It’s Not About Culture, It’s About Diversity & Inclusion

Culture and its various concepts and components have long been the raison d’être of SIETAR. But we need to enlarge the concept of culture to comprise more paradigms when it is about changing your own environment and adapting to a new one, for example, students starting their education in a new institution. In this change situation, it goes beyond only culture, it is diversity it is all about. Generally speaking, diversity is about culture and nationality of course, but also about gender, generation, multi-disciplinarity, life-styles, various (sexual) orientations, (dis)ability, etc. Students starting a new education in a foreign institution are indeed often confronted with  D.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y: the D of Diversity, indeed, the I of Intercultural, the V of Vision, the E of (new) Environment, the R of Reflection, the S of Study, the I of Inclusion, the T of Testing, and finally the Y of “YOU, go for it”.  I will review what these various concepts mean in an educational context, primarily that of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and make recommendations for best practices in academia but also in a business environment.

D = Diversity Although diversity can be created because of a lack of it, I see diversity rather as the existence of difference and variety, as a fact, an attribute of life that reflects nature. Sometime it is a situation you inherit, like a teacher in his or her international classroom. Therefore, it often has a passive character. These (visible) differences are between individuals or a group in gender, age, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, physical (dis)ability, but also in values, beliefs, visions, attitudes, convictions, sexual orientation, knowledge, competencies, talent, life experiences.

I = Intercultural or culture as a whole. No need here to further expand on what culture is all about, however, when dealing with diversity and inclusion, I would recommend we also identify those cultural shifting panels we sometime share or do not. This process is important to develop intercultural competence.

V = Vision. Here we move into the personal sphere, the personality level. The questions that rise here are:  What life vision, norms and values do we have and share or not when dealing with diversity?  A possible answer is to admit that different personality types can have opposing preferences and ways to solve problems and dilemma’s. I will show that this can prove to be an asset but also a challenge within a given group.

E = Environment: Nature, so what is not culture! The place, the planet and the people. So it is a combination of the natural and social settings we live in. The next question is: Are we in control of your environment? Do we need or want to be in control and dominate nature and other processes, and are we captain of our souls? I will give various illustrations of how we look at our environment with the ultimate goal of trying to create a psychologically safe environment.

R = Reflection: Learn to reflect on your NEW life, beware of culture shock! Reflecting can be stimulated individually through meditation of mindfulness, but can also be organised in groups within professional development schemes at all academic levels as we do at TU/e for our engineers.

S = Study: being a student at your NEW institution. This means among other things to:

  • Follow a new (international) curriculum with new contents, methods and procedures.
  • Adapt to new local teaching and learning styles.
  • Set up a new local network. Make new friends inside and outside campus, develop new hobbies and social activities.

As education is becoming more and more community-based nowadays, it is important to identify (sub)communities students can join and profit from.

I = Inclusion: In contrast to diversity, inclusion is an action, a behaviour you adopt or a goal you pursue to eventually include everyone in the group. We will use the concept of international classroom (as defined by the University of Groningen) as an example for the right place to develop diversity and inclusion.

T = Testing: It’s about testing your progression, assessing your learning style and ultimately confronting this all to your original vision. In practice, it often means learn professional skills through professional development schemes, for example 21st century skills which provide a framework to adequately develop and assess hard and soft skills needed in international cooperation.

Y = YOU go for it! Go from diversity to inclusion and eventually also create a next stage: belonging! I will give examples of this process. Finally, the extended paradigm offers us a further stage: Go from diversity to inclusion and belonging, and create…  well-being! We will examine what this means in daily practice at an academic institution and make recommendations for academia and the business world.

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About the author of this article:

Vincent Merk

Vincent Merk is a Senior Lecturer in intercultural management at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), a leading technical university in the Netherlands. He also teaches intercultural management at Skema Lille Business School and Audencia Business School in Nantes and at the Université du Luxembourg. In addition, he works as an independent trainer and consultant in intercultural communication, management and professional mobility. He currently also focuses on issues of diversity and inclusion (D&I) and on the impact of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on management and leadership practices in Europe and beyond. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in articles on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SIETAR UK.“

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