Grasping the importance of difference is one thing. Understanding how and when to leverage that difference is a completely different thing—something that separates various stages in diversity and inclusion development from one another; and something that Dr. Milton J. Bennett of the Intercultural Development Research Institute believes is possible mainly with intercultural development. Diversity Best Practices members recently came together in Las Vegas for a Best Practices Session sponsored by MGM Resorts International that focused on cultural competency as a key component in next generation diversity.
Explaining that the melting pot theory is an assimilationist notion wherein people came together to become the same, Bennett’s keynote address proclaimed that the melting pot is, in fact, dead. Walking through other contemporary iterations of global and domestic diversity, Bennett argued that successful diversity and inclusion strategies rely on intercultural principles that begin with practitioner and company self-analysis. Highlighted as a key step in cultural competency, Bennett said that being culturally self-aware—understanding that culture exists at a level of generalization, and that many people currently embodied multiple cultural identities would enable companies to progress toward a climate of cross-cultural communication.
After doing self inventory—either as an individual or as a company—leaders must begin to analyze interactions within the company by recognizing relevant cultural differences and predicting misunderstandings. Using the example of language use, Bennett pointed out how languages can become social rituals that can lead to cultural misunderstandings amongst employees from different ethnic, cultural and/or language backgrounds. Thus, in order to generate adaptation, both sides need to be willing to bring their own cultural backgrounds to the table to create a third culture of sorts—one that is a functioning amalgamation of similarities and differences that is understood as an organizational culture.
In keeping with Bennett’s push for internal evaluation, the best practices panel included offerings from leaders on how create a third organizational culture using expertise from other business functions to influence diversity and inclusion efforts. Linda Jimenez, Vice President of Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer of WellPoint shared her experience as a lawyer working as a diversity practitioner. In the formation of employee resource groups at WellPoint, Jimenez was able to advance a third organizational culture by bringing together her legal colleagues and diversity colleagues, thereby establishing a shared lexicon that included legal sensibilities and diversity strategies.
Similarly, Fred Keeton, Caesars Entertainment’s Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of External Affairs, says that diversity does not have to mean a suspension of business logic. Working with business unit leaders, diversity and inclusion at Caesar’s has grown to focus on understanding the products and services that the company offers in relation to whom they are offering them to. In this way, organizational culture represents business acumen and cultural competency for the sake of financial productivity.
In the end, the best practice session allowed diversity practitioners the opportunity to brainstorm the idea of leveraging difference, identity acknowledgment and cultural change. Opening the session with a question: “Now what?" by the end it was clear—next steps include mutual adaptation and paradigm shifting.