How do you say “diversity” in Japanese?
A few years ago, I was in Denmark to lead a workshop to support ongoing change management initiatives for a client. Many of the attendees were HR professionals working to roll out Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI) initiatives in their global organization.
During the change workshop, a participant from Japan admitted that he was struggling with the initiative. He understood why DCI was important, but he wasn’t sure how to talk about it with his colleagues or how to implement the initiative in his own country, Japan. He felt challenged to convey the importance of diversity within his organization when it lacked the cultural variety seen in other countries.
Unlike many parts of the world, Japan is a fairly homogeneous society. There is not a wide range of people from different ethnic backgrounds. In North America or Europe, the cultural diversity within an organization is evident when we walk into a meeting or walk through offices. We can look at a group and see people of Latin, African, and Asian descent working together, for example. There are probably men and women present; people of different age groups or generations; And so on. Some of these differences are visible and some are not. But in Japan, the visual cues that convey cultural diversity are less obvious.
Its dilemma highlights the challenge many global organizations face when implementing DCI initiatives. It is important for organizations to be diverse and to welcome people from different backgrounds who bring different ideas to the group. We want people to feel like, no matter where they are from or who they are, they are being treated fairly. They must be convinced that their ideas carry weight in internal dialogues and help shape the thinking of the company. Those who want to participate in these interactions must feel that they are part of the organization.
While this basic philosophy is generally understood, one of the challenges of DCI initiatives is how they vary in each organization and how they are applied. In the United States, we expect to see diversity visually represented in a meeting or when we bring together a management team. In other countries, you may not see the same images reflecting diversity. There may be other, more subtle variations based on factors such as longstanding cultural, tribal or linguistic differences between people.
Regional cultural disparities mean that organizations cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to EDI. “Particularly when managing global teams, the implicit values and beliefs of employees can lead to misunderstandings and tensions,” J. Yo-Jud Cheng and Boris Groysberg wrote in the Harvard business review on their study of global corporate cultures. “For example, when soliciting attendance at meetings and conference calls, managers should consider whether there are potential cultural differences that may cause participants to reserve comments until their views are specifically solicited or if they could offer their views voluntarily. “
From this perspective, the meaning of DCI on a global level may be very different from its connotations in various parts of the globe. IEI is not a singular goal that can be achieved only from the perspective of what we can all see or experience in our own culture or country. Rather, it is a set of values and principles that must be talked about in an organization and internalized, perhaps in a unique and different way in each culture.
DCI problems arise from perceptions of differences that form the basis of a barrier or boundary within groups of people. This can create a culture where people feel uncomfortable, are unable to be themselves, or perceive that they are unable to contribute. They do not necessarily feel psychologically or socially secure in this environment.
The solution is not simply to come up with more rules and dogmas to address these perceptions and discomforts. Creating an inclusive culture requires us to take a broader view of the challenge.
“Regardless of the specific goals and ambitions of leaders, making an active effort to understand and recognize the cultures that operate within the organization is an essential endeavor for effective management in today’s global environment.” , wrote Cheng and Groysberg.
I believe that was the root of the struggle that my Japanese colleague in Denmark faced. He interpreted his company’s DCI initiative as a certain set of rules and expected outcomes. The organization said: “We want to see people of different appearance sitting comfortably around the table together, contributing equally.” However, he knew he wouldn’t see this in Japan, so he didn’t know how to apply the DEI when he returned home.
His dilemma should not imply that DEI is irrelevant in his culture. Instead, we need to take a step back and ask a bigger question: “What does IED look like in Japan?” Most people don’t seem that different from each other, but there are differences (such as between men and women in the workforce). So if I think about what diversity, inclusion, and fairness mean in Japan, it might not have much to do with racial diversity. Instead, DCI can empower men and women to contribute equitably and make everyone feel like a part of the team.
We do not back down and ask ourselves larger and more comprehensive questions only when we realize that the typical IEI approach does not fit the circumstances that exist in some places. It must be recognized that the DEI is not the same everywhere. When we start by asking ourselves, “What does IED really mean in this particular place or situation?” »We can better discover how to apply DCI locally and foster diversity in all parts of the organization.