« Immigration » vs « cross-culture »

I have just conducted a training in my home country, Norway. My local business partner and I called it “The Strength of Multi-Cultural Competence”. She (American in Norway) brought the local facts and research  and I (Norwegian in France) brought the general theory and international research. As I read up on the immigration statistics and handbooks for successful encounters with immigrants from the Norwegian government, I wondered whether I was the right woman for the job.. Maybe they should have had an expert on immigration instead? At the same time, I thought the combination of my partner’s experience and mine would produce an enriching learning opportunity for the participants. And as the training went by, with feedback from the participants, I got a stronger feeling for the differences and similarities between talking about “immigration” and talking about “cross-culture”. Or rather cross-cultural communication in a country versus cross-cultural communication in a company.

What is similar?

–        The need for “intercultural intelligence”.  According to the interculturalist Elisabeth Plum, we need to be motivated to interact effectively with someone from a different national culture, we need to have knowledge about own and the other’s culture, and finally to switch  off the “auto pilot” and intelligently combine the motivation and knowledge with various verbal and non-verbal communication tools.

–        The importance of getting more information and assume positive intent.

–        Being aware of stereotypes, prejudices and unconscious biases.

–        That we have the tendency to recruit and promote those that are similar to us.

What is different?

–        The discussion around “they (the immigrants) have entered our arena = why should WE change?” This may  also be present in a global company in various forms, but I would still say that there is a slightly stronger sense of “us versus them” when talking about immigration, and a stronger hold on traditions and behaviours from the majority national culture. It is likely that in a given company culture there would be some discussion around who should change/adapt, but my experience is that people are slightly more open to change to fit in (typically the headquarter culture sets the culture, but it is not necessarily so).

–        Awareness around the changing population demographics and the impact it has on the country (more diversity!).

My quick conclusion is; there are more similarities than differences between the related topics. Which makes me think that interculturalists and immigration experts can indeed swop ideas and research. Do they do that today? No idea. When I look at online discussions (e.g LinkedIn) I get the impression that the interculturalists talk with each other, the linguistic experts talk with each other and then there is a separate discussion altogether from e.g the EU Commission on diversity dialogues.. But, this is an impression only, I have not conducted any research on it.

Why am I sharing these reflections? Well, I feel passionately about diversity and I am glad to have had the opportunity (hope there will be more!!) to link my cross-cultural business knowledge with the challenges and opportunities represented in immigration. Next training will be on how to recruit a more diverse workforce from the immigrant population. Watch this space..

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