When we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) we’re often talking about one of two things: the benefits it can bring and the challenges minorities still face in the workplace.
But there’s another aspect of DEI that managers need to address: the diversity learning curve, in which people learn they fundamentally think differently. This is often complicated by perceived “common sense.”
Assuming all members of a team will effortlessly vault over any personality conflicts, cultural barriers, or diversity of thought is naïve, at best. And managers who expect those problems to work themselves out naturally are also in for a harsh reality check. In fact, managers should be the heralds of ensuring that diverse members are treated with equity, and that the company is achieving those coveted DEI benefits.
In Japan, DEI has a long way to go, but many of the lessons still being learned are universal. Let’s face it: common sense is not that common. Cultural barriers are real, and diversity of thought even within cultures can cause a lot of tension.
We asked a few Japanese faculty members of GLOBIS University for DEI insights into how to keep positive momentum down this long road. To start, Kenya Yoshino laid out four steps for avoiding the “common sense” trap.
4 Steps to Achieve “Awkwardness Immunity” and Overcome “Common Sense”
We often hear that diversity is easier said than done. Then how do we do the “do” part?
Critical thinking and problem-solving techniques tell us to start with the conclusion first. That means the skill you need to manage teams with diversity is immunity to awkwardness. Below are the steps to achieve that immunity.
1. Determine who’s having the problem.
First, determine whose problems you are talking about.
For example, if you believe being punctual in business is important, you’d probably be angry or upset if your boss or team members come late to a meeting that you’re managing. However, crossing cultures, the concept of time is perceived very differently. It’s totally fine to be late for a meeting in some cultures. So if you’re feeling frustrated at someone’s behavior, determine whether they’re coming from a different cultural perspective.
Are you having a problem adapting, or are they?
2. Communicate the issue.
Second, if you are the one who is having a problem, communicate the issue. You have to let the other person know—they probably don’t even realize that there is a problem.
Many people find it hard to explain what they perceive to be “common sense.” (Further proof that common sense isn’t common.) It might feel too obvious, or even awkward. But it’s essential. Explain the problem you have, and don’t forget to include why it’s a problem for you.
3. Switch your perspective.
Third, make an effort to understand the other person’s point of view. If lateness is the issue, now it’s their turn to explain why being late is all right. Perhaps they know conceptually that being late is not always good in a global context, but their “common sense” says it’s acceptable. Now it’s their turn to feel a bit awkward and explain the obvious across that cultural barrier.
4. Find a solution—together.
Now the good news is that, once you go through these awkward moments of explaining the obvious, you can go on to the last step: coming up with a win-win solution together. By this step, you should understand that neither side has any intention to hurt or upset anyone, and that will make it easier for you to find common ground.
Yes, it takes time, but that’s because diversity takes time. Isn’t that obvious?
Who’s Having the Problem Crossing Cultures?
“At the end of the day, good ideas should be adopted, regardless of who they came from.”Tomoko Kimijima, Managing Director at GLOBIS
It’s important to monitor diversity in a team. Otherwise, you’ll face a variety of challenges. One of the biggest is the struggle to communicate ideas, which can lead to time-consuming adjustments and conflict—both general and emotional. On the other hand, if these conflicts can be successfully resolved, we know that diversity can raise productivity, better meet consumer needs, and increase creativity.
We need to change the way our teams work so that minorities can be included. Specifically, we need to create an environment where it is easy for minorities to speak up. They need opportunities to express their opinions—and the rest of us need to consider those opinions fairly. At the end of the day, good ideas should be adopted, regardless of who they came from.
In Japanese companies, full-time male workers with long experience tend to be the most heard. Other minorities are both less likely to speak up and lack decision-making authority. In order to make the most of diversity, we need to flip that narrative. It needs to be easier for everyone, including minorities, to speak up, to be heard, and to be taken seriously.
Communicate the Issue for Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
“You cannot make everyone happy without being unfair.”Kenya Yoshino, GLOBIS Faculty
One thing the leaders/managers have to change is their strictness in dealing with team members who bend or break the rules. You cannot make everyone happy without being unfair.
For example, if some team members come from a culture that says it’s all right to be late to meetings, you cannot allow only them to be late. Instead, determine which rules will work for your team—better yet, change the rules. You might have to introduce a flex-time system, try activity-based working (ABW), clarify which members don’t have to be at meetings on time (perhaps based on rank), or set up another system unique to your needs.
The biggest hurdle in doing this is self-questioning. At some point, you’ll probably think, “Why do I have to go through all the trouble to change a rule for one team member?”
This is when the commitment and support of the CEO becomes important. The CEO must allow such flexibility to change rules for different teams. Otherwise, managers will not feel empowered, and diversity can’t move forward.
It is necessary to change many things in order to make diversity work. If you just require the other person to adapt to your way of doing things, then it’s not diversity—it’s assimilation.
Switch Your Perspective to Break the Cultural Barrier
“Leaders need to be more aware of biases than anyone.”Tomoko Kimijma, Managing Director at GLOBIS
If you want the minority members of your organization to express their opinions, it is first necessary for leaders to change their own behavior. Everyone has an unconscious bias to give priority to those who have a higher status, or to support the members of a group who are most like us. Leaders need to be more aware of these biases than anyone.
One of the most important parts of a leader’s job is creating a culture that makes minorities feel accepted—a place where they don’t have to pretend to be something they’re not. To do that, the differences among diverse members must be seen as positives, and differences of opinion must be respected and listened to.
Consider the situation of women in Japan.
Women make up half of the population in Japan. And yet, in many Japanese companies, women are still in the minority. That puts them in a vulnerable position.
One of the main reasons for this is the way society is structured: women are still expected to take on most of the housework and childcare. Somehow, the unique consumer insight and diversity of thought women have in these areas is also underutilized in the corporate world.
Instead of feeling praised for their value, many women are left thinking less of themselves for not being able to devote all their energy to their work. They give up on having their opinions heard. And so the broken system of diversity continues.
Leaders can empower women to speak up simply by asking for their opinions—and reflecting those opinions in next steps. In discussions, leaders should learn to put themselves second. The view that women are the only ones responsible for housework and childcare needs to change, and that can start with women being supported for more active roles in their companies.
Find a Solution—Together
“Understand and respect the differences that only a diverse team can have.”Tsuyoshi Shimada, GLOBIS Faculty
The key to diverse team building is ultimately maintaining a high level of cohesiveness to grow favorable norms within the team. The higher the diversity, the more difficult this tends to be. The challenge, then, is creating a vision that everyone can relate to, to get them to look in the same direction, and to increase their own credibility so that they will think, “Let’s try what he/she says.”
This is not something that can be achieved overnight. It requires careful communication with team members, tailored management that fits to each person’s characteristics, and self-discipline.
When managing a team, it’s a good idea to understand and respect the differences that only a diverse team can have. That’s how you motivate a team beyond a perceived wealth of common sense and instead look to common values. Your team’s vision should be based on those values.
Remember: you all joined the same company. There are some common thoughts and feelings among you. There are thought patterns and emotions that every human being has. Being aware of the differences and similarities within your team isn’t unique to a diverse environment—it’s a basic management principle.
DEI Is No Place for “Common Sense”
Every leader should know that diversity requires you to change and grow as a person, and that is not an easy thing to do. There are real barriers to critical thinking. You must believe in the necessity and merits of diversity if you want it to work. It’s almost like faith, as you’re often believing in something that you have not yet experienced.
In many cases, you also need to challenge your certainty that your own common sense isn’t “common” after all.