Being culturally aware and sensitive in the diverse world in which we live and work is a very valuable asset. As the job market continues to struggle and competition is fiercer than ever, multinational organisations are increasingly looking for people who can prove they are easily adaptable to different situations and can work well in multicultural teams and multicultural environments – what is often termed being “culturally intelligent”.
Indeed, cross cultural awareness training courses are becoming more and more popular as organisations in both the corporate and public sector look to equip their staff with the skills to develop successful international relationships and exploit the benefits that multicultural workforces present.
Recent articles by the BBC and the Daily Mail highlighted the extent to which cultural awareness training courses impact the views of those who take part in them. This week Greater Manchester’s Exchange shopping centre will unveil two ‘Asian-style’ squat toilets after bosses attended a cultural awareness training course run by a local Muslim community activist. Apparently, as one in ten members of the Rochdale community is of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin, they prefer them for cultural reasons.
While this shows a culturally sensitive approach by the management of the shopping centre to accommodate the cultural preferences and customs of an ever increasing Muslim population, news of these toilets was met with scepticism by the wider community. As many pointed out, the great majority of Muslims in the UK do not install these toilets at home but rather use conventional western toilets. In fact, a large number of the Muslim community were born in the UK and may never have used squat toilets at all. So why should a business cater for a very small minority or even provide a service that was not required at all?
Many examples can be given to illustrate flexibility and adaptability to specific sectors of the ever increasing multicultural communities all over the world. McDonalds has added kosher or halal meals in predominantly Jewish and Muslim areas respectively to show their commitment to their customers’ beliefs and traditions. We have all seen supermarket shelf space reserved for produce targeted at specific communities, e.g. the Polish in West London or the Irish in northwest London. Meanwhile, schools and many companies also allow pupils or employees time and a dedicated space for holidays like Ramadan or prayer time. And while these measures include small changes for other members of the wider community, they are usually welcome as a sign of tolerance.
While demonstrating openness and respect of other cultures are traits that we would expect of any member of our communities here in the UK, the onus on adaptability and flexibility should not solely rest with the population of British nationals – whether they can trace their ancestors back to Boadicea or are second generation Sikhs living in Hounslow. Newcomers to the UK should also be adaptable and respectful of the traditions and customs of their new home country and understand if they do not always match the customs and traditions of their country of origin.
The most successful international organisations are not those that export their country and corporate culture around the world, but those such as McDonalds that have understood how they need to fine tune their product offering and approach to each new country. The role of cultural awareness training is to help companies to understand this while leveraging their undoubted sector expertise.
After reading the news articles about the installation of squat toilets we asked ourselves many questions – did the local Muslim community ask for this? Do they really want this? Do they want to be particularly singled out? What will be the impact on the non Muslim community?, etc. Obviously we are not privy to the conversations and work carried out by the shopping centre and the local community leader who carried out this training.
Communicaid’s intercultural training courses are specifically designed for organisations to understand how much they should adapt to their new markets while at the same time keeping their own “corporate” and core values intact.
As important as it is to cater for the needs of our multicultural society and workforce, it is also vital for people to learn to adapt themselves to their new surroundings as much as possible. This will ensure a much better experience for all involved without risking offence for either locals or visitors.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010