Managing cultural diversity in the workplace

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TERESITA TANHUECO-TUMAPON

Part 2
A UNIVERSITY need not constitute different nationalities to be a culturally diverse workplace. Given that our constituents are all Filipinos, their generational differences (the 70s, 60s, 50s and 40s, 30s and centennials) constitute besides individual differences, culturally diverse orientations. They may have a generational set of beliefs, inclinations, mental models, attitude towards their roles and their obligations but these interact with their own individuality. Gaining a better understanding of these cultural and psycho-social differences, avoiding at the same time stereotyping, will provide less trying episodes for academic managers. Let’s welcome diversity. As has been pointed out in management literature, “diversity brings innovation, fresh perspective, and creative problem-solving to the workplace.”<http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/diverse.html>

Work perception. One may have noticed that our senior academics (60s and above) tend to approach their tasks quite differently from our young lecturers, the latter having been college graduates of only several years ago. The elders would be cautious in approaching a task, sticking to procedures based on policies. The younger generation, strongly results-focused, would innovate ways to bring out faster similar results. Likely, being techies, they fast-pace to finish their tasks, saving time for other matters equally deemed important personally and/or to their organization. This could be designing a new network or a brief leave for a forest resort, trying a zipline or para-jump adventure. Given these differences, organizational culture could promote acceptance of non-conformity “as the norm and hence innovation is encouraged by creating an environment where difference is not feared; change is addressed rather than avoided.”www.bhert.com/publications/discussion-papers/How-Should-Diversity.pdf

Power distance. We Filipinos treat the elderly and higher-ups with a higher degree of respect. People in lower power distance cultures such as in North America could call their mother-in-law by her first name— absolutely not in the Philippines. High power distance may easily cause misunderstandings with constituents from low power distance societies, such as between a college dean and a department chair with differing orientations. For the dean with high power distance orientation, he/she usually is not collegial. Raising questions by staff is regarded as disrespectful. Given this orientation, department constituents are unlikely to question the power and authority of their dean; conformity to the dean is expected. However, a dean with a lower power distance orientation would welcome comments, critiques and involves constituents in decision-making. I have witnessed “oldies” remark about the “aggressiveness” of younger academics (who usually had studied abroad) speaking out their minds during departmental meetings. I have also seen those more advanced in age as well as younger ones who remain silent (individual differences) but who would discuss their views outside of meetings when the dean is not around. One from a younger generation recently returning from doctoral studies and being assigned as department chair so carefully crafting the schedules of the elderly ones during prime time. An opposite was someone with very “unFilipino” stance who saw no need for such “privileged” schedules for the “young once.” Such examples caution us against stereotyping constituents. We cannot box in every constituent according to the so-called generational orientations. Academic management calls for cultural competence and socio-psychology. For human character cannot be of one color—the many-hued fabric of our individuality is woven by our interaction with the social world.

Time orientation. Time orientation refers to how our constituents view and value time and which influence task performance. Time as “monochromic” means—time is perceived as linear— “a commodity that must be saved, spent or squandered.” Constituents having monochromic view of time usually have gone through experiences of meeting precious deadlines. They can come both from the older or the younger generations. Time orientation can also be polychromic which means time is circular and relaxed and can be handled by a shift in deadlines. Given multi-tasking, some among us would procrastinate, no hurriedness or rush to finish work waiting to be done. In contrast, those inclined to a mono-chromic time pattern, linear and future-oriented, would begin to do one assignment at a time. Differences in time orientation explain why there are those whose goals are set and who try hard to work out these goals within deadlines. In their view, time is not a luxury. Time is limited. I was witness to this time orientation during my studies in the United Kingdom and in Germany. I witnessed similar orientation at Jochi Daigaku during a summer session of studies in Tokyo where professors represent varied nationalities and orientations. There are those among them more Western than Asian. Likely, those having had a long stay in the US or in Europe for sabbatical leaves, visiting professorships or further studies tended to tackle work one at a time. Also, there are those among constituents who would feel more comfortable with how matters were dealt with in the past. Thus, if a new and young dean would assume office, they would tend to compare the past that they have been used to, to be much better than the innovations introduced by the new dean.


Managing diversity. Perceptions on work, power distance and time orientation are only several of cultural orientations that blur the usual attributions to generations. There is no cut and dried set of orientations of any group of constituents. Every individual is a different person. We need a good dose of cultural and psycho-social sensitivity. This would boost our joint pursuit with constituents of a shared mission and vision.

Email: ttumapon@liceo.edu.ph

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