vendredi 3 juin 2011

Diversity, or differences, in daily life

Do you remember the 2006 G8 Summit meeting and US President George Bush’s friendly massage of German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Bush’s move created an awkward moment of discomfort. And it illustrated that most international incidents related to cultural differences fall into the realms of embarrassment, puzzlement, or amusement – with some nevertheless leaving a wake of conflicts, being at best quite controversial and at worst possible deal breakers.

There are many good reasons to why a company should be diverse and inclusive; plainly speaking because it affects the bottom line (positively of course). Simply said:
1, A diverse employee group represents and therefore understands the external world = company produces the products the customers want and need.
2, A diverse environment where people feel included, whether they are gay, have an impairment, green hair or generally have different ideas/background than the others = productive, engaged staff that are loyal and give their best at work.

Many companies get this and work towards it. But what about people in general? Outside work? Do we get it? Do we understand the benefits of diversity, or differences, in our society?

National cultures, corporate cultures, educational cultures, religious cultures, and social levels (the list could be longer) have certain codes and expectations around how we should live our lives. And on top of that, we believe/we seem to notice/it strikes us that many feel a need to “make same”; people should be the same, because it is something we can understand and connect with, and it feels safe. When people do something out of the box, we may feel confused, puzzled or even slightly envious.

For example, at a certain social level in a certain country it is common to take several degrees at university. All of a sudden, someone in that circle takes only one degree and feels good about that. The others don’t understand it, “you should take two, at least” and they feel that this particular person makes a bad decision. And then others may feel slightly envious, because they would have wanted to do the same. Of course they will not say so, they will criticize the person with “only” one degree.

It makes us think: what if everyone wanted to (and could) be scientists? Who would pick up the garbage then? Or if everyone wanted to work at the supermarket, who would invent Iphones and internet? Our diversity of interests, skills, competences, talents, the choices we make, our opinions, this is what make the world go round. Do we appreciate that?

The above was an example of an education expectation, but there are so many expectations from the culture we belong to. The expectation of “sameness” could involve getting married, having children, house, car, income level, charity, contribution in family, even expectations around how to behave according to your gender. What is the worst-case scenario result if we give in to these expectations? We would all be the same! (how boring!). And not only that, people lose energy, creativity and joy if they have to pretend to be someone they are not.

We need diversity; we need differences in our daily lives. This is such a banal and simple truth, yet we need to remind ourselves of it regularly. Curiosity and an open mind are good starting points when meeting people who are “different” (whatever that means to you).

Brussels provides space for difference - be it in business, political or social realms. Brussels fascinates by its genuine diversity. It has grown organically, over centuries, the city being so often at the crossroads of European history. It is part of its socio-anthropological fabric, integrating numerous cultures in a seemingly omnipresent dynamic. They intermingle - blending rather than battling, creating connections rather than collisions.

In our global world, leadership is inexorably intertwined with culture. Lack of intercultural competence can break otherwise viable relationships, be they economical, social or political. In turn, leaders can meet cross-cultural challenges by developing a portfolio of specific knowledge and skills, working with multiple cultures simultaneously.

Brussels is a laboratory for testing such skills (and ultimately integrating them). Brussels helps embed the learning about different tastes, trends, technologies, leadership behavior, attitudes and values in an international context. It facilitates a shift of perspective for current and future leaders from a traditional international management approach with learning about one country and its culture at one time to learning about managing multiple cultures at the same time.

Brussels may at times seem asleep, but being one of the world’s major decision-making centers with, moreover, an intrinsic understanding of what is needed in cross-cultural interactions, the city will always re-emerge: ebullient, self-confident, breathing diversity, the Big Apple on this side of the Atlantic .

Claudia Ritter is a senior coach, trainer and diversity leadership & cross-cultural communications consultant with twenty years experience in European institutions, European organizations and European media. She is managing director of Cleverland, a Brussels-based consultancy (

Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia, owner of NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting, is a consultant, trainer and coach. She has 20 diverse years of experience from hotel, recruitment and oil industry; small, medium, large enterprises. Sunniva is a diversity specialist and inhabits deep knowledge on working across cultures (

Bruxelles capitale de l’interculturel est un des centres de décision les plus importants au monde. La mégapole bruxelloise possède une belle expertise en matière d’interactions transculturelles. Bruissante de diversité, Bruxelles est la New York du continent européen et le meilleur des laboratoires pour tester nos aptitudes à franchir les cultures à les faire dialoguer et collaborer plutôt qu’à laisser s’exacerber les tensions entre elles. On y apprend à apprécier toutes les nuances de saveurs, de tendances, les innovations de toutes natures, tant culturelles que sociales et même technologiques.
Les managers et les leaders de demain apprennent à y affronter et à apprivoiser (notamment dans les écoles à populations culturellement mixtes) les codes en usage dans les différents groupes ethniques.
“We need diversity; we need differences in our daily lives.”
C’est une évidence! Mais cela ne va pas sans une certaine flexibilité, adaptabilité et souplesse exigeant un état d’esprit fondé sur la curiosité et l’ouverture sans lesquels on ne va pas à la rencontre de l’autre pour effecteur des transactions culturelles mais aussi commerciales et financières. Reconnaître et respecter les codes d’autrui ne va pas de soi. Cela exige un volonté s’ouverture et de dialogue de part et d’autre.
Les commerçants de Flandre et de Wallonie, de la Hanse et des d’au-delà des Alpes des Pays-Bas, du Nord et d’au-delà des océans pratiquent les échanges de marchandises de denrées et modes d’être dans cette ville carrefour depuis des centaines d’années. Bruxelles depuis toujours est une place commerciale d’échanges et de transactions « They intermingle - blending rather than battling, creating connections rather than collisions. »
Cleverland, une boîte de consultantes bruxelloises, ( a compris tout l’intérêt de canaliser positivement l’immense potentiel que recèle le cosmopolitisme interculturel. En cela cette entreprise peut être regardée comme un véritable incubateur d’interculturalité. Elle génère le dialogue entre acteurs radicalement différents et s’efforce d’éviter les tensions, les « clash » qui résultent du malentendu interculturel qui pourrit les relations et stérilise les échanges entre gens maniant des codes culturels différents mais au fond compatibles dans le sens de la complémentarité.
Un effort à encourage, une dynamique à suivre.

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