We are inveterate travellers, launching from our island home into the far reaches of the globe in search of wonder and adventure. Around 10.5 million of us had short stays overseas in 2017.
Then, we return from our holidays to some of the most culturally diverse workplaces in the world. According to the last Census, Australians were born in nearly 200 countries and half of us were born, or had a parent born, overseas.
So, you might think the sense of curiosity that spurred the overseas travels would extend to our culturally diverse colleagues back at the office. Sadly, this is often not the case. Many of us shy away from acknowledging the differences between us, concerned we may give offence, and so we lose the opportunity to really value differences and hence, benefit from them.
Why should we be eager to learn about other cultures when overseas, but turn a blind eye to them at work? Ignoring those differences means we lack a deeper understanding of our colleagues, we don’t know what is important to them outside of work or how they like to communicate or celebrate. We might make incorrect assumptions about them, or avoid them, leaving them feeling alienated, misunderstood and ignored.
Creating the best and most effective teams means making everyone an “insider”, all members should feel they have the same access to information, opportunities and support as everyone else.
Cultural diversity on its own won’t work without this kind of inclusiveness and, in order to grow, organisations must have culturally-capable people who understand what it is like to work across an increasingly “borderless” world.
So it seems fit on 21st May, being World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development that we reflect on what we are proud of in shifting the dial in this space. At EY, half of our graduate intake each year comes from a culturally diverse background and it is a business priority to be able to recruit, develop and retain them. EY has implemented a range of programs to advance our mission to be a culturally-inclusive employer:
1. Cultural mentoring. We are using our Cultural Mentoring Program to start conversations about how culture may be having an impact on people’s experiences at work. This six-month program helps both parties become more aware and informed and helps the mentee compete on a “level playing field” and mentors become more inclusive leaders.
2. Holiday swap. Our holiday substitution policy recognises that Australia’s public holidays are heavily weighted towards Western Christian events. EY employees can swap these for days that have more meaning for them.
3. Manage who we “underhear” and “overhear” (thank you Laura Liswood for planting that in my mind). We recognise that without intervention we will often find that western voices are “overheard”. An example of where we are actively managing this reality, to create a new one, is our Asia Pacific new senior manager milestone event for learning and celebration. In preparation for this event we send emails beforehand asking people from Australia and New Zealand to show inclusive leadership by taking time to listen, draw out other people’s opinions and practice managing who gets airtime at the table. At the same time, people attending from ASEAN countries and greater China are asked to use the opportunity to share their points of view.
4. Connect and enlighten. EY has formed employee networks groups, such as the Asian Professional Network, China Network Group, Cultural Diversity @EY and Interfaith Network Group. These network groups are inclusive with a high level of ‘cultural allies’ joining, as well as people from non-target demographics. These networks are based on the following principles:
Aware – “Turn on the spotlight” to be aware of yourself and others and your relationships with them.
Accept – Observe differences without judgement or interpretation.
Adapt – Think about how you can adapt to the situation or how you can coach others to be more culturally agile.
As Chair of the EY Oceania Diversity and Inclusion Council I am proud of the initiatives above, and excited by the richness of data we now have available to us, both through our own census and from participating in the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity. At EY, in seeking to build a better working world, we are as committed to closing the culture gap as we are the gender gap.
So this World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, why not pretend you are on holiday during your work day… keep curious, seek out folk around you from a different cultural background, be brave and have an authentic conversation to learn more about them. In all your interactions be conscious who has the airtime, reserve judgement and look to value differences.