3. Ethnic Differences


Ethnic differences revolve around identity, ie who we are

Five elements of identity, ie 5 Cs

i) creed (like the fundamental religious beliefs Islam, Christianity, Hindu, etc, they can be modified over time; Western civilisation became an euphemism for being 'white', etc)

ii) country or nationality (defining people by ethnicity, culture and language rather than geographical location; on racism - genes are not inherited in racial packages)

iii) class (indicated by status and wealth; meritocracy is an attempt to replace the class system, ie focus on talent and hard work rather than birthright
"...the   difference between a traditional class system and......meritocracy......is mainly that the latter is free of guilt, providing little argument or incentives are changing it..."
Kwame Anthony Appiah as quoted by Clifford Thompson 2008

iv) colour (even though colour is skin deep, it is used a lot to categorise people)

v) culture (the originality of any culture is debatable, ie
"...All cultural practices and objects are mobile; they like to spread, and almost all are themselves creations of intermixture..."
Kwame Anthony Appiah as quoted by Clifford Thompson 2008
NB We incorrectly assume that at the core of each identity there is some deep similarity that binds people of that identity together. However, identity
"...is not built on solid ground but the shifting sands, and in some cases, pure illusion..."
Kwame Anthony Appiah as quoted by Clifford Thompson 2008

. Different cultural/ethnic, etc groups

"...they don't hear the same messages, they don't talk the same way, they don't resolve conflict the same way, they don't move at the same speed, they don't make decisions the same way..."

Peter Barge as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2006g

Less than 4% of directors at a Australia SX 100 companies are Asian born (2014)

. The capacity to distinguish group from one another starts very early. Even as young infants, we prefer to look at faces that are familiar. By the time, children start school (ages 3 - 4 years old), they are able to make consequential distinctions between individuals, ie same skin colour, language, dress, style, etc. Furthermore, young children want to identify with individuals, as role models, who seem bigger, older, and/or all-powerful. By the age of 5, lines of friendship or hostility, good inclusion or exclusion, feelings such as love or hate are in place

"...based on what they observe, they have already began to adapt stances towards groups to which they belong, the groups from which they feel excluded, and/or the groups to which they do not wish to belong......an important issue is whether young people attach moral significance to group membership......by the time that young persons become adolescents or young adults, their attitude towards others is pretty well fixed; barring extremely unusual circumstances, one's stance towards other groups is unlikely to change fundamentally. It is not pleasant to learn of the enduring nature of prejudice and prejudices; yet, unless we recognize and acknowledge this persuasive tendency, we are unlikely to be able to surmount it..."

Howard Gardner, 2006a

. Currently in Australia

"...It's a challenge to get the right mix in the nation that remains overwhelmingly white in terms of power, politics and business culture. Obviously visual diversity is crucial and inevitable, given Australia's multicultural nature......in modern economies, it's increasingly argued that successful transactions depend on empathy and a sense of shared experience..."

Fiona Carruthers, 2006


"...Empathy is important: if a person is similar to you in terms of looks, racial background or cultural experiences, you draw the rational inference that this person is 'empathetic' and is more likely to give the service you need......it's a non-conscious effect. If a person looks or sounds like us we switch to a empathetic state, predisposing us to be satisfied regardless of the objective quality of the service......sometimes we value the fact that someone is different from us. Their very difference from us is what we are looking for..."

Brian Gibbs as quoted by Fiona Carruthers, 2006

Generally, we prefer to deal with people who share our values, experience, history and culture

. There is increasing evidence of employing that more women and people of different cultural backgrounds are being employed in Australia organisations. The only group that seems to be lacking in representation is the Indigenous Australians. It is perceived that the Indigenous group lacks the buying power of the other groups so it is seen as less important to have them represented in organisations.

Statistics from Australian Post show the current situation, ie

"...38.6 percent of employees are women, compared with 28.8 percent of the senior managers; 21 percent of employees come from non-English speaking backgrounds, compared with 18.8 percent of management; 8.8 percent of employees have a disability, compared with 9.7 percent of management, and 1.8 percent are Indigenous with 0.5% of management..."

Fiona Carruthers, 2006

. Language is a reflection of the culture. For example, most Asian cultures have many ways of addressing each other to reflect the relationship, ie spouse, parent, child, boss, etc. The Eskimos have around 20 ways to express "snow". In some cultures, a dolphin is a fish, in others it is a mammal. If it is regarded as a fish, the main concern is how to cook it

Words can have different meanings in different cultures. Two examples
- the word 'uncle' and 'auntie' refers to blood relatives in the Western culture. However, in the Indigenous Australian culture, it refers to a respected person, not necessarily a relative
- the Chinese use the word 'cultured' to describe a person who has
"...a good education and is knowledgeable in history and Chinese classics. To say of someone that he 'has no culture' is effectively calling him a peasant..."
Yuan Ren, 2016

. Linked with cultural situations is empathy. If a person looks similar in terms of looks, racial background or cultural experiences, etc, you feel that that person will understand your position better than someone from a different background, etc. Thus you are more likely to be empathetic to them

. Some sociological research has shown the impact of being a member of a minority group. In order to feel that you are not different, you need to have at least 15 % of a group to be similar to you at any level of the organisation. If you are less than that you will feel, and the group will treat you as, different, ie

"...so you are judged differently, you judge yourself differently, you expect that you will be treated differently..."

Laura Tyson as quoted by Geoff Kitney, 2005

On the other hand, if the level of representation is between 15 and 35 %, there is a need for continuing education and constant focus on the under-representation. Once the level of representation exceeds 35%, the difficulties encountered by the minority are significantly reduced as the organisational norms have started to change.

. Need to adapt technology so that it is simple, culturally-friendly and suit particular regions; some examples include

- making GPS-enabled phones for the Middle East to show the position of Mecca so users know where to face during prayer

- wireless technology does not work well in high-density buildings in Asia

- making lap-tops resistant to dust and insects for India

- locking computers into learning mode for Chinese parents concerned about their children are wasting time on the net or playing games

. Some cultural differences to be aware of include

- communication styles (direct vs. indirect)

- interaction (informal vs. formal)

- signals (high-context, ie implicit signals such as body language, or low-context, ie explicit conversations with precise language)

- attitude to time (time as scarce, ie always rushing around, time is money, etc or plentiful, ie slow down, more thoughtful, etc)

. If you want to update your knowledge on how to be culturally sensitive in any of 27 cities, visit website www.economists.com/cities


"...the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function..."
F. Scott Fitzgerald as quoted by Will Glasgow, 2015

Bicultural worker is defined as those who have internalised two distinct cultures; they are well suited to today's global business world


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