Five Tips to Ensuring Multicultural Inclusion
Companies everywhere continue to confront complex pandemic-based logistics. Managers have their hands full adapting to “reentry,” and must reset priorities to ensure employee safety comes first. Understandably, these challenges have disrupted some corporate initiatives, including DEI.
Now, as managers focus on what it will take to “get back to normal,” it’s a good time to reenergize DEI efforts. This should include taking a close look at one growing employee cohort that can too often end up getting lumped into broad D&I initiatives: the multicultural employee. Many D&I programs center on ethnicity and gender—but multicultural employees’ challenges can include a wide range of issues related to their language and cultural backgrounds as well as to identity, sense of community, and ethnicity.
DEI initiatives are of course intended to support all underrepresented employees, but in my coaching, I’ve observed that the learning and development challenges specific to multicultural employees often diverge from those addressed in traditional manager trainings or DEI programs. We’re still very US-centric in our model and culture, and in how we approaching performance, learning and development.
We need to develop a more globally inclusive mindset, so we can better serve our global clients at both the corporate and individual levels. Today, being able to demonstrate to the global marketplace the cultural values that define an employer of choice is not only expected, it’s critical to competitive advantage—from recruitment and hiring to productivity, advancement, and retention.
I’ve written extensively about the communications challenges frequently faced by multicultural employees. Below, I offer five practical tips for how companies can ensure that the scope and impact of their DEI efforts reflect a globally inclusive mindset.
- Develop differentiated learning solutions. Meeting the developmental needs of multicultural employees requires specialized interventions dealing with complex language and culture issues, as well as securing career-advancing champions and mentors throughout developmental milestones. Specialized solutions, as I outlined in “Grow Multicultural Leaders with Coaching, Not Just Business English,” (CLO, April 2020) offer the best way to address typical concerns such as:
- The hesitancy of some multicultural employees when it comes to letting their voices be heard
- The difficulty of integrating across multicultural teams in the face of negative cultural stereotypes
- The potential for misinterpretation or difficulty in understanding across languages and cultures
- Uncertainty around professional etiquette norms
- Conflicting working styles across diverse teams
- Tie your DE&I strategy to specific HR objectives--for example, increased retention, elevated productivity and morale, and effective leadership development. The cost of not doing so impacts every aspect of an organization’s competitive capability. For example, reinforcing a commitment to inclusiveness through both communications and observable behaviors that connect with all employees should be a top priority in any retention strategy. A recent McKinsey Global Survey found that “A sense of inclusion is strongly linked with employee engagement. Respondents who feel very included are much more likely than others to say they feel fully engaged—that is, excited by and committed to their organizations.” For multicultural workers, many of whom may already experience feelings of “otherness,” genuine, sustained inclusion initiatives can play a key role in retention.
- Don’t overlook culturally informed communications challenges. This is particularly important as you seek to develop leadership skills in multicultural up and comers—from customer/client interaction and relationship building to supervising junior staff to appropriate self-promotion. Many organizations will offer generic communications skill building as part of their L&D programs, but such programs may not include attention to communications issues tied to an individual’s cultural norms. From making eye contact to speaking up in a meeting to making small talk—it’s not uncommon for otherwise high-performing multicultural employees to need targeted communications coaching. As I’ve noted before, cultural communication barriers can easily cause subpar written or verbal work, leading to rework, which can become costly (“The Multicultural Development Balancing Act,” TD Magazine, August 2019).
- Focus on enhancing key professional competencies. When it comes to a number of job-related applied skills, multicultural employees compete and grow on a level playing field. But often, the “softer skills” that are equally critical to career success can prove more challenging. Speaking proficiently in front of a group, for example, requires not just content knowledge, but self-confidence, presence, and the ability to project; leading a team requires the ability to influence, project authority, and communicate with clarity. These softer skills are often not integrated into L&D programs but can be addressed through targeted coaching initiatives. The table below outlines some of the professional skills employees should master as they advance, and the role that coaching can play in helping multicultural individuals achieve each competency.
- Consider specialized coaching. Challenges related to trust, inclusion and job satisfaction can have a negative effect on their emotional well-being. Coaching has proven to address and mitigate such challenges. As I wrote in “How Coaching Can Help the Majority Culture Understand Difference” (CLO, March 2019),
a well-developed coaching program that focuses not just on the needs of the foreign national “coachee,” but also incorporates ongoing dialogues with the individual’s managers and advisors, as well as HR staff, can both surface the challenges that cultural differences cause and generate constructive ways to address them.
Considering coaching for one of your fast track multicultural employees? The reference table below offers a few practical developmental areas that coaching can help address based on communications oriented job competencies.
Required Skills that Coaching Can Support
Interacting with customers and client face time
Reflect corporate culture and values, present confidence, active listening and empathy, political astuteness / ability to read the room
Supervising and mentoring junior team members
Project confidence, authority, empathy, ability to explain in simple, clear language
Building internal visibility (especially when remote)
Project confidence, ability to appropriately self-promote, speak up and be present
Communicating at the executive level
Project presence, ability to command the floor through appropriate tone, voice, projection, eye contact, body language
Interact with confident, outgoing social skills, make small talk, initiate succinct, personable conversations
Demonstrate assertiveness around career path, decision-making, ability to develop advocacy, manage up appropriately