25 May How to Deal with Hidden Prejudices Among Your Hires
A host country’s employee or boss can be unwelcoming to foreigners but unfathomable as it may sound, your assignee, a foreign national who was once used to living within his own culture, may also have ingrained biases and prejudices against other beliefs, work practices, and traditions. He comes from a different culture but because he is new to the host country, he keeps his prejudices hidden–but behaves for the most part.
It is hard to believe given the enthusiastic way that your assignee fought for this job and the openness he is showing in learning about your company’s national culture and way of doing business. But sometimes it’s just there — and, after the so-called honeymoon period is over, you will spot it in small things he unknowingly reveals: a rock-hard tone of disapproval about how a lady colleague is dressed, an emotional shield that comes up when another country close to his is mentioned, or just a polite but firm refusal to shake hands with a colleague whose religion has a long history of opposing his.
However, it’s not personal, so you don’t need to take it against the assignee. All of us have these biases, no matter how fair and unbiased we like to think of ourselves. Psychologists and sociologists say this instinctive knee-jerk reaction happens once we remove ourselves from our comfort zone, and start living alone or as part of a small minority in an environment radically different from ours. Minority or not, it’s common to also see women encounter problems fitting in in the tech world as reports suggest.
Helping the assignee to overcome these biases that he might not even realize he has will take patience, gentleness, and compassion. Your assignee should have taken corporate culture workshops, or at least learned on his own, a company’s culture and the country it represents. His mind already acknowledges he has to blend in and adjust, while remaining true to his own principles and beliefs. What you need to work on is his heart and his subconscious that insists on infusing him with a flight-or-flight reaction every time he’s triggered by something antithetical to his culture.
Expat Focus also suggests enrolling him in a workshop that addresses prejudices. It would be smart to do this not just for the assignee but the entire team as well. Doing so can even open a door of opportunity where everyone can discuss and resolve points of tension. For example, this could be the moment to talk about how different cultures approach gender—especially if your assignee gets upset every time one of his colleague comments on how pretty his sister looks on the picture on his desk.
The assignee will learn that his colleague’s interest is actually a compliment, and not an insult; on the other hand, the colleague will realize that asking about the female members in one’s family can be taboo in another society.
Continue to engage the entire team in activities that will make them see their similarities, and not just their differences. Greater Good calls this tactic “fighting some mean zombies” as an allusion to making different individuals fight those monsters in a video game. Pretty soon, gender, age, and socio-economic status disappear as everyone is united in a common goal.
One strategy would be to emphasize the outside competition and the threat that they face as a common foe to defeat. Once performance, metrics, revenues, and profitability are on the line, winning becomes the ultimate goal — and your assignee and his team mates will have more incentive to see past their prejudices to achieve it.
Do one-on-one conversations with your assignee during his first six months. Remember that he sees you as his lifeline to his new world. Having coffee or social lubricants like alcoholic drinks outside the formal work environment can encourage him to loosen up and discuss with you sensitive issues he cannot reveal in front of a larger group.
Encourage him to ask questions that he might not feel comfortable asking anyone else — without fear of judgment and, ironically, prejudice. It would help if you do these one-on-one conversations in diversity-friendly zones found in states like Northern California. Seeing different ethnicities working, dining, and having a good time together can help remove a large part of his fears and insecurities.