Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Interview with Deborah Levine : Cross-Cultural Diversity

Deborah, it is great to host you on my blog. You have a very interesting background with long years experiences on cross-cultural communication and diversity. You are an award-winning Author, American Diversity Report Editor, Aqqolade, Inc. Associate and also a Cross-cultural Specialist.

Firstly I would like to ask; why have you chosen to work on cultural diversity? What did ignite your desire?

I naturally gravitated towards the field of cultural diversity as a teenager, studying at Harvard University. I was fascinated by the role of folklore in shaping and expressing culture and was in the first class of the university’s new Folklore & Mythology major, with a specialty in cultural anthropology. I didn’t understood then that while born in Brooklyn, I grew up in Bermuda as the only Jewish little girl on the British island and “represented” from childhood. Returning to the States as a young girl meant being a virtual immigrant, a “polyglot”, and a youthful culture clash expert.
My journey into cultural diversity has been a combination of personal enlightenment, academic curiosity, community activism, and just being myself.

I learned that you have organized many multicultural projects and events. Can you please share one of them which made an important impact on society and you? What was the secret for success?

I created the DuPage Interfaith Resource Network (DIRN) in the Chicago area in 1990. It was a nonprofit organization that brought together diverse faith traditions to address culture clashes around the changing demographics and increased religious diversity in the western suburban technical corridor. DIRN’s signature event was an interfaith Thanksgiving event with shared music and chanting. DIRN also tapped the power of women, acquiring grants to establish a women’s network within its interfaith programs. DIRN served as a prototype for all of the multicultural programming that I recreated in the US Southeast decades since its creation including the American Diversity Report, Women’s Council on Diversity, Diversity & Economics think Tank, Youth Multicultural Video Project, and Diversity Thanksgiving.
My emphasis on creating programs that were larger than one person and could outgrow the “founders business model” was deliberate from the beginning of my work. Given my training not only as a cultural anthropologist but as an urban planner, it was vital to me that my projects have a life of their own, an anchor in the community, and, where possible, a national and even global presence beyond their local impact. Documenting that process was a key element of the success in achieving that goal. A newsletter was integral to that success from Day One as was my keynote speaking activity. Given the cutting-edge nature of my work, I had to overcome my introverted shyness and learn public speaking skills very early into my work. And I had to learn to write more than articles for a newsletter. My books have been the ambassadors for my projects and for the approach I’ve developed to cultural diversity over the years. The contacts that I acquired with my hands-on projects have mentored me and pushed me further into the publishing world so that my work has a growing audience.

As a part of your job role, you are working with different cultures as a project leader or intercultural coach. What kind of challenges and opportunities have you discovered to work with different cultures?

A key issue in communicating across cultural boundaries has been to coach different cultural representatives to connect with a broad audience. After 9/11 when the Women’s Council on Diversity was launched, I made sure that each ethnic and religious group that was associated with the Council was able to participate in public education programs. However, the skill set needed to be a panel speaker an combine information and presentation with others effectively had to be developed. I found myself in the position of being a coach for public speaking. The materials that I developed for training others, some of whom had never addressed an audience in their lives, became popular hand outs in workshops and seminars. The training sessions became a portal not only to cultural diversity expertise but also to global leadership development.
The years of field testing the training illustrated the need for a simplified, combined approach to cross-cultural communication, conflict management, and problem solving. These materials are embedded in my Train-the-Trainer textbook, Matrix Model Management System: Guide to Cross Cultural Wisdom, and the accompanying workbook. I have discovered that the basic methodology outlined in the textbook is applicable to a wide range or cultural diversity specifics including gender, generational, religious, and regional differences. The opportunities to write and coach on cultural diversity has therefore become virtually infinite.

What would your suggestions to individuals to increase awareness and impact of diversity and cross-cultural interaction in their societies?

Consider that the windows into a culture are many and that we can learn more about a culture by looking into those windows than we realize. My favorite windows for both beginners and long-time students of culture are the Arts. Music & Movement, Prints & Photography, Art & Architecture, Poetry & Plays, Culinary & Crafts skills are good places to explore culture and to create cross-cultural interaction. We enrich ourselves and open doors for others when we learn from the Arts. We form lasting relationships when we use the Arts to build bridges.
The key to success is to follow a progression of steps in your exploration: 1.) appreciate the cultural expressions 2.) be aware of the extent of culture diversity, 3.) be competent in understanding cultural differences, 4.) be strategic in forming new projects. Good intentions lead to good planning both short and long term when you plan a mission and goals in advance.

Thanks a lot Deborah.


Deborah is an award-winning author, trainer, and inspirational speaker. Her lifetime passion for crosscultural work began with a childhood as one of few Jewish families in the British colony of Bermuda and grew with her insertion into the New York City area in grade school. As a teenage activist, she joined her first civil rights picket line in 1965, was an early volunteer with SNCC, and joined the first Women’s Liberation March in NYC circa 1970. With degrees in cultural anthropology and urban planning, Deborah spent decades developing cultural programming. Having served as an executive for Jewish advocacy organizations across the USA, Deborah is now headquartered in Tennessee and consults on projects that broaden the Southern - Global Connection

Deborah specializes in...

GOING GLOBAL: Deborah's copyrighted textbook & workbook, Matrix Model Management System: Guide to Cross Cultural Wisdom are the product of more than a decade of field testing her storytelling methodology. Her handbook, Inspire Your Inner Global Leader, is a thought-provoking set of True Stories for New Leader that blend current leadership challenges with historic events such her father’s role in liberating a work camp in Nazi Germany.As a Global Leadership Trainer, Deborah provides cross-cultural workshops and coaching for several consulting companies working in the US Southeast with clients such as Volkswagen Chattanooga,International Paper, Nissan, and Kimberly Clark. She was recently appointed to the Tennessee Advisory Committee of the US Global Leadership Coalition in part due to her development of a global leadership class for Chattanooga and its teenage version for area youth. As a Keynote Speaker, Deborah shares her expertise and passion with civic organizations such as Kiwanis, Chambers of Commerce, and nonprofits ranging from community development groups to arts coalitions, women's networks, and healthcare agencies. She is a frequent speaker at conferences on preparing for a culturally diverse future at universities, corporations, and international organizations. A former media liaison for Jewish Federations, Deborah is a resource for television, radio, and print media.

GOING DIVERSE: As a Diversity Trainer, Deborah's clients have included government agencies from the federal to the municipal level, refugee service organizations, and healthcare institutions. Deborah received the 2013 Champion of Diversity Award from diversitybusiness.com. As Founder/Editor of American Diversity Report, she gives diverse writers the opportunity to bring new perspectives to the field of Diversity & Inclusion. Her own writing about cultural diversity spans decades of published articles appearing in The American Journal of Community Psychology, Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, The Bermudian Magazine and The Bermuda Journal of Maritime Archaeology. As a Religious Diversity Expert, Deborah has received national recognition for her writing and her hands-on projects. She earned a National Catholic Press Association Award and is a Blogger with The
Huffington Post. Her articles in The Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, The Journal of Ecumenical Studies and The Christian Century are based on assignments with the American Jewish Committee, National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and on her creation of the Women’s Council on Diversity and DuPage Interfaith Resource Network (A cutting-edge model included in Harvard’s American Pluralism Project and captured in her book, Religious Diversity in our Schools.)

GOING SOUTHERN: Deborah's latest book combines history, humor, and storytelling for New
Southerners: expats & US transplants. In Going Southern: The No-Mess Guide to Success in the South.She shares her acculturation work and her personal journey relocating to the South almost 20 years ago. As a regional Civic Leader, Deborah has won awards from TN Economic Task Force on Women and Girls Inc,/Chattanooga. Her community work includes: community correspondent for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, diversity trainer for the East Ridge TN Leadership Class, board member for numerous nonprofit and professional organizations, and membership on Volkswagen’s Diversity Council.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Interview with Deniz Kirdar True : Diversity at Workplace

Welcome to the Cultural Diversity blog, Deniz. You are working as Diversity & Inclusion Manager in one of big international company. Can you please tell us about your role and impact to your company?

My key responsibility is to develop and implement company’s global diversity & inclusion strategy together with my counterparts in different business units. The aim is to embed diversity & inclusion into the core processes so there is no need for my role in the future. It is mindset change and we would like it to be integrated into the way we think and act in the organization. We would like to make the diversity within work in a way that we have a work environment that allows and encourages differences which in turn enhances business results and enables each individual to reach their career aspirations.

What is your own definition for diversity? What are elements of diversity?

Diversity is all those differences we bring based on our life experiences, background, education and thinking. There are visible differences such as gender, race and age as well as invisible differences such as nationality and religion. At the end of the game, diversity is diversity of thought.

What kind of challenges and opportunities do you face while you try to increase diversity in your company?

Opportunities are huge; in a homogenous culture you are missing out on innovation, risk management and performance. By utilizing the full potential of the talent pool and better understanding of customer needs, the companies can do much more than they can today. The challenge stems from the same homogenous culture where it is difficult to realize the need for a change since everyone thinks alike. The world of diversity & inclusion is rather complex and multidimensional. Individual choices are as influential on the outcome as organizational cultures and both are wrapped in the socio-economic context which adds another dimension. In order to be successful, one needs to understand all factors in play.

What would be your recommendations to other companies or leaders to drive diversity at workplace successfully?

There is not one single solution that solves it all, if there were we wouldn’t be still struggling after so many years of work. What makes the needle move is a composition of multiple interventions. But before anyone moves to initiatives, there are two areas to address: accountability and measurement. Without top management commitment and accountability, the grass roots approach cannot go very far. Metrics are also very important, what gets measured gets done is such a cliché but holds true.

Thank you Deniz !


Deniz Kirdar True
Group Diversity & Inclusion Manager / A.P. Moller-Maersk

Deniz Kirdar True was born in Izmir, Turkey in 1981. She is Group Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Maersk Group. A Graduate in Mathematics, she entered Maersk Group in 2003, where she started working in Customer Service in Maersk Line. For 3 ½ years, she worked in Turkey and Switzerland and had responsibility for regional and global key clients. In 2007, she moved to Maersk Group headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark to join Process Excellence in Maersk Line. From 2007-2010, she received certification first as Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, later as Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and assumed a Project Leader role in various regional & global strategic projects and change programs in line and terminal operations, finance, sales and customer service. Deniz has MSc degree in Organisational Psychology at the University of London.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prof.Geert Hofstede and Analysis for Cultural Differences


I have heard Prof. Geert Hofstede's name couple of years ago when I was trying to understand and define cultural differences in our management team at the company where I am working. There were 7 different nationalities out of 12 people in the team. So we got some cultural comparison analysis from Hofstede’s web site and reviewed together with management team members. It was interesting and useful experience for all of us.

Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture in 1980s. Many articles have been published by him in social science and management journals around the world. He is recognized internationally for having developed the first empirical model of “dimensions“ of national culture. I really recommend you to check out his web site. You can find some free information about 5 dimensions on different cultures and even cultural comparison between 2 different countries that you will select.

I would like to share some part of cultural analysis about Danish culture here as an example, because  I am living in Copenhagen and still discovering the local culture here :)
Please find more details from this link :

Happy Reading 


Cultural Analysis of Denmark

If we explore the Danish culture through the lens of the 5-D Model, we can get a good overview of the deep drivers of Danish culture relative to other world cultures.

Power distance
This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

With a score of 18 points Denmark is at the very low end of this dimension compared to other countries. This matches perfectly with what many foreigners in Denmark express: Danes do not lead, they coach and employee autonomy is required. In fact, Denmark ranks highest amongst the EU27 countries in terms of employee autonomy. With a very egalitarian mindset the Danes believe in independency, equal rights, accessible superiors and that management facilitates and empowers.

The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. Denmark, with a score of 74 is an Individualistic society. This means there is a high preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. It is relatively easy to start doing business with the Danes.

Masculinity / Femininity
A high score (masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational behaviour. A low score (feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine). Denmark scores 16 on this dimension and is therefore considered a feminine society. In feminine countries it is important to keep the life/work balance and you make sure that all are included.

Uncertainty avoidance
The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the UAI score. With a score of 23 Denmark scores low on this dimension. This means that that Danes do not need a lot of structure and predictability in their work life. Plans can change overnight, new things pop up and the Danes are fine with it. It is a natural part of their work life.

Long term orientation
The long term orientation dimension is closely related to the teachings of Confucius and can be interpreted as dealing with society’s search for virtue, the extent to which a society shows a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view. The Danes score 46, making it a short term orientation culture, though very close to the middle. Societies with a short-term orientation generally have a strong concern with possessing and if A is true then B must be false. Focus in business life is very much on what is happening now instead of in ten years time.

Source : http://geert-hofstede.com

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Has your fashion style been impacted by other cultures?

I believe fashion has started with a basic concept as a need of clothing to keep ourselves warm. But in last 60-70 years, we have started to make the fashion more complicated and exaggerated. Clothing is not meaning keeping warm and protection anymore, because designers from different cultures all around the world continue to add their magic touches to fashion every day! I think this makes fashion more attractive and enjoyable. As Coco Chanel once said, "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening."

If we look to the cultural impact on fashion… I am sure most of you can guess the nationality of people from clothes that they wear, especially if these clothes are traditional clothes. In big cities, we rarely see traditional clothes on people’s wear. But it is quite interesting that these traditional clothes have unique cultural identity. There may be some meanings or symbolism behind of traditional clothes. For example; the Kimono gives signals about the person’s social class, wealth, and even marital status. Everyone from Geishas to the royal family wore kimono, and it once was the most common type of clothing in Japan. Today, however, Kimonos are usually seen only at funerals, weddings, or other formal ceremonies.

I think when you start to learn or live in different cultures, your fashion style may be affected from new culture after some time. Have you ever experienced this?

I would love to hear your comments on this.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Opps.. Control your fingers !

Whatever the situation in any culture, you should be careful with your hand gestures. Some of them may create wrong impression or be offensive to others.

Firstly let me explain the handshake. In most of Asian cultures like Japan, Korea, China, they prefer bow instead of handshake. The bow is a sign of mutual respect. The more senior you are, the deeper you bow. If you shake hands, handshake should not be strong or long. But in Western culture, a weak handshake is signs of weakness or lack of interest. As soon as you discover these different meanings, you stop judge the hand shake of other cultures.

The thumbs-up gesture is commonly used in many cultures to signify ‘OK’. But in some cultures like Australia, Greece and Iran, the meaning is totally different. It translates to ‘up to yours’. In Germany and Hungary, the upright thumb is used to represent the number 1, but it represents the number 5 in Japan.

The victory sign is a common gesture in American culture for victory or peace. But in some other cultures, it may be accepted as an insult.

The two fingers crossed sign is seen as wishing good luck in mostly Western culture. Based on my searches, the only exception country where this can be seen as offensive is Paraguay.

By the way, I liked this video on You Tube about hand gestures all around the world. It summarizes main hand gestures well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa_GCK-Czqs

This is definitely a secret language that we should be aware of its different meanings.

Enjoy and share your experiences if you have ! :)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Are you ready to work with different cultures?

Working with different cultures has become an important skill in our global world, it is absolutely a challenge. There are many people go to other countries to work, majority of managers need to manage their teams who are located in different countries virtually. I would like to share some of tips to prepare you to work with different cultures. I have added my observation and experiences here with you as I have also continued to work with different cultures during my working life and enjoy it a lot!

Firstly know your culture
Do you know your culture and its reflection to your behaviors? In order to be able to understand other cultures, firstly you should understand your own culture. I met with many people who grew up in 3-4 different countries, not in his/her original country during childhood. Maybe they can be affected by other cultures on top of their original culture. But in any case, you should know your family values coming from roots and have a high awareness about your own values, behaviors and personal traits. If you know them, it will be easier for you to discover other cultures and differences between your culture and the other culture.

Respect to other cultures
Respect, respect, respect to other cultures! It is very important to understand that there is no right or wrong between yours and other cultures. Please do not judge other cultures’ traits. Some of local culture traits may seem really funny for you. I also observe that some local people are quite mature to joke about their own cultures, but it is important to be careful when you joke for other cultures, you never know whether some local people can take your jokes seriously or not.

Observe locals and talk with them
You should be a good observer to understand cultural elements and reflection to behaviors. Sometimes observation may not be enough, I recommend you to meet and talk with locals in every possible occasion, ask questions with showing respect and share your culture. I think it is important to share your culture with them, because they should also know you better and understand reasons behind of your behaviors. Knowing each other will make relationships much stronger.

Be open and eager to learn new culture
Yes, learning and trying to adapt new culture are out of your comfort zone. But it is a good development opportunity to enrich your experiences. During my working life, I have observed many international colleagues that the ones who spent effort to learn local culture(s) they worked with have been able to build stronger relationships and be more successful than others. A small example ; if you can speak even some key words in local language of that culture, you have an advantage in building relationship easier and get respect from local people.

You may make mistakes
Yes, you may make mistakes at the beginning. But please think the solution to not do the same mistake again. If you see other international colleagues who are making mistake, please be open to help them.

I believe showing empathy and listening others with respect are first elements to learn new cultures and adapt you. I personally saw benefits of them in my adaptation to new culture. As soon as you start to learn more details about new cultures, I am sure you will start to discover some similarities between cultures which are also fun.
Enjoy this unique experience!