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Intercultural competencies: competitive advantage through ethnic diversity.

THERE IS A RAPIDLY changing ethnic makeup in the business landscape today. It is not just large corporations that are hiring international employees. Many small businesses in Indiana are hiring people from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the globe.

Technology companies seem to be particularly aggressive in seeking employees that represent a variety of cultures and backgrounds. This movement toward diversity places extraordinary pressures on businesses that strive to build an "internationalized" team of workers. For organizational success to occur, it is necessary to devise strategies that will allow international employees to assimilate into the local corporate culture, as well as training activities that will increase the intercultural competencies of the entire team.

In their book Human Resources and Personnel Management, William B. Werther and Keith Davis point to ethnocentrism, or the use of one's own cultural reference points to evaluate others, as a particular challenge for those wishing to encourage intercultural interactions and relationships. An ethnocentric view often fails to recognize the viewpoints of others. This can serve as a fundamental barrier to the formation of work teams and ultimately, to the success of the enterprise. When a company wishes to combat ethnocentrism and desires to encourage increased intercultural effectiveness, intercultural training objectives need to be defined and implemented. Robert Kohls is helpful in his book Developing intercultural Awareness. He states that to be able to effectively interact in an intercultural environment, an individual must:

* Learn to have positive attitudes toward persons from other cultures

* Develop intercultural communication skills

* Be aware of one's own cultural values, and

* Reduce stereotypes and prejudices

As an owner of a small business, I have often seen the challenge of our increasingly diversifying workforce and have not been quite sure how to address these challenges. The list above has been a great starting point. It is important for owners, team leaders and all team members to take the time to appreciate the cultural diversity of their international team members. A great starting point is to develop a curiosity regarding the other person's native way of life. It is important to demonstrate genuine interest through questions and conversation that compare and contrast diverse corporate and personal environments.

When confronted with the challenge of an intercultural interaction, there is a temptation to avoid the other individual and to retreat to our own comfort zone. At that moment, it is important that we enter into a meaningful dialogue with the other individual, that we initiate interactions that allow for conversations, and that we effectively communicate our own knowledge and experience, while trying to understand and appreciate the other person's background and history. It takes practice and effort, and can create some stress in the business environment.

What is the potential gain from the effort to create more intercultural competencies? Those businesses that are able to assimilate people of diverse backgrounds, bringing in individuals with different cultural values and perspectives, will have a competitive advantage over those that cannot cope with cultural differences. Teams will be more effective in solving problems and delivering solutions that will ultimately drop dollars to the bottom line. Virtually every company will face the challenge of diversity Those who see this as an opportunity will attract and keep employees from diverse backgrounds and will turn the challenge into organizational success.
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Title Annotation:Advice
Comment:Intercultural competencies: competitive advantage through ethnic diversity.(Advice)
Author:Wilson, Mike
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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