Since its debut in the 1964 World’s Fair, Disney’s “It’s a small world” theme park ride continues to be a crowd favorite celebrating international peace and unity. As Disney continues its expansion overseas with new theme parks, movies, educational programs and all-other-things Disney, the company remains a great on-going case study for how globalizing companies wrestle with the challenges of a world packed with different local preferences and tastes. In many cases, it turns out it’s not such a small world after all.
In their attempt to break into the Chinese market, Victoria’s Secret seems to have been caught with their cultural pants down. Their most recent fashion show in Paris last December was intended to win over Chinese shoppers as the company is in the process of opening their first stores on the mainland. But critics saw things differently. The Global Times called Victoria’s Secret “the latest international brand to rub Chinese consumers the wrong way with ill-conceived Chinese-inspired elements in its designs.”
“Hey, Terry, how about a mint?” my wife offered. I paused for a second before declining. But back to that further down. First here’s a challenge, old and new, that put her mint offer into context.
Years ago, I managed a group of 120 support staff personnel. One of them, Alice, stopped by one day to warn me about a person in the group who allegedly had an offensive body odor and everyone expected me to deal with it. “No problem,” I responded.
An American company quietly shuts down their APAC office in Singapore. They conclude that the business model “doesn’t work in Asia.” The local team wouldn’t innovate and respond to local market needs. The American Managing Director thought having a ‘flat hierarchy’ was the answer. He was wrong. His company writes off a few million dollars.
No matter how hard I work at it, I often struggle attempting to communicate with someone with a “heavy” accent. Am I alone? A situation a few years ago, one that left me feeling woefully incompetent, made this poignantly clear. Here’s what happened. Tell me if it resonates.
My daughter came home from Middle School where they were studying the Holocaust and asked me “Mommy, was grandpa a Nazi?” How do you answer such a question? Easy! I said “No”, because all of my life I had heard my parents rail against the Hitler regime. They sent my father to the Russian front and my mother to the basement for shelter from the Allied bombers attacking Berlin. But thirty years later, a fifth-grader in my French class, who was also learning about the Holocaust, asked me, “Why are the German people so awful?” Now the answer was not so easy, because the student unwittingly used a stereotype painting all present-day German people as Nazi criminals. Without going into the history of WWII, I briefly explained that not all Germans are awful, just like not all Americans are awful. Still, seeing an opportunity for a lesson, I taught the French words for “war and peace” (la guerre et la paix) and went on with class.
The modern workplace brims with activity as people dart from meeting to meeting. Sometimes our communication is too brief. At times our messages are not well thought out. Even when the communication is crystal clear, the message can get lost in a wave of workload. But because our organizations tend to rely on best practices, people have a common frame-of-reference when there are misunderstandings. Best practices are a common denominator that allow us to understand and predict behavior, and serve as “true north” as we navigate the complexity of modern organizational life.
As organizations expand internationally and multi-cultural communications between employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers become more frequent, we are finding that the common denominator of best practices begins to unravel. And once we can no longer fall back on best practices, our inner compass can go haywire.
In 2008, Rachel Osikoya responded from the United Kingdom (UK) to the question, “Will Religious Diversity increase as a focus for diversity professionals?” She followed up with a 2015 perspective. Read both responses side-by-side…
2008 RESPONSE: I would say that multifaith diversity is already just as important as other elements of diversity. When looking at diversity and inclusion in the UK religion and belief are always a factor. Most large corporates in the UK have multifaith rooms or quiet rooms for prayer and contemplation. There are also a number of independent organisations that are available to help companies understand best practice on how to deal with workplace multifaith issues.
Have you ever stopped to explore what drives your life? What about your family history has prepared you for the work you feel most passionate about? In Inspire Your Inner Global Leader, Deborah Levine shares what it is about her Jewish American heritage that has made her the natural advocate, director and trainer of diversity that she is today. Her many stories are catalysts to illustrate and educate, but ultimately to inspire the reader to fulfill his or her potential as a diversity pro. By sharing her own story, Levine hopes the reader will come away with a new appreciation for storytelling as a tool for self-discovery and the enlightenment of others alike.
Waterbaby—a term I’d never heard before reading Deborah Levine’s book, Inspire Your Inner Global Leader. The word sits right there, on the first page of real text, next to its diverse dictionary definitions. I couldn’t get past it at first—I kept repeating it, over and over in my head. Waterbaby. Waterbaby. I read on, in hopes that I would soon understand. It wasn’t long before I realized that her book is an ocean of honest tales, mixed in with rich, personal history. I wanted to know more about what it meant to master diversity, and I really wanted to know what a waterbaby was. After taking an eager breath, I dove right in, and trust me, it was well worth it.