Intercultural dimensions of work

The most comprehensive study of how values in the workplace are influenced by different cultures is the Cultural Dimensions Theory developed by Geert Hofstede. This theory has been widely used in several fields as a paradigm for research, particularly in cross-cultural psychology, international management and cross-cultural communication.

The model consists of six dimensions which represent independent preferences for one state of affairs over another that distinguish countries rather than individuals. By putting together national scores -from 1 to 120- this model allows international comparison between cultures. By means of cross national studies and surveys (as the World Values Survey) 93 countries have been included in this comparative research model by 2010.

These are the six cultural dimensions:

  • Power Distance Index (PDI). It refers to the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (i.e. enterprises, family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.
  • Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV). It refers to the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups. That is, from societies emphasizing the “I” versus the “We”, to those societies in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups.
  • Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS). This dimension consider “masculinity” as a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success; and “femininity” as a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI). It refers to a society’s tolerance for ambiguity, in which people embrace or avert an event of something unexpected, unknown, or away from the status quo.
  • Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO) This dimension associates the connection of the past with the current and future actions/challenges.
  • Indulgence versus Restraint (IND) This dimension consider “indulgence” as a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun; and “restraint” as a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.
Organizational culture

As a competence, organizational culture refers to the ability to identify, understand, value, respect and positively use the cultural factors (values, habits, norms, beliefs, attitudes) within an organization, as well as the capacity to understand how these factors influence the organization, its activities and its members.

Organizational culture facilitate people understanding about:

  • the essence of the organizational culture and its influence on individual personalities
  • know the specifics of the different types of organizational cultures
  • the advantages and disadvantages of the multicultural organizational culture

Getting to know the essence of the organizational culture enable people to understand how to effectively manage intercultural dimensions of work (as long as it has been incorporated within the organization culture) and how to adapt to multicultural organizations.

Comprehend the organizational culture may facilitate the effective implementation of the acquired knowledge and skills for career development at current and future workplace, being aware at the same time of the cultural dimensions of work and the relevance of intercultural adaptation. From this perspective, organizational culture competence helps people to:

  • Know the specifics and different elements of the organizational culture in a multicultural environment
  • Be aware of the differences between multicultural and mono-cultural organization
  • Know the characteristics of different cultures, understand and be aware of the advantages of multiculturalism in an organization
  • Know the functions of the organizational culture on a personal level
Personal culture

To accept and manage the intercultural dimension of work, people need to build up their Intercultural sensitivity. This concept refers to the ability to discriminate and experience relevant cultural differences.

Intercultural sensitivity can be incorporated into personal culture by means of a development process of learning through experience and guided reflection. This process implies the personal construction of reality (socially influenced) as being increasingly capable of accommodating cultural differences. The different stages can lead the person from a monocultural mindset (more conflictive) to an intercultural mindset (more adaptive).

These are the stages for the development of intercultural sensitivity as part of one’s personal culture:

  • Denial. Intercultural orientation is characterized by a limited capability to understand and appropriately respond to cultural differences. Denial consists of disinterest and avoidance of other cultures.
  • Defence. Intercultural orientation is characterized by a “we– they” evaluative mindset. One’s own culture is seen as superior and other cultures are viewed as inferior
  • Defence-Reversal. This intercultural orientation is characterized by uncritical acceptance of a new culture combined with an overly critical evaluation of one’s own culture. It is still a polarized worldview with limited categories for understanding difference.
  • Minimization. Consists on an intercultural orientation based on the discovery of commonality and highlighting the importance of similarities among human beings,
  • Acceptance. With this intercultural orientation people recognize cultural differences between their own and other groups, realizing that “culture matters”.
  • Adaptation. Intercultural orientation that gives the capacity to shift from one cultural frame of reference to another, cognitively and behaviourally. In this stage people generally have a deep understanding of at least one other culture.
  • Integration. The most developed stage of intercultural orientation, which allow persons to live in more than one cultural world and view themselves as bicultural or multicultural persons.
Adapting to new home culture and new job profile

Trainers, tutors and mentors dealing with interculturality in Work-Based Learning, must have into account the three mentioned relevant factors: intercultural dimension of work, organizational culture and personal culture. The role of WBL professionals can be crucial in order to facilitate the social adaptation – new home culture – and labour adaptation – new job culture – of migrants and ethnic minorities. In this sense, promoting the participation of migrants in WBL implies widening the range of opportunities for their adaptation.

Thorough the combination of the powerful pedagogy of Work-Based Learning with the intercultural approach, these professionals are creating new opportunities that can led to:

  • Improve the career development of migrants and ethnic minorities.
  • Facilitate transitions of young migrants from education to employment.
  • Promote the participation of migrants and ethnic minorities in everyday life, increasing the contact between their customs and habits and those from locals.
  • Raise productivity and innovation of enterprises, which can lead to improve the social perception of migrant workers.