, both in terms of internal and external areas; What is the level of diversity? What policies do I have implemented? How do the teams feel? And what are the results? Subsequently, participation and discussion committees should be designed, understanding that design management strategies of cultural diversity and integration activities must come from within the organization (Management Committee, Departments, Teams, etc.). Finally, we must establish the KPIs, key to evaluating the results, correcting deviations and enriching policies.

Undoubtedly, migration processes, paradigm shifts and openings due to globalization will not cease. They are phenomena which, although they are in a dynamic evolution, will continue to be present throughout the value chain of institutions. Measures to protect and promote cultural diversity in companies are not only necessary, but each passing day is binding and mandatory to ensure the sustainability of social and economic apparatus.


Ana Álvarez

Ana Álvarez Grullón es experta en dirección de proyectos y negocios internacionales. Tiene un B.A. en Derecho por la Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), graduándose con honores SUMMA CUM LAUDE. También tiene un doble Master en International Business por la Universidad Camilo José Cela y EAE Business School, y una especialización en Globalización de los Negocios por IESE Business School. Es bilingüe inglés-español, con conocimientos avanzados de francés. Es conferenciante habitual en temas de estrategia de negocios internacionales, adaptación multicultural y liderazgo.

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