If you are the owner of a good-sized business, it is likely that you have employees that do not have the same ethnic background as you do. They may also come from a different cultural background than you do. Difference and diversity can bring a richness to your company that you would not have otherwise. Or it can cause complications that you would not have had. It all depends on if you know how to be culturally sensitive with your employees. Below are some tips to help you be culturally sensitive and enrich your company culture.
The first step to being culturally sensitive with your employees is to never assume. Just because someone looks a certain way, do not assume about their ethnic or cultural background. Someone may look like they speak Spanish, but that does not mean they are Mexican. There are in fact 20 other countries that speak Spanish. But even if your employee looks like they speak Spanish, do not assume that they do. The safest thing to do is ask. You might start by asking where they grew up. This question will be less offensive if the person has lived in the United States their whole lives. The truth is, if you are asking them about their origin, they have probably been asked the same question many times. But usually the question is “Where are you from?” While seemingly innocent, the question can become tiresome to immigrants and citizens as well. Asking where they grew up will be a question they do not get often and may help lower their usual guard regarding questions of origin. The next thing you should not assume is the language that your employees are more comfortable speaking in company context. This question could be easily added to any intake paperwork upon beginning employment with your company. It could be a question that asks, “What language are you most comfortable using when receiving communication from the company?” If the language is anything other than English, you will need to find a translation or interpreting service to make company communications accessible to all your employees.
Learn Past the Stereotypes
So, you found out that your newest employee is from Mexico. In an effort to make them feel at home your ordered burritos and tacos from Taco Bell complete with hot sauce, rice, beans, and churros for their orientation lunch. While your efforts may be taken to kindly, you have made the mistake of not learning past stereotypes. That is in addition to the mistake you made of thinking that Taco Bell serves Mexican food… Mexicans do not only eat tacos and burritos. Not all Mexicans like hot sauce. They also do not all wear sombreros and listen to mariachi music. You need to get to know your employee and their background. You might be surprised to learn that there are amazing foods that you have never tried such as flautas, tamales, elote, along with many others! You could ask them what their favorite dish is, favorite pastime, their favorite music group, and if they like soccer. You might be surprised to find that your assumptions about them based on stereotypes are likely completely off and do not resemble reality in the slightest.
Make an Effort
You find out that your new employee’s preferred language for company communication is Spanish due to not having learned to read or write English. But their conversational English is perfect. Making an effort as their boss looks like making sure any written communication with your Mexican employee is in Spanish as they requested. A step further would be to do language training to learn a bit of Spanish yourself. You could also provide the language training for your other employees. Your Mexican employee will be pleasantly surprised, and you will see their face light up as you greet them with a “buenos días” the morning after your first language session. Learning a little bit of the mother tongue of any non-native English speaker will go a long way in building rapport with your new employee. A step further would be to do some intercultural training for yourself and your other employees to help you understand what business relationships look like in Mexico. This will be the key to better understanding your new employee’s background. Any efforts will be greatly appreciated by your newest employee.
Integrate Cultural Knowledge
Another thing you can do to be culturally sensitive with your employees is to take the knowledge you have learned about their culture and integrate what you can into company culture. A way to get ideas for this would be to ask the employee what some things about company culture in their country are that they think could benefit your company to enact. You will be surprised what you can learn from other cultures when you have an open mind that is willing to learn and adjust accordingly. Not all traditions or cultural practices will be practical to apply to your company’s culture but attempting a new practice or two will do wonders for new employees and seasoned employees alike.