Are You Culturally Savvy Enough to Profit in a Global Market?

March 11, 2012 2:30 pm

Emilio Egea, Prudential Financial
How can global companies ensure effective interaction between employees and increase relevancy among expanding, international markets? Cultural competency with an emphasis on local traditions, laws and styles, according to Prudential Financial’s Emilio Egea, retired chief diversity officer.

Egea explained during a DiversityInc event how Prudential’s 2011 acquisitions of AIG Star and AIG Edison insurance companies forced Prudential to adopt a global-diversity mindset as “more than 50 percent of employees now speak Japanese.”

He credited the company’s emphasis on cultural competence with its success in forming common goals/connections with its new Japanese businesses and developing internal messaging that stays true to the core corporate culture and company values on an international scale. (Prudential Financial is No. 9 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50.)

Workforce-Diversity Advice From Egea: Best Practices for Cultural Competence

  • Understand what cultural competence is.
    It basically refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures in four aspects: awareness of one’s own culture, attitude toward cultural difference, knowledge of different cultures and world views, and cross-cultural skills.”
  • Be respectful of the corporate culture of companies you acquire. Prudential, based on two major acquisitions, now has more than 50 percent of its employees in Japan.
    Solution: “We don’t try to Prudentialize the culture or the products.” For example, in Japan, people are very much concerned about bone-marrow transplants, so Prudential has a lot of riders on its insurance policies relative to cancer and bone marrow. The riders include people who donate bone marrow, which is unusual.
  • Ensure senior leaders are culturally competent.
    Solution: At Prudential, there is a program called Top of the Rock for very senior executives globally. It is translated into the language of the country and includes role-plays in the native language. “We don’t want people to be working so hard to get the English right that we miss the concept.”

Cultural-Competence Advice From Audience: Resource Groups, On-Boarding & Diversity Training

The audience of corporate diversity leaders and executives was able to ask Egea questions, contribute their best practices for cultural competence and diversity-awareness training and share their real-life success stories.

Executives from Deloitte, Monsanto, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, WellPoint and Kaiser Permanente discussed how a culturally competent workplace can help talent development—and productivity—flourish.

On-Boarding New Hires:

  • Stephanie Quappe, Senior Manager, Global Diversity, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. Deloitte is No. 8 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50: Prior to joining Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, Quappe participated in the International Business Resource Group within Deloitte LLP and was charged with developing an on-boarding program for international hires. She helped other members of the group utilize an intercultural approach to on-boarding new hires and measured their success by participation level and positive participant feedback.
  • Damion Jones, Global Diversity Analyst, Monsanto, No. 44 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50: With acquisitions, it’s important to have a consistent way to assess talents and be cognizant of all the talent that is out there. “We’re speaking the same language about what we think are going to be the drivers for greater performance and leadership in the future, and at the same time, having a way to view that talent so that we can all see them at the same time.”

Diversity Training & Removing Bias:

  • Beth Timmons, Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, No. 13 in the DiversityInc Top 50: The biggest issue of cultural competence in the United States is the ways Americans perceive what’s different. Often, senior leadership thinks that for women it’s a work/life issue and that family issues sidetrack women. There also are issues for people of color. Their perceptions of why things are happening are very different than what leadership may perceive. “This is an example of implicit bias” and is important to understand.
  • Linda Jimenez, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion, WellPoint, No. 34 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50: There is implicit bias externally as well as internally. WellPoint is a healthcare organization, so its providers are hospitals, doctors, nurses, etc. When the organization’s staff doesn’t mirror the representation of its clients, those clients go elsewhere. Using resource groups is critical in building cultural competence. “For example, if you are African American and your family member is having surgery, how many people do you have in the waiting room? You might see two or three for a white family, but seven, eight or nine for an African-American family. When you’re Hispanic, you are going to probably see 10 or 15 people. Is your waiting room accessible and inclusive of the communities and the patients you are seeing?”
  • Christine Talbot, Vice President, HR, National Functions, Kaiser Permanente, No. 3 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50: This organization developed a program that was a series of individual senior-leader interviews. Top executives were interviewed by diversity-council members and told their stories about increased cultural sensitivity. “These are very vulnerable personal stories about the lives of our senior-most leaders—in the C-suite. It really demonstrates the importance of being honest about our journey of cultural competence. We have also developed a health film series that encompasses all of the different cultures, and we use it for training.”
  • Gloria McDonald, Consulting Director, Diversity, Prudential Financial: Education is paramount to cultural competence. For example, Prudential recently hosted a disability conference to raise awareness. “We worked for more than a year to build a credible experience that made it completely accessible and completely inclusive of individual ability. It required a lot of education.”