Together Leading Ahead

Why We Shouldn’t be ‘Navigating’ Cultural Boundaries

diversity and leadership

Culture defines almost every aspect of our daily lives: how we raise our children, how we respond to adversity, and how we build our communities and our social circles. But culture also plays an important role in defining our workplaces.  

The original title of this blog was going to be “How do we sensitively navigate cultural boundaries?”. However, after giving this some thought, I realize that the key to unlocking cultural acceptance and inclusion is often not sensitivity, but rather tolerance, empathy and genuine interest.  

When it comes to effective and transparent leadership, we cannot allow ourselves to be bogged down by bias, cliché, or stereotyping. Not all Indian people love spicy food. Not all Afrikaans men like rugby. Not all English people watch football. The list goes on. Lazy, presumptive thinking is harmful and has the ability to create a toxic environment.   

Thinking outside cultural boundaries 

What is it then that allows some of us to think outside our own narrow cultural boundaries and decode complex cross-cultural interactions? 

Cultural intelligence or CQ is defined in the Harvard Business Review as: ‘an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.’ 

CQ is a vitally important aptitude and skill that gives us the self-control to think before acting and to suspend judgment.      

So, rather than simply navigating cultural differences in our personal lives (and, by extension, in the workplace), there are 4 key behaviors to consider when adapting to and working effectively with different cultures:  

1 – Take a genuine interest  

It should go without saying: if you want someone to respect your culture – respect theirs. If you want someone to know your culture – learn about theirs. Take time, listen, observe and inquire about those around you. The higher your interest, the more you will be equipped to connect successfully with people from different cultures.  

Ask yourself what your level of motivation and interest is when faced with cultural diversity. People can always sense when your interest is genuine and, while most will be willing to share their culture with others, many will rarely waste their time on people who have little or no interest in who they really are.    

I would encourage everyone to take a stab at taking a genuine interest in a colleague, peer or teammate from a different culture and see if it results in creating a more robust connection.  

2 – Listen more than you speak 

Mint’s Head of Brand, Sugeshni Subroyen, “Genuine curiosity is at the root of all discovery. There is so much richness and inspiration that can be gained from listening to and connecting with people from different cultures. Also, diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation. The key to success in connecting with people from different cultures is that you seek to understand before you are understood.”  

The most important underlying aspect of dealing with people from different cultures is to remember that we all deserve to be treated with respect and human dignity.  

3 – Embrace differences 

As the French would say, “Vive la difference!” Used to express appreciation for diversity, this slogan sums up Mint’s stance on cultural differences.  

Lauren Clark, Mint’s Head of People, is passionate about cultural diversity and inclusivity.  

In her own words, “At Mint we are very intentional about our approach to creating an inclusive workplace. The term ‘sensitively’ conjures up images of walking on eggshells; this is not the Mint way. We are big and bold when it comes to embracing and celebrating our differences. We do not simply highlight cultural distinctiveness. True to our vision of creating a better tomorrow, we work hard to create a safe space for all our employees to thrive.”  

4 –  Learn, learn, learn 

Our individual cultural values determine how we see our world. Understanding our own culture, and how it shapes our behavior, is an important part of becoming culturally aware. To learn about and appreciate other cultural values begins with an understanding of our own.  

Ask yourself: In my culture how do we deal with leadership, teamwork, deadlines, time, etc? The more you look at your own values, the easier it becomes for you to appreciate the differences that exist in other cultural values. Take the time to learn from others about their own cultural values. 

Brian Masilela started with Mint as an Intern straight out of university. He has since joined the Finance Team as a Finance Clerk. His experience in the team has given him the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people. 

“Working so closely with people from different backgrounds and learning about their culture has given me an insight into their beliefs and ways of thinking. I have also been given the freedom to stay true to my own culture as the company recognizes my role in my family and community outside of the workplace.”  

In conclusion 

Research suggests that a few years ago, workplace culture was the number one reason an employee joined an organization. Today, psychological safety has replaced the number one slot, with culture dropping down a few places.  

People want to work without fear, they want to feel part of something bigger, and they want to be free of the negative consequences of perceived fundamental differences. Mint’s people-first policy ensures that our people feel safe, valued, and recognized – regardless of culture, creed, race, sexual orientation or gender. It’s simple really: treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Problem solved.  

Carel Du Toit
CEO, Mint Group. Serving as the CEO for Mint Group –Carel has a proven history of business consulting expertise, IT Strategy & architectural knowledge that ensures digital transformation and disruption through a seamless blend of people, processes, and technology.

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