When dealing with being the only one from a particular ethnic minority in a room, panellists on 'Managing different ethnicities and cultures in the workplace’ said they realised they could use their uniqueness as a superpower.
The panel was part of the DIAL Global Summit where senior leaders from FTSE & Fortune 500 companies talk about how they are prioritising actions over words across visible and invisible facets of diversity.
They discussed tangible strategies and steps that can be taken to make measurable progress in creating equality in workplaces.
“When I was the only one from an ethnic minority in a room, initially in my junior days this was overwhelming,” said Ugo Ojike, managing director and ethnicity executive sponsor at Accenture (ACN).
“But as time went on I started thinking about how I could use my uniqueness as a superpower, use it in a way that’s more positive.”
Shoku Amirani from BBC Embrace agreed, saying that the cultural nuances you are aware of as a minority, plus the contacts and network you have, is an asset that can give you an edge.
Meanwhile Kristiana Carlet, vice president of international sales at Yahoo, said when she started her career 20 years ago, she was only one of two Italians in her workplace. She realised it was up to her to share her culture to start building awareness about it, and she encourages others to do the same.
She said the most important thing a leader can do is to acknowledge they have a learning gap when it comes to different cultures and ask for help, be humble and be vulnerable.
Panellists also said some of the biggest challenges they faced when moving to a different country or working in an environment where they were the minority was being stereotyped, as well as the language barrier.
Talita Erickson, chief diversity & inclusion (D&I) officer at Barilla said its not enough to know the language, sometimes things can get lost in translation and the lack of understanding of a country’s popular culture means references and jokes might not make sense, which can make it hard to integrate within a team.
She also said: “If you have a homogenous team all from a dominant culture, it will be very hard for others to not feel the pressure to conform."
For this reason leaders "need to be intentional for their team to be multi-cultural.”