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Wednesday, 29th November 2023


Dr. Atul Shah, outside the stunning Jain temple at Oshwal Centre, London

90 per cent of an iceberg is invisible – it is under the water. Yet this is its core, its strength and vitality. The same applies to individuals – what really makes people tick is hidden from view. It lies in their culture, identity, values and upbringing. As the famous Ubuntu saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

Fortunately, organisations are beginning to recognise this and even encourage and support cultural initiatives through staff networks, festival celebrations, and smart recruitment and community engagement. They understand that people are different, and instead of suppressing difference and forcing everyone to conform, it is important to allow their identities to prevail. There are significant commercial reasons for doing so – the world is increasingly inter-dependent, and to trade globally, we need cultural diversity and intelligence. Also research has shown that diversity and creativity are inter-linked – the greater the diversity, the greater the creativity. And in a recession, creativity is critical to finding new solutions which are cost-effective and achieve the same targets in different ways.

So here are some practical suggestions of how you can take your culture to work, and more importantly, make it work:

  • Share your culture with others – on festival days, why not invite colleagues to your community celebrations? This will help them learn more about diversity and also more about what makes you tick! It will help them to better accept and respect your difference.
  • Don’t be shy to share your ideas and thoughts – they may seem radically different, but it may also be that previous solutions have failed because there was no new thinking. Given the difference in your upbringing and experiences, your perspectives will certainly be different.
  • Could your community be a new market for the products and services provided by your employer? If so can you help your company access this market?
  • Relationships are key to success and progress and you will have lots of contacts from your family and community which could really help the employer – and vice versa, the employer can benefit your community, so it is win-win.
  • Participate in any diverse staff networks, or if there are no such networks, why not start one voluntarily and help the organisation see the strength of diversity and also create a mutual support group.

Priya Thakrar, a young graduate of Manchester University advises: ‘Culture is a very powerful hidden asset which I am using to come up with new initiatives and ideas in my work. I have been able to open up new markets and products purely by thinking differently and using my imagination to the fullest.’

People of faith often bring their values, self-discipline, conscience and enthusiasm to the workplace. Nilesh Solanki is Head of PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) Hindu Network and has discovered that: ‘Hindus are very cooperative in their approach to work, hard-working and reliable, and bring strong leadership qualities and drive.’ The firm appreciates this and funds various training and mentoring initiatives for the staff.

Ezra Anajonu of the EDF Energy Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network explains: ‘In a short time, we have shown the huge diversity of skill and talent we have in the firm, and at the same time supported staff in retaining their culture and identity in the workplace. We recently organised an annual conference for our members, and the feedback was very positive and encouraging.’

Ajay Mehta runs Ki-Rin, a social enterprise with a focus on the Charity sector. "My culture and faith have helped me to set my own standards, providing my consultancy a competitive edge when dealing with a diverse range of clients, instilling trust and offering added value."

At Diverse Ethics, we have been helping one of Britain’s oldest and most respected charities, the RSPCA, engage with different cultures and communities. Mr. Gavin Grant, Chief Executive of the society explains: ‘There is a huge wealth of wisdom, talent and creativity that is hidden in Britain’s diverse communities. We are determined to tap into this, and feel strongly that the whole world has a lot to benefit from its diverse cultures.’

Members of faith and cultural communities also have very strong and powerful social networks. My own Linked-In contact list is over 1200, and 50% of these contacts are members of the global Jain community, who are very talented and accomplished professionals in their own right. Jainism is one of the oldest living cultures of the world, and it has influenced people like Mahatma Gandhi. So when I work with organisations, I bring all this social capital with me. A few smart organisations are now doing their recruitment in this way – by asking employees to tap into their cultural wisdom and contact books. This has meant that they save on recruitment costs, and are able to recruit people who are known to members of the firm and bring their diversity to enrich the talent and productivity of work.

So next time you have a job interview, or get a promotion, share your cultural wisdom and the values of hard work, self-discipline, integrity and innovation that you bring to the organisation. If there is no staff network, why not make a start and create one by bringing people together and celebrating diversity?

Dr. Atul K. Shah is founder, broadcaster and consultant at www.diverseethics.com He is author of ‘Celebrating Diversity – How to enjoy, respect and benefit from Great Coloured Britain.’

Article added on 11th February 2013 at 2:51pm