VP of Editorial Services Damian Johnson sat down with CEO of QED Consulting, Alan Richter, who has more 20 years of experience with global diversity. Richter not only explains global diversity but the business case for diversity and how your company can benefit.
Q. Can you describe for readers what global diversity is and why it’s so important to U.S. corporations?
Global diversity is simply diversity looked at globally. One way to look at this is geographic diversity: 194 countries around the world, and languages and cultures, etc., and then there’s looking at the dimensions of diversity globally, so we’re not just fixated on gender, religion, age, race, or sexual orientation. It’s all of those and some of the hidden components of diversity, like personality, thinking-style, teamstyle, generational diversity, and functional diversity, which is often totally overlooked. So it’s both across all of the dimensions and looking across the globe, literally.
Q. The world has been doing business across the globe for millennia. Is there so much competition now that we need to understand this much about other cultures to get their business?
I wouldn’t only put this into a competitive context, but also a cooperative context. We are talking about world peace here, and diversity is a very important component of developing world peace. It’s cooperation and friendly competition in business across the globe. I think the key issue is that the world has shrunk. We are in the 21st century with the internet and instant communication. Whereas 20 years ago, to be a global player required so much infrastructure. Today, individuals can be global players through the incredible access the internet provides. The world has shrunk to the point where the seven degrees of separation is now 4.7. People are actually closer together now than they imagined before, with Facebook and LinkedIn. The world is flattened as a result of that. The hierarchies of the past are gone.
Q. CDOs are now often told to undergo training to have a global mindset rather than a cross-cultural mindset. Will you explain the slight nuances between the two?
I think it’s a matter of degree. Cross-cultural suggests you are moving from one culture to another. Global suggests multi-cultural. It doesn’t matter whether you are speaking with Canadians or the Chinese; you have the skillset and the competency to understand the dimensions of culture, to find ways to find inclusivity across differences. No one can be totally global, but the more practice and experience you have working across a handful of them, the better you will be able to adapt to all the new ones you encounter. It’s about building a multi-cultural mindset as opposed to a mono-cultural mindset.
Q. Are there any key competencies that you are finding a lot of organizations are doing well at; are there any they are faltering at?
There’s a lot of heart out there, there’s a lot of sensitivities, wanting to be fair. Sometimes they don’t have the adaptable skills, they don’t know how to communicate, negotiate, and often they don’t have the facts about themselves, they are not self-aware enough, they don’t understand differences, and most importantly they don’t have objectivity about the world. They see the world through these bias-lenses; they are not self-aware of their bias, which colors their perceptions. Seeing the world from other perspectives is so powerful. The more pairs of glasses you can look at the world through, the richer the world is, and the more relativistic you understand the world to be. Learn to be relativistic and multi-cultural is key.
Q. There are companies that are looking to go global. Can you give a step-by-step implementation? Why are so many companies having difficulties with this?
It’s not easy, it’s very complex. First you need to understand the business case. You have to understand what diversity you are working with, how diversity can improve the bottom line, and then you have to build an inclusive mindset, and there are a lot of barriers with that. And then it’s being able to build that multi-cultural competency. These things take time. It’s far quicker to work in homogenous groups. The greater the diversity, the longer it will take. Sometimes it can be painful to get folks to reach a consensus. I like to say, ‘no pain, no gain.’ But you can reach much deeper results, more creative results if you can leverage the diversity. All companies are interested in being innovative, and that is a big part of success today.
Alan Richter is the president of QED Consulting, a 23-year-old company based in New York. He has consulted for corporations and organizations for many years in multiple capacities, primarily in the areas of leadership, values, culture, and change.