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Work Force Diversity In Asian Organizations

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
In September this year, Brady Corporation, a U.S.-based manufacturer and marketer of identification products and specialty materials, opened its research and development center in Singapore. The Brady Innovation Center was established for two reasons: to help the company efficiently serve its regional operations and customers and to leverage Singapore's talented workforce for its rapid progress in the region.

Brady is among the growing list of employers who are setting up a base in Asian countries. Globalization has led to more hiring from different countries and employees are more open to working in foreign locations. But packing bags and shifting countries is not an easy task. No two humans are alike and, similarly, nations differ from each other with respect to their cultures, languages, beliefs and attitudes. When an employee decides to move from one country to work in another, they have to face 'culture shock' at the workplace. The ways of doing things are different in a new country and a person has to learn a new language and new customs and they have to work with people who have absolutely different cultural beliefs than his or her own.

Emerging economies understand the changing business environment and countries like Malaysia have changed to accommodate the increasingly diverse work force. "Malaysia has got what it takes to win in an increasingly global multicultural environment," says Chandran Nair from The diversity of the workforce in this country is very commendable and one can see a number of people fluent in English, Mandarin and Tamil. Most people here get along very well with those who practice the major religions of the world and employers find this to be a very significant asset. Because many foreign organizations have already made a home in this nation, the executives have honed their management skills to lead diverse international employees. Malaysia has a sizable Indian population and they can use this asset to build business ties with India and tap the opportunities presented by its emerging economy.

Singapore is another nation that has kept pace with the changing times. A report by Singapore Management Review shows the increasing diversity of workers in the multinational corporations based in Singapore. This has brought many changes in how organizations in this nation manage their human resources. More global companies now recruit local and foreign staff to expand in this nation and have employees from different socio-cultural backgrounds. The challenges of relocation have not dampened the spirit of people who travel to different countries to work. Well-established global companies are constantly searching for opportunities to expand their footprint in the global market. While doing so, they search for the right kind of talent who can help grow their business. A 2008 report from Business Week noted William J. Amelio, the CEO of Lenovo, the world's third-largest computer maker. The CEO follows a global workforce strategy and calls it "world sourcing." The global computer maker operates throughout the world and taps experts from Asian countries such as Japan for hardware design and India for its marketing talent. Employees at Lenevo must do their bit to adjust to the corporate culture of Japan and India, as they are very different from Western organizations.

Corporate Culture of Asian Countries

In Japan, organizations typically offer lifelong employment and offer a lot of security to their workers. Western organizations focusing on corporate profitability may find it difficult to operate in Japan if they are quick to lay off people who don't give quick results. People joining Japanese companies will also have to wait for a long period to get promoted, as a lot of importance is given to age and seniority in this country. An American who is used to fast performance-based promotions may not find it easy to adjust to this corporate culture. In Japan, you may have to work longer hours and nobody leaves until their boss leaves for the day.

U.S. executives relocating to Japan to manage an American operation cannot work in their usual manner and have to change their management style according to the local customs. In Japan, employees have to put the company's needs ahead of their personal needs and are not appreciated if they take all their annual vacation days.

Korea: An individual relocating to Korea can better adjust in the company if he has been trained in the Korean language and has useful insight into Korean corporate culture. In Korea, people are very punctual and expect you not to be late for appointments. The authority is very centralized and managers holding senior positions have more power over their subordinates than in the West. Personal relations are given a lot of importance even in business and successful enterprises are built on mutual trust and respect for business partners.

China: Western work relationships are mostly formal and the business partners remain professional and aloof, even after a long time of doing business together. Things are different in China and here a business/work relationship gradually becomes a social relationship. If you are in sales, you can expect to have a better relationship with your business partners if you begin to share details about your family, personal life and even your hobbies. A businessman in China has a higher chance of giving business to your organization if you are able to establish a good relationship with him.

India: Corporate culture in India encourages teamwork and the employees are empowered to do their jobs. Hierarchy is present in organizations and promotions are mostly time-bound based on the seniority of the employees. The workers are allowed to freely interact with the senior members of the organization, but they are expected to be professional and deliver results.

It is apparent that organizations in each nation have a different work culture and employees moving from one country to another have to readjust their beliefs to work productively and contribute positively to their companies.

Multinationals operating in Asia and their take on diversity

IBM: The Company boasts a multi-pronged diversity policy as per their website and aims to have a workplace that doesn't discriminate against employees on any basis, such as sex, religion or place of origin. IBM's policies are directed towards providing employees equal opportunities for training, development and promotion. China has acknowledged IBM for providing employment opportunities to people with disabilities and Japan gave IBM the 'Best Practice' prize in recognition of their programs encouraging the professional growth of women.

HP: Hewlett-Packard promotes diversity in the workforce and is especially focused on hiring and retaining female employees in the organization. Vice-president of Human Resources (Asia-Pacific and Japan) Michael Vavakis told StarBiz that their company aims to provide equal opportunities to people from different backgrounds and abilities. The company wants to expand in the emerging markets and has around 4,000 managers in the Asia-Pacific region. HP believes in creating awareness about diversity, and organizes diversity campaigns to this effect. These campaigns are organized to create a greater acceptance and appreciation of a mixed workforce, said Vavakis.

HSBC: Established in 1865 to finance the growing trade between China and Europe, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation strongly believes in workforce diversity. This global organization values the differences between people and leverages this to differentiate itself from the competition. HSBC practices and strongly recommends diversity because their managers think a diverse workforce is better equipped to market their products and services to a diverse target population.

It is not easy to move people across continents, and companies that want to relocate their employees have to manage issues such as arranging employees' visas and work permits. This task can be very daunting and often discourages CEOs from expanding to certain regions. A U.S.-based worker relocating to China may have to attend language classes and need training in adjusting to the new culture. Organizations with a diverse workforce have to effectively manage their employees in order to get their best performance. Workforce diversity is no longer a choice and companies not open to this concept may be left behind by competitors who can leverage a diverse workforce. Today, managers and CEOs must develop and implement strategies to encourage diversity in their companies, as it is ever more critical for business success.
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