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Working in a multicultural environment

A workplace where you feel confident and safe is extremely important in your daily work life. Of course, every workplace brings challenges and disagreements, but working in a multicultural environment can be a major challenge for some. For others, it can also be very rewarding. In this blog post I discuss what it is like to work in a multicultural environment and the challenges and benefits that come with it.

A multicultural workplace is defined as a workplace where employees come from different cultural and racial backgrounds. Ensuring that everyone in a workplace is happy does not happen by itself, whether that workplace is multicultural or not. It takes efforts from both team members and managers to ensure a healthy work environment. To understand why people of different cultures behave or behave in a certain way, there is a lot of theory to look at. Obviously it's not necessary to learn all of these, but it's a good step to take a look at the following and take it with you if you're working with someone from a different culture.

6 Dimensions of Culture

There are many different models to look at when it comes to cross-cultural awareness and communication. A commonly used model is that of Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher. He identified 6 areas in which cultures differ and called them the 6 dimensions of culture:

1. Power distance
The first dimension that Hofstede talks about is power distance. Power distance looks at the equality between people in a society and how power is (unequally) distributed. In a high power distance culture, the "less powerful" members accept that they are inferior to others. In a society with a small power distance, people strive for an equal distribution of power and see each other as equal. The Netherlands is a country with a small power distance, but just across the border in Belgium it is already much larger. For example, many Belgian students are shocked when they study in the Netherlands and see how Dutch students contradict their teachers about assignments or deadlines.

2. Masculinity vs. Femininity
This dimension looks at differences in cultures with a focus on masculinity or femininity. In a masculine society, achievement, assertiveness, and success are important values, while femininity stands for relationships, modesty, care, and quality of life. The Netherlands has a feminine culture. Children who grow up in a Dutch culture learn from an early age to be caring. Of course we learn in school to do our best, but we also learn that it's okay if we make mistakes or if something doesn't work out. Children growing up in a masculine culture learn that it is important to be top of the class and in many countries, such as Japan, students are even numbered and ranked from smartest to “least” smartest. class.

3. Individualism and Collectivism
In individualistic and collectivistic cultures, the difference lies in the degree to which individuals are dependent; are they 'I'-oriented or 'we'-oriented? In an individualistic society, such as the Netherlands, people only take care of themselves and their immediate family. The purpose of an individualistic upbringing is to create independence and children are praised when they can do things independently, such as tying their shoes, or at their 13th birthday.e earn money as a newspaper deliverer. It is also common for young people to leave home at 18e. In a collectivist society, like many countries in the Middle East and Asia, children often grow up in large families and learn the importance of being a responsible member of your "group" (social network). Keeping harmony within your group (family, work, fellow students) is one of the most important values.

4. Uncertainty avoidance
Uncertainty avoidance is the extent to which members of a culture feel familiar and comfortable in unfamiliar structures and situations. In cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, such as Argentina, France, and Morocco, children grow up surrounded by strict rules about what is allowed and what is not, as if uncertainty were a threat. In the work culture this is reflected in the great need for formal employment regulations and employees often stay with one company for a long time. In cultures with low uncertainty avoidance, such as the Netherlands, China, and many African countries, children grow up with flexible rules and learn that uncertainty is normal. It is not strange to switch jobs or even professions. There are still rules in a workplace, but they are not much more than the basic rules.

5. Term Thinking
This dimension concerns the extent to which cultures focus on the short or long term. In cultures with a long-term orientation, the future is important. The focus is on good education, which leads to a good job in the future. Short-term-focused cultures place great value on traditions and often look back on the past. The Netherlands is somewhat in between the two, we think traditions (eg Sinterklaas) are important, but we also attach great importance to our vision of the future.

6. Indulgence and restraint
Hofstede's sixth cultural dimension looks at cultures that focus on permissiveness or restraint. In a permissive society (also called weak control), people find it important to realize their needs and impulses related to enjoying life. They place more importance on leisure, fun, and spending money on things that make us happy. In restrained cultures (strong control) there are strict social norms that suppress and regulate pleasure and the fulfillment of needs.

Now that you've read all this, you may recognize yourself in a few examples. You may also think back to times when you met people from different cultures and didn't quite understand what they meant or why they were doing something. While this is all just theory from a book, it's important to recognize these kinds of behaviors, values, and other differences and realize that neither "side" of the dimensions is right or wrong. Especially in a workplace where it's important for everyone to be able to express their opinions and ideas, it's good to know that some people may not feel comfortable doing that because, for example, they come from a high power distance culture. Someone from a country with high uncertainty avoidance may not know how to act in a changing or unfamiliar situation, but that doesn't mean that they are unable to adapt and learn.  

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