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What Cultural Diversity And Inclusion Look Like In Practice

February 2022
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Stanton Chase Amsterdam’s latest breakfast session tackles cultural diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Stanton Chase is a longstanding and active advocate of diversity and inclusion in organizations. While much attention is paid to gender D&I, research shows that cultural diversity has an even bigger impact on organizations’ performance. Nonetheless, the subject does not yet seem to get the focus it so deserves. Stanton Chase Amsterdam therefore organized its first of hopefully many inspirational breakfast sessions with business leaders on the theme of “Cultural Diversity & Inclusion: What Does Good Look Like, And How To Actually Do Good?”

Earlier this month, we invited a diverse group of business leaders to discuss this topic and share experiences and insights. Our guests included business leaders from large corporate organizations, NGOs, and businesses owned by families and investors with a wide variety of functional backgrounds. All of the guests hailed from culturally diverse backgrounds and/or work in highly culturally diverse organizations.

What Is Cultural Inclusion, And Why Does It Matter?

Even the mere definition of cultural diversity is diverse. The Dutch bureau of statistics provides a technical definition trying to avoid stigmatization, and includes terms such as Western/non-Western, people of color, bicultural or even multicultural, and people with a migration background. However, this is only the beginning. The value of cultural diversity is that it reflects our society – and as such it can bring stability in our society as a whole.

In our discussion, it was argued that generational diversity and inclusion are crucial, as every generation has its own culture. Building on that, culture is not just about national identity but a much broader set of behaviors and beliefs, social class, upbringing, etc. Nonetheless, everyone agreed that it is inclusion that can make organizations more successful and respected by all stakeholders, not only diversity. Diversity (in any shape or form) is the end-goal. Inclusion is the way to achieve it.

Stable societies and organizations are culturally inclusive, not just culturally diverse. We asked what organizations are doing to become culturally inclusive. All agreed that progress has to start with an awareness of own biases raised through regular gatherings and open discussions about cultural biases. Others suggested that change in organizations will come when impact is felt; listening to what people experience when it comes to cultural bias can help drive inclusivity. Experiencing oneself not being in the dominant group can also be truly valuable.

There was a brief discussion on whether cultural diversity should be considered a cost that brings a return on investment. Others argued the business sense of cultural diversity comes from the sheer need to simply mirror society. Starting cultural diversity awareness and including will bring an acceleration to any business, but leaders must be aware that at the beginning it can slow down decision-making processes. Working to build and maintain culturally diverse teams requires patience for the payoff that new generations of employees, clients, partners, regulators, shareholders, and other stakeholders will prefer diverse and inclusive companies to work with, buy from, or invest in.

What Does It Take From Leaders?

On the topic of what this requires from leaders and leadership teams, the message was clear: Leaders should always be conscious of looking beyond their own beliefs, world views, and experiences, thereby demonstrating the courage to be vulnerable and aware of personal biases. They should ask questions and listen, putting themselves at the same level as employees.

Even in our diverse group of cultural diversity advocates, everyone recognized that they, too, have their own biases. Leaders should create safe spaces to discuss and conduct open conversations as well as call out non-inclusive behavior. Until someone calls it out, it does not exist.  

In society, we should teach inclusion from a young age onward. The example of children in international schools was raised, where cultural diversity and inclusion is often second nature.

Trying to force the adoption of diversity and inclusion will only serve to antagonize. Leaders must make connections, ask questions, and listen to solve this together.

Conclusion

Our discussion left all of the guests with food for thought and the desire to explore certain topics in more detail. We hope we have been able to kickstart the exploration to the next level of deepness and inspiration.

Stanton Chase Amsterdam will be establishing a cultural diversity board to continue our exchange. We plan to deepen the thinking on this subject in all its richness and foster learning to bring it to life as a cultural inclusion ambassador in our daily work.

The role of executive search is to start the discussion – don’t wait until the client asks for it. Consultants actively bring diverse candidates, verify if the client really wants diversity or is just performing lip service, and dig deep to understand the company culture (we at Stanton Chase use Hofstede Insights).

To find out more about how Stanton Chase Amsterdam can help you foster diversity and inclusion at your workplace, please contact us here.

About the Author:

Aleid de Boer is a Partner at the Amsterdam office of Stanton Chase and Global FMCG Sector Leader.

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