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How to flourish in a multi-cultural working environment
I come from a small mining town in China. So small that I had only encountered two or three people of other races before I went to university. University life in China and the UK allowed me to experience cultures for the first time and make friends with people of different nationalities and ethnicities. I adore the diversity of the world and always want to see more of it.
After completing my PhD in International Relations at the University of Leeds, I started to work as the Regional Manager for Asia at Victvs. Because Victvs operates in more than 100 countries, and in our own Head Office I have colleagues from regions of the UK, Italy, Romania, Greece and Slovakia, I have had the best opportunities to experience different cultures. I would like to share my thoughts with you on how to work well in a multi-cultural working environment.
1. Celebrate culture.
It is important to recognise all of the different ideas, values, philosophies, religions and customs that form a multi-cultural working environment. Similarly, we must celebrate and encourage knowledge-sharing around different countries’ festivals and international events. I have found that in some countries, people like to work in a more ad-hoc fashion while in other countries, people like to plan and prepare. Communication follows a comparable path. Some like using emails, others prefer instant chat software such as WhatApp and Wechat, and there are still a few who prefer talking on the phone! There is no right or wrong, so I need to act accordingly to facilitate my work. I need to identify the differences among cultures and use them to maximise the efficiency of my work.
2. Don’t forget your professional identity.
Every individual has multiple identities given to them by their culture and social institutions, and we each have different ways of doing things. At the office, however, I always remind myself that my most prominent identity is a Victvs employee, so I need to remember the rules, procedures, values and ethos of my company. I must not let my other identities distract me from performing my duties as the Regional Manager for Asia. Doing this does not mean that I don’t value other cultures – on the contrary – but following our company rules and ethos is not something that can be compromised at work. I have to strike a balance. On the one hand, implementing the unified value and rules of Victvs to all my team members, and on the other hand, recognising and celebrating diversity. It sounds easy, but it is hard to achieve.
3. Be brave and honest.
People make mistakes. It’s natural. But it is less natural to have the courage to admit a mistake and try to fix it. In some cultures, people tend to hide their mistakes and keep them quiet, while in other cultures people are encouraged to reveal their mistakes and learn from it. But all cultures respect being brave and honest. Two of the core values of Victvs are honesty and courage. We are not afraid of admitting our mistakes and being truthful about this. I have made mistakes from time to time, and some mistakes were because of my Chinese way of doing things in a UK office. Luckily my line manager and colleagues point out the mistakes and I learn from them. I believe that, in the long term, it is essential to my professional development. At Victvs, there is a common understanding that, if we dare to recognise and voice our mistakes, we learn from them and we help our colleagues to learn from theirs. Consequently, we become a better team.
I can clearly see my personal growth and professional development in the past two and half years and I am looking forward to seeing the Victvs family expand around the world.