A Framework for Understanding Different Ethnical Backgrounds

. Ethnicity is defined as

"...the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another..."

Geert Hofstede, 1991

. Furthermore, Hofstede uses 5 main dimensions to explain different ethnical backgrounds:

i) the degree of integration of individuals within groups/organisations, ie relationship between the individual and the group (collectivism vs. individualism) and how group members handle individual(s)/group(s) that are outside their own group (us vs. them, etc)

ii) the differences in the roles of women vs. men (femininity vs. masculinity) are, ie macho vs. caring, etc

iii) ways of dealing with inequality, including the relationship with authority (power distance), ie hierarchical, consensus, collaboration, co-operation, etc

iv) the degree of tolerance for the unknown, ie ways of dealing with the future and uncertainty, relating to the control of aggression and the expression of emotions (uncertainty avoidance), ie "It is God's will "vs "prove it to me", etc

v) the trade-off between long-term and short-term gratification of needs (long-term vs. short-term orientation), ie long-term view vs. short-term gain

. For example, based on the above dimensions, any organisation needs to understand that people from different ethnical backgrounds will work on different assumptions, beliefs, etc. For example, Western and Asian (including Japan) workers have striking differences in attitude to self, ie

"...Asians are less focused on differentiating from the group and therefore put less emphasis on self-actualisation at the core of the personality process, whereas Westerners have developed a strong concept of self as something potentially quite distinct from the group and something to be developed in its own right. In some cultures the self is compartmentalised, so that work, family, leisure involve different aspects of the self; in other cultures the self is more of a whole, and even the idea of separating work from family does not make any sense. The core question of identity and role is thus answered in very different ways in different cultures..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

. Different ethnical groups hold different values. For example, in the West there is a big emphasis on individualism and the ego. Society is seen as a structure which permits individuals the freedom to achieve their potential and to contribute to society. In societies like Japan, the emphasis is on the group: you fit into the group and its norms; you do not stand out. Achievement means fitting into the pattern of the group.

Saxon culture is conceptual while French is narrative


"...the key to understanding China is appreciating its historical and cultural differences with the West......Western civilisation is monotheistic and based on individualism. Judeo-Christianity declares that morality is absolute: whatever the circumstances, murder, theft and adultery are wrong. Moral absolutism.....the power to change our own and society's destiny. A willingness to change convention and expectations defines Western individualism. The Chinese worldview, however, sees history as cyclical and morality as relative. Every aspect of the universe, from the position of the stars in the heavens to a grain of sand on the ground, has its place. Life is a great wheel: Yin all following Yang; bad times will follow good times. Life is inherently dangerous and unstable: the best one can do is to manage it. So, Chinese religious, political and philosophical institutions are geared towards order. That which creates order is good: that which creates stability is sublime......the only absolute is that which creates chaos is evil......Daoism, the mainstream Chinese theology, is about stability, order and safety - moving forward by assuming the shape of that which surrounds you.......This explains why the Chinese are apolitical......Chinese people want their economic interests safeguarded, both for today and in the future......they like strong governments; they do not understand the link between human rights and economic development. They believe China will grow only through preserving order. Many Chinese......instinctively protect themselves against change. It explains why they will save 40 percent of their income and the common unwillingness to express a point of view......the key to successful marketing in China is in understanding this dilemma between bold protection and anxious protection......there is the tension between private indulgence and public display. In the Confucian world, social status is an investment. But global brands are to be seen, while local brands are used at home......the key in negotiating is face. Be careful to let the Chinese feel they have got a bargain by using their clever resourcefulness..."

Tom Doctoroff as quoted by Sheridan Winn, 2006
An example of stereotyping within China

Chinese stereotyping - many non-Chinese stereotype Chinese as all the same. While in China, different groups are stereo-typed by other Chinese like

- those from Xianjiang don't always brandish as nice are not all "nice"

- people from Henan, a province in central China, suffer a reputation for being untrustworthy

- anyone from Guizhou and Shaanxi is poor and backward

- not all Cantonese eat everything

- Sichuanese are not all addicted to mah-jong

- men from Dongbei ‐ an area that covers northeastern China ‐ are said to be gangsters who beat their wives

- some Shanhaiese are easy to get along with

- Beijingers are not all pompous

- Tibetans aren't always picking fights

- Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people from China's western region of Xinjiang, are widely seen as cunning and violent

. Some cultural differences revolve around varying attitudes towards task and relationships (see the chart below). For example, Australians are task orientated as they want to get the job done; while Indians are more relationships focused and are more interested in the way they work with others, with the task in the background. In other words, Indians will invest in developing the relationship first. Thus the fly in, fly out approach to managing projects is not going to optimize the performance of Indian team members. Similarly, there is a difference in attitudes to hierarchy and equality. Australians expect the truth irrespective of status, while Indians prefer not to talk about a problem that might embarrass their boss.

. Need to be careful of bringing outsider experts to the culture as they have pre-conceived ideas on how a well-run organisation should look like based on their experiences, biases, etc. Thus outsiders need to

- appreciate that these concepts took time to develop in their own countries, ie didn't develop all at once

- understand that local context that will determine how organisations will develop

organisational development change management

Tim Verghese as quoted by Emma Connors, 2007


Search For Answers

designed by: bluetinweb

We use cookies to provide you with a better service.
By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing to the use of cookies as set in our policy. I understand