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Building Cultural Intelligence with Trisha Carter

Entries in Diversity (5)


Insiders and Outsiders – the pain and the gain

Panelists Trisha Carter, Ryan Haynes, Marian van Bakel at #FIGT16NL

In 2016, I led a panel at a Conference in Amsterdam.  ‘Insiders and Outsiders –Is Belonging Overrated?’. 

It was the conference of Families in Global Transition an organisation that speaks to the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures globally.

The people who were there were expats, migrants, global nomads.  But most of them weren’t the employee who was moved.

They were the partners and the children of those who had been moved around the world by corporations, diplomatic corps, military, missionary, or NGOs.  They were the people who fell in love and moved cultures to be with their partner, raising children who represent different cultures, speak multiple languages.  They were the people who had returned ‘home’ to find they no longer felt ‘at home’. And they were the educators, the service providers, the researchers and the writers who tell the stories and support these groups on their journeys.

If anyone knew about being on the outside – these conference attendees did

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Insiders and Outsiders

Have you ever felt that feeling of being an outsider?  Feeling like you didn’t belong, weren’t welcomed, weren’t sure what to do?  

Perhaps you’ve felt it occasionally when you’ve moved outside your usual places of belonging.  Perhaps you feel it daily in your work or everyday life. 

We know from a psychological perspective that we are driven to find belonging.  We want the comfort of feeling at ease; that we know what to do, what to expect. We want the group of people around us, to accept us as one of them and to support us.   

“The need to belong is a powerful, fundamental and extremely pervasive motivation” … without belonging levels of mental and physical ill health increase.

Baumeister and Leary 1995

At a very basic level our sense of belonging is often tied to people who are like us.  The people who speak our language, share our ethnic background, or our religion.

And yet, in a globalized world with people studying, working and living in countries and cultures different to their passport countries, that picture of belonging is changing. 

If our sense of belonging is dependent on being the same gender or race or religion, or class or educational background as the other people in the room, or on the bus or in the neighbourhood, that feeling of belonging may be diminishing.   

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Benefits of Diversity

Surprisingly there are still many people in the business world who are not really open to welcoming a diverse group to the business table.

There’s no doubt that diversity can bring some challenges and that’s often where the conversation starts. But I’ve always hated the problem-oriented approach.  In this blog I want to focus on the benefits of a diverse group.

What can we gain if our organisations do what needs to be done to support and develop diversity?

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Effective leaders in a global world

In a year that began with a major terrorist attack in January and ended with increasing numbers of horrific events in many cities around the world it could be tempting for us to pull back from the wider world.  To gather with those like us, to enjoy the comfort and perceived safety of familiarity.

The reality is, now more than ever; we need the benefits of a team drawn from different areas of the world.  We need people comfortable with languages, cultures and religious beliefs other than their own. 

We need leaders who can think broadly and creatively to take advantage of the opportunities and develop the solutions the global world needs.

We need leaders who can lead with wisdom, with compassion, with courage. 

We need leaders who value and appreciate diversity, instead of just tolerating it.

Even worse than just tolerating diverstiy there are still leaders who are uncomfortable with or afraid of diversity.

I’m not saying it’s easy. 

Our most natural responses, those ingrained within us, often lead us away from diversity towards uniformity.  The bias is unconscious.  But the evidence shows that we tend to feel greater trust and empathy toward people who are similar to ourselves, part of the same social circles.  We feel greater distrust and reduced empathy toward those who are perceived as dissimilar and members of other social groups.

Sadly the evidence also shows that knowing that research doesn’t lead to us changing our behaviours.  Awareness is practically useless.

Instead we need concrete strategies and steps to follow.  We need strategies that will be successful within the national, organisational and group cultures where we work.

We need leaders with cultural intelligence who can build culturally intelligent teams and develop effective strategies. 

The good news is we can do it.

This article was first published as part of Gihan Perera's e-book "Expect More from 2016" which you can download here


A New Year and New Ideas

Christmas over we flew back to Sydney on New Year’s Eve. On the Air New Zealand flight I watched the BBC drama celebrating the life and achievements of Dr Ludwig Guttman.  There are many amazing aspects to this man’s life but the drama focuses on his work at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Britain from 1944.  Here he treated soldiers with spinal cord injury.  

At this time, treatment for such patients involved encasing them in plaster and sedating them.  There was limited chance of people with spinal cord injuries surviving due to the medical “care” they received and those that did were usually left to a life with little hope or purpose.

Ludwig Guttman saw things differently. 

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