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Managers need cross-cultural sensitivity when leading employees born and raised outside the United States.
Foreign-born workers numbered 24 million in 2008, or 16 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force age 16 and older, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These immigrants are different from those of a century ago: More foreign-born professionals come from Asia, they often hold graduate degrees, and they quickly land high-level jobs.
U.S.-born managers often make the mistake of thinking that these highly capable, highly educated newcomers need little help assimilating to the U.S. business culture. As a training consultant working primarily with men and women born and raised in other parts of the world, I have seen this cause morale and productivity problems.
I often meet engineering superstars, computer experts and financial whizzes who say they feel completely lost in this strange country. They don’t know where to turn for guidance. Corporate diversity efforts target training at the immigrants and overlook needed training for their managers.
If you find yourself managing foreign-born professionals, use these tools to guide the relationships:
Learn cultural differences. For example, according to cultural expert Gerte Hofstede, people from outside the United States differ in their perceptions of time. U.S. workers, in general, adhere to schedules, whereas those from many other cultures do not. Read about the cultures of every person you deal with internally and externally. Books such as
Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands (Adams Media, 2006) offer fundamentals about cultural differences and work ethics.
The author is a communications trainer and owner of Write Company Plus, based near Philadelphia. She can be reached at
SHRM online newsletter:
SHRM research article: Intercultural Competence as a Key Enabler of Organizational Growth and Success
SHRM article: Experts: Mastering Diversity Competencies Takes a Lifetime (SHRM Online Diversity Discipline)
SHRM article: What’s In Your Diversity Toolbox? (SHRM Online Diversity Discipline)
Leadership with a Multicultural Twist (SHRM Online Diversity Discipline)
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