By Olivia Strzelczyk*
Citizens from the European Union (Eu) are free to move to, live in and work outside their home country, as well as to benefit of the same rights and equal opportunities as citizens of the Eu member country to which they move. At least this is what I thought. Although we live in a multicultural society, it is still difficult to find a decent job abroad, because in reality there are still companies that do not truly welcome diversity.
Nowadays, many people come to Europe to find safety. I feel privileged because I live a good life in my country, but somehow I want a better life too. Today, the Eu marketplace is open to 28 countries and has ever more interactions between people from diverse nationalities. Consequently, profit and non-profit organisations must adapt to this trend by showing flexibility and openness to people coming from different backgrounds with valuables skills, experiences and differences.
However, I have personally been confronted with employers who still stay in their comfort zone and discriminate against potential job candidates from abroad because they do not speak the local language well enough (yet). Companies must be open to change and hire employees from other countries with unique skills, not identical ones, if they want to be productive, profitable and competitive in the worldwide economy.
Nowadays, modern companies go beyond their time zone and expand their business across countries, and thus across cultures. It’s not because a company establishes offices in many European cities that it will automatically become internationally successful. Its employees will interact with clients from other countries and cultures, therefore it cannot ignore the importance of having a multi-skilled team including expatriates.
Companies greatly benefit from hiring talent from abroad because it often brings new ways of thinking, new practices and new solutions to problems. The benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace are:
Increased creativity and innovation
Expatriates can analyse issues and suggest points of view from a different perspective, and thus bring different ways of solving problems, which is perhaps harder to achieve when employees are from the same culture. Expats can also have different ideas and marketing approaches that will appeal to the customers in the target markets.
Increased flexibility and productivity
The EU market has evolved, especially after the largest enlargement in the early 2000’s, and companies need foreign expertise and language skills. Expatriates can gather and provide sufficient information about local customs and laws from their respective country, and they also adapt quickly to new situations; thus, they can meet the needs of new potential customers.
Increase a company’s reputation and profitability
Expatriates boost the service offered to customers in your target market as they also speak their native language. Therefore customers feel more comfortable and are more likely to do business with your company if their contact person comes from the same country.
When differences still mean stereotypes and prejudices
It is favourable to have people with different qualifications, backgrounds and experiences in the same work environment. Nevertheless, diversity can also have negative effects on a group since it can lead to a series of problems.
Miscommunication: differences in opinion and language barriers between colleagues can result in confusion, frustrations or conflicts, and weaken the team spirit and development of the company.
Misinterpretation: prejudices about people of different backgrounds can affect interactions and lead employees to misinterpret actions or behaviours and jump to wrong or false conclusions.
Resistance to change: employees who refuse to adapt to changes and new ideas in their workplace will prevent themselves from changing their perceptions about the others and making mentality progress.
Cultural diversity: how to increase it in the workplace?
Successful companies include – and do not exclude – cultural diversity
Smart employers understand that a ‘closed’ environment can have a negative impact on their employees’ involvement in the organisation and also on their business profits. Therefore, their Human Resource professionals should modify their recruitment and hiring practices to attract the best international talents and effectively manage diversity in the workplace.
Provide a sensitivity training to develop ‘cultural competences’
Encourage employees to effectively communicate with people across cultures who look, act and think differently from them. This ability to better understand each other will develop into appreciating each other, and by embracing everybody‘s differences and strengths, remember that it can only boost the business.
Integrate English as an additional corporate language
Our world has become smaller and ultra-connected, and in order to interact with these connections, we must integrate a common language for effective communication. Chris Pyak, Director of Immigrant Spirit, is a recruiter of international talents for companies in Germany. He explains the importance for companies to introduce English as the additional corporate language. Companies will see a return on investment if they offer English language courses for its staff who wants to learn or improve their level, and the local language course for the expats, who usually like the challenge of learning a new language.
A diverse workforce can only be a win-win combination for everyone and bring back a new strong economy in Europe. As Chris mentions, there are few objective obstacles for hiring you in English and provide training to learn the local language on the job. There are obstacles in people’s minds only. Europe has opened its borders to 28 countries. Have employers opened their companies’ doors to more diversity? Are they ready to make their business more sustainable?
*Olivia Strzelczyk currently works as Senior Event and Communication Coordinator at the European Young Innovators Forum (EYIF).
This article was originally published on print issue #6 of The New European magazine. Read it here.