In our recent interview for The #WorkLifeShow, Kathryn Wilson was joined by special guest, PhD and cultural diversity coach Nadège Minois, founder of Coaching Vision, a company that helps companies and individuals understand and harness the power of cultural diversity.
The interview aimed to learn more about cultural diversity and to find out what common mistakes businesses are making in their journey to diversity.
Prefer to digest the interview in another format? A recap of The #WorkLifeShow is also available as:
Kathryn started by asking Nadège what she thinks is the most challenging aspect of working in a diverse environment. Nadège believes that the ability to recognise diversity and to be flexible and adapt to it is a challenge, as it’s easy to think that everyone is like us. “All the people have the same expectations in their communication behaviours. For instance, they have the same requirements in terms of work, what they expect from work.”
“But that is not correct. Everybody has different expectations, particularly diverse people from different cultures. They can have extremely different expectations. And so the challenge is to understand that and adapt to it.”
When asked if she believes then that companies have therefore failed in their diversity because they’ve been ignorant to that culture in the past, Nadège agreed that this would apply to some companies. “There are some common mistakes that companies make when it comes to diversity. The first mistake is that companies do not really understand what diversity can bring them. They just don't see the point of being diverse, what it can bring to them.”
“Another mistake is that companies think they are diverse when they are not. They think they have people from different cultures and from very diverse backgrounds. But then when they really begin to look at the executive team or the boardroom, you'll actually see that they are rather homogeneous with very little diversity.”
Nadège followed this by explaining another common mistake companies make when trying to improve their diversity: “Companies realise, okay we need to be more diverse. So they make it more diverse - by changing only the numbers. “So you may promote someone from a different cultural background as an executive and you may hire people from different backgrounds, so yes you change the numbers. And yes, you become more diverse. “But if you don't give your people the knowledge, the tools, the ability to use that diversity - diversity in itself is just numbers. This is not good or bad because the next step is that, yes, okay, diversity is important. We are diverse and we should be doing something about it.”
“But then actually what companies do might be just a bit too superficial. Two hours in the training room to talk about diversity, equality and inclusion is a step in the right direction, but that will not be enough. You need to avoid taking diversity widely.”
“People will look at you - whether they are your customers, potential customers, partners or suppliers - they will look at where you stand in terms of diversity and basically if you don't walk the walk, people will just stop dealing with you eventually.”
When asked what management can do to help this cross cultural diversity Nadège offered the following advice: “Some of the things they can do is for us to understand where they stand, where everybody in the organisation stands in terms of culture and what the impact is of their own culture at the individual level on communications and behaviours. And then to understand that, to understand where the differences are, and then to design strategies and ways of working that will take into account that diversity.”
“So there is a step from self-awareness of your own culture and its impact, to the awareness of other cultures, and then the step where you understand where you use it, and you then implement it in your new ways of working.”
Nadège stressed the positives of a company implementing these changes and exploring cultural differences and diversities. “There are a lot of benefits to embracing and using the cultural diversity you have in your organisations. One is that different people will have different ways of thinking and working. That will bring more ideas, potentially more innovation. And better ideas. Basically, people in your organisation - if they work together - they will be able to design a better solution.”
“And then this reflects at the whole level of the organisation, because this diversity brings you a different way of thinking and working, and different strengths and abilities - so we can obviously talk in terms of education, previous experience, skills - but even just the way of seeing the world, of how you produce your ideas.”
“And if you use that properly and if you match the strengths and abilities of people with the tasks to be done with the people who are good at it and are also motivated by that task, the work will be much more efficient. You will miss fewer deadlines and people will work better together because everybody will work to their strengths.”
“When you reach that and when you reach this understanding of each other, of the various cultures, of the advantages, obviously you have better relationships. You have better teamwork - more efficient teamwork.”
“You have less conflict. So the interactions in your organisation will be much more smooth between people. So a lot less friction and a lot less reaction and arguments and conflict.”
“And it's not just for the people in your organisation. It's also for people outside and for the performance of the organisation. And yes, if you have such diverse people, you will have better performance because they will design these better solutions.”
“They will work better. They will be more able to innovate. So your organisation will become much more adaptable. And that will make it better.”
Nadège then spoke about some research where it was found that 85 percent of CEOs in companies who have invested in diversity, inclusion programmes and similar programmes have seen an increase in business performance and 78 percent of these have seen an increase in the innovation generated.
“For the outside world, people are more and more aware and they want to see that companies take diversity and inclusion seriously. If you have somebody thinking of applying for a position in your organisation or people who will be potential partners, suppliers, customers - they will look at what you do.”
“And if they think you do something good and you really believe in diversity, in inclusion, in bringing the best out of people, whoever they are, yes - they will deal with you. All these benefits will mean more profit, more customers for a company.”
Nadège explained how she started her journey into understanding diversity, having moved from France, spending time in the USA, Germany and Austria, before settling in Scotland.
“It was this experience that has brought me to what I'm doing now, because I've seen firsthand this diversity, living in different cultures, working and interacting with people from all over the world during all these years.”
“What I have seen is that it's actually a struggle for a lot of people because they cannot step from self-awareness to the fact that other people have different cultures, other values, other beliefs. And that's absolutely fine. It's not that one is better than the other. It’s different.”
“And this diversity is absolutely fine. We need to embrace it. I've seen the struggle - teams who couldn't work together as well as they could because of that. This brought me to say that this is what I want to do - I want to help organisations and companies to become more performant by using this diversity that most of them already have around them.”
Nadège believes in the benefits of new companies hiring people from all corners of the world: “Each will bring you all these different ideas. But on your own or with people from the same cultural background, thinking the same, you would never have this. So it brings you the different point of views that you need to have to be able to progress and to have these new ideas.”
“You can use this to make sure that you meet the expectations of your customers. And in the same study mentioned before, they saw that if a team has a team member from the same ethnicity as a customer, that team is a hundred and fifty two percent more likely to understand that customer.”
“So it brings to this an understanding, and then this ability to adapt and to meet the expectations of the people you want to reach - you want to sell your product or your services as a company.”
“And of course, it doesn't mean that you have to be a big company, with people from all over the world. But it does mean that you need to have some diversity. And that you have to give the people you have the tools, the skills and the ability to understand other cultures.”
“This is a journey. This is not something you will do in two hours in your classroom with training. So it's really a shift in the way of thinking and of developing your workforce.”
On a different note, Nadège was asked about how she manages her work life balance while working from home. She stressed that the lockdown and working from home experience would be different for everyone as there is no office to come to where everyone would move to the same office culture, leaving their home cultures behind.
“I can no longer say the office and home have distinction. It's just not there anymore and experiences will be very, very different. So, for instance, if you take my own experience of here lockdown, in a small, quiet village in Scotland.”
“I look out the windows and see trees and fields. I could transform any room into my office. There's no kids in the house. So you can imagine that these are actually good conditions to work from home in. And I feel I'm really lucky from that point of view.”
“Now imagine you live in a flat in the middle of a big city. You've got several kids at home because the schools are closed. Your spouse also works from home. And you may not have different rooms where you can be. And you've got all these different pressures on you at the same time and obviously it's very difficult to change that.”
“So I think that if we look at it the other way around - what can companies do to help their staff with this balance when the first thing again, is about awareness? So managers need to be able to know what's going on.”
“Obviously, it's not about telling everything to your manager. You need to share some concern and understand that people face different responsibilities. And be aware of that, and be more available for people and maybe try to set up informal time with your team members just to have a little chat, because we've seen that something that has got worse is mental health issues.”
“So now being aware of that, try to be close to people. Companies could offer some counselling or other methods to help people who feel that they have mental health issues. So put this in place and maybe some type of training to increase the skills of people - especially skills about how to deal with everything that is going on now at the same time.”
“Something that people have felt is their lack of belonging. Because you’re remote, so you are not with your colleague as much and you don't feel that you belong as much to your workplace.”
“So trying to find ways of increasing that belonging - it may be just informal gatherings online that is not about work. Also technology that will increase real collaboration between people to try to increase that sense of belonging. So these are things that companies could do.”
Nadège offered further advice on the work life balance: “I think having a routine is important, so set things for the day, have a routine with things that you do instead of being taken from one task to the next with distractions here and there.”
“Obviously I'm not saying schedule each and every minute of your day, but try to have some anchors during your day - saying stop and bringing you back to normal. This keeps you grounded. That is something that has really helped me.”
Nadège ended by talking about what she is most excited about for the next few months.
“I've seen a lot of movements since last year about diversity and inclusion, and about this need to understand people better - to say, yes, people are different. And that's great. And I can see that developing more and more so I'm really looking forward to that.”
“And for myself, setting things in over the next few months to spread that word around, that it is really time, because diversity is there. People are in a way more and more on their own. So there's a paradox here because diversity is there and because we can work from home your colleagues could be from anywhere in the world.”
“We've met people from all over the world in the last year or so, but at the same time, we're physically constrained where we are in lock down - our physical world has shrunk. So something that would be interesting is how we solve this paradox that we seem to be more and more in our little bubble because we don't physically interact, but at the same time, we have all this diversity around us. And that's definitely something I'm looking forward to in a couple of months.”
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