Building your business with cross-culture business training. Over 3,500 professionals from India and the U.S. have worked with us since 2011.

July 23, 2015

Diversity and Sensitivity in the US Office

Working with an International Team
In offices across the globe, our colleagues represent multiple ethnicities, cultures, religions, languages, abilities, orientations and life experiences. While working with American teams or going onsite in the US offers many opportunities to interact with global citizens, by no means is diversity confined to North American office cultures. India offshore teams of course are also comprised of diverse members, as India is comprised of many languages, cultures, religions and lifestyles. Of course, Indians also know what it is like to live and work in a diverse society. However, are we aware of our perceptions of how we approach others who are different to us if they take us by surprise or our preconceived notions about them are somehow challenged? Do we show our feelings out or are we able to try to be empathetic in hopes the others can also learn to appreciate our differences and viewpoints? 

The videos in this post highlight in subtle and not-so-subtle ways how insensitivity can be shown in the workplace. While these videos can be interpreted from many angles, please use some of the questions posed in this blog to guide some discussions in line with the theme of this blog.

Trying to be Sensitive - But it Backfires (Subtle, or not-so-subtle)

In this video, the main character is interviewing for a job. While he is escorted to the interviewer, he encounters various employees in the company that are different than he is. Can you identify how his tone of voice and body language communicate his feelings about people who he thinks are different or did not expect to see in this office? 

Direct Discrimination (Masked as Jokes) - Not Subtle at All

In this video, a manager of a company or a team is seen in three scenarios: 
  1. In the first, he is interviewing a female candidate and asks her inappropriate questions and blurts out offensive statements to her based on her age, gender, relationship status and other factors. In fact, these kinds of questions are considered illegal in the US, and one can be sued for such types of behavior. (See more examples of illegal questions in US job interviews, here.)
  2. In the second interaction, we see the manager teasing a colleague's accent.
  3. And, in the last situation, he is discriminating against an employee's participation based on age.
While this video is more obvious in that the manager uses a lot more words or phrases to communicate his biases, what else do you pick up on about the manager's communication style as well as the employee's reactions. (PS: The manager patting a woman on the head is NOT appropriate behavior in a US office.)

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

While it is always easier to point out other people's faults through a video or in real life, are you able to be aware of your own behavior? Are you aware of your tone of voice, body language or word choices when confronted with people different than you at work? How can you be more inclusive? Even if it is "as easy as" not always talking in your native language, but speaking in a common language everyone understands, that's a first step (whether in India or abroad). Or if you are a native speaker of English, do not use so many slangs or idioms. Talk in plain English. Though your Indian offshore team members are fluent in English, American phrases or jokes may not be understood as quickly or in the same context that you use them in. Reducing or eliminating the use of idioms and phrases is hard as they are so common place. Here, just take a look at your audience while speaking. If they look lost, it's possible an idiom or some new jargon was used that could be clarified. 

Working in a diverse environment can be challenging. It can also be extremely rewarding. Even if your team in India is not 'diverse' in terms of labels - for instance, a team of all Malayalees or all Tamils, and so on, I guarantee there are still differences of opinion, different approaches to solving problems or doing everyday tasks. Understanding and tackling even that kind of diversity in a sensitive and empathetic way can be a first step to learning how to interact (not deal) effectively with people from all different kinds of walks of life. 

Jennifer Kumar is a business consultant providing cross-cultural, diversity and inclusion training to improve team effectiveness, communication and workflow. Contact us for more information.

Related Posts: 

Managing Teams in Different Parts of India  
Difference between Generalizations and Stereotypes 
Phrasal Verbs, Idioms & Slang: A Comparison

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.