How To Create A Culturally Diverse Workplace
Last Updated on December 7, 2019 by Estrella
Wise companies are paying attention to creating an atmosphere in which people from all cultures feel at home. The premise? The better people feel, the more productive and effective they can be. These smart companies are at different stages of implementing this worthwhile mission. Since my clients are from countries around the world working in American companies, I would like to offer some practical ideas that you can use right away. Here are some tips on creating a culturally diverse workplace.
Food brings cultures together
When I was creating a customized ESL program for a NW company, I noticed that there were always some sort of celebration in the lunch room. Someone’s birthday, a baby shower… Employees would often have potlucks. The atmosphere in this company was exceptional. Lots of happy people here. Food really can bring people together. And it’s not just about the food. It’s the warmth knowing that your friends at work want to celebrate your happy event with you. And it’s also about the friendship you develop when you are chatting about your family and kids and hobbies over food.
And speaking of food, I notice that round tables work better. There’s something about a circle that encourages conversation. If you currently have mostly rectangular or square tables in the lunch room, try bringing in a few round tables and experiment.
Encourage international employees to organize parties
Have you been to a party hosted by someone from a culture very different from your own? What was your experience like?
One of the first international parties I was invited to was hosted by 2 engineers working in Seattle for 3 years. Paco and his roommate were both from Barcelona. Even though they lived in a 2 bedroom apartment, they invited so many people to their party that it was standing room only. Paco managed to cook and serve and mingle with his guests seamlessly. And he was having a good time too. Most of his guests were from different countries. Although most of us were strangers to each other, conversations were easy and fun. Maybe it was the music Paco was playing, maybe it was the abundance of food. Mostly, I think it was the atmosphere that Paco created because of the way he makes friends.
When I was teaching at a university, some international students from Thailand and Indonesia invited me to their party. There was hardly any furniture because they were not staying here that long. Everyone sat on the floor in a circle to enjoy the meal. It was one of the best parties I’ve been to! So much laughter. So much warmth.
If you ask your international employees to organize a party or a potluck for the company or just their department, they will introduce their way of partying. What a wonderful way to travel without leaving the office! Their co-workers may feel inspired to learn more about different cultures and perhaps visit those countries one day.
Use brown bag lunch to launch a travel discussion group
Brown bag lunch is another way to enhance cultural diversity in your workplace. It doesn’t cost the company anything. Invite your international employees to host a brown bag lunch. Take turns introducing their countries and places they would recommend for tourists. This will bring together the travelers in your company. And it helps your international employees feel more a part of the workplace.
When introducing places to see, whoever hosts the meeting can talk about holidays and customs in their country. This would also be a place to share cultural norms, mannerisms, what is perceived as courteous in their culture. Their practical tips can make more immediate impact than even a cultural diversity training can produce.
Consider time off for cultural holidays
If your company can afford it, it would be a very nice gesture to give paid days off for cultural holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are important days in this culture. However, they aren’t in other cultures. New Year celebration is a big deal in many countries. And they celebrate not just one day.
For example, Chinese New Year is a big event. It uses the lunar calendar, which is calculated differently. The celebration is not just one day. Preparation for the coming year is a big deal in itself. And the activities last several days. Immigrants in the U.S. do not get to enjoy this wonderful tradition, at least not to the same extent. Except maybe in cities where there is a large population of Chinese. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some floating days so employees can celebrate their traditions, which are just as important to them as Christmas and Thanksgiving are to this culture?
These are just a few ideas to create a culturally diverse workplace without costing anything, except the last suggestion. You can experiment with them and enjoy the outcome. If your company comes up with new ideas, I would love to hear about them. Please share them with me at email@example.com.
If you find this article helpful, here is one on Tips for HR managers to better support ESL employees.
Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking. To schedule a session with her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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