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The ‘downside & flipside’: Diversities!

February 2, 2014

Downside first: Here is a revelation for anyone going headlong into diversity; the recent Economist story rings an alarm bell:

‘THE closest thing the business world has to a universally acknowledged truth is that diversity is a good thing: the more companies hire people from different backgrounds the more competitive they will become. Diversity helps companies to overcome talent shortages by enlarging their talent pools. It helps them to cope with globalisation by expanding their cultural horizon. It stimulates innovation by bringing together different sorts of people. And so on.’

Roy Y.J .Chua, of Harvard Business School, is one of the few academics to produce serious studies of this subject. Mr Chua agrees that in a world of multinational corporations and global product markets success depends more than ever on your ability to foster multicultural thinking and cross-border collaboration. But in a paper in the current issue of the Academy of Management Journal (“The Costs of Ambient Cultural Disharmony: Indirect Intercultural Conflict in Social Environment Undermine Creativity”) he goes on to note that getting people from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds to co-operate is fraught with difficulties. At best differences in world-view and cultural styles can produce “intercultural anxiety”, at worst outright conflict. The very thing that can produce added creativity—the collision of different cultures—can also produce friction. The question is whether the creativity is worth the conflict.

Mr Chua argues that creativity in multicultural settings is highly vulnerable to what he calls “ambient cultural disharmony”. Tension between people over matters of culture, he says, can pollute the wider environment and reduce “multicultural creativity”, meaning people’s ability to see non-obvious connections between ideas from different cultures. “Ambient cultural disharmony” persuades people to give up on making such connections because they conclude that it is not worth the trouble.

Mr Chua also says that “ambient cultural disharmony” has its strongest impact on people who regard themselves as open-minded. Closed-minded people expect cultural tensions. Open-minded people don’t expect them and so react to them more strongly. In another irony, Mr Chua also discovered that the only people who are not affected by cultural conflict, at least in terms of creativity, are the people who are at the heart of it. They are more likely to explain the problems in personal rather than cultural terms.

He tested this thesis in three studies. In one he surveyed participants about the amount of cultural disharmony they found in their networks at work. In a second study he asked some subjects to recall a recent conflict between two contacts from different cultural backgrounds who disliked each other. In the third he asked his subjects to watch a short video that depicted one of the following scenarios: intercultural conflict, same-culture conflict, intercultural harmony. He also measured creativity in a variety of ways, for instance by testing participants’ ability to solve word puzzles or their skills to produce products and services for different cultural groups.

In all three studies, subjects who had a greater experience of ambient cultural disharmony fell short on one or another of Mr Chua’s measures of creativity. Mr Chua says that he is not certain how much of a problem this is because his is the first study to identify it. But his results are important partly because many companies have such an optimistic view of cross-cultural pollination and partly because the second-order effects of cultural conflict (particularly among people who regard themselves as open-minded) are so hard to manage.’

So will AMBIENT CULTURAL DISHARMONY become the new buzzword in diversity studies??

Flipside next: US Gynecologists free to treat men! (Reuters).

‘A U.S. professional group that certifies obstetricians and gynecologists has loosened a decades-old restriction on its board-certified members treating male patients, after mounting pressure from doctors and researchers.

The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) had previously said members could not treat male patients except in specific circumstances, such as circumcising babies, treating transgendered patients, and helping couples overcome infertility.

However, opposition had mounted from gynecologists and others who said the policy interfered with medical research and prevented them treating male patients with chronic pelvic pain.

Some obstetricians and gynecologists had also been treating men for cancer, problems such as low testosterone, and cosmetic procedures including liposuction.

“This change recognizes that in a few rare instances board certified diplomats were being called upon to treat men for certain conditions and to participate in research,” Dr. Larry Gilstrap, ABOG’s executive director, said in a statement Thursday.

“This issue became a distraction from our mission to ensure that women receive high quality and safe health care.”

The Dallas-based board eliminated requirements that said certified members treat only women and must devote at least 75 percent of their practice to obstetrics and gynecology, saying instead a majority would suffice.’

 

 

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