Ask Deborah: How Can We Make Sure National and Cultural Differences Aren’t Obstacles to Success?

May 4, 2015Our President & Chief Executive Officer Deborah Gillis is the fourth President in Catalyst’s 52-year history. In this month’s Ask Deborah, we posed a reader’s question about equipping hiring managers to counteract the biases women of different national identities and cultural backgrounds often face.

Click here to read the last column in this series! And please send questions for Deborah to [email protected]—your question could be featured on our blog!

I know from experience that a person’s national identity and/or cultural background might shape her answers during a job interview in a way that could negatively affect her chance at success. How can we educate hiring managers to be more sensitive to this phenomenon and help combat biases during the interview process?

In today’s world, diversity no longer refers only to gender and race, but to culture, language, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, generational differences, and so much more.

We know from decades of Catalyst research that workplaces which are not only diverse but truly inclusive improve organizations’ financial performance; help them leverage talent; enhance their reputations; better serve their customers; and increase innovation and group performance.

How can you prevent biases you may not be aware of from affecting your decision-making? By understanding the true value of inclusion and making it a core part of how you do business.

If an otherwise well-qualified candidate who is from a cultural background or country that differs from yours gives an answer you don’t like in a job interview, don’t just dismiss her out of hand; dig a little deeper.

Sometimes when we find fault with an answer because it’s not one we would give, it’s a sign that we need to reexamine the question. What assumptions led you to ask it in the first place? What traits are you ascribing to the candidate based on her answer? How else could you discover the information you’re trying to elicit?

Not everyone is comfortable highlighting her or his achievements or presenting them as individual triumphs. Some cultures emphasize teamwork and group identity over personal success, and deference to authority over challenging traditional ways of doing things.

True leadership is not a function of authority, but of behavior. The best leaders cultivate the traits Catalyst research links to inclusion: empowerment, accountability, courage, and humility.

It takes humility to admit that your way of doing something is not necessarily the best or only way, courage to try something different, empowerment to get the best from the people you’re leading, and accountability to get the job done. The strongest teams are built by leaders who seek to learn from differences, not avoid them.






The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.