It is inherent in the human condition: Each of us struggle to balance our competing desires for acceptance and a sense of belonging with our desire for standing out and retaining our individual identity.
Companies, too, will always struggle to balance the benefits of a highly cohesive and more homogenous culture with the benefits of recruiting for differences. On the one hand, a cultrually unified workforce more easily marches in sync. On the other hand, we know that creating spaces for differences helps to foster innovation.
I’ve long thought about this balancing act in the context of two different national metaphors, those of the world’s two largest democracies: The United States and India.
In the midst of Prialto's Global Workforce, we always return to the customer.
Musings on Workplace Diversity
Traditionally, the U.S. has celebrated the Melting Pot assertion that “You are welcome here, from any place or any culture.” But the unspoken caveat is that foreigners must shed enough of their ancestral identity to join in and become unnoticed “enough” to enhance the overall Melting Pot without "sticking out" too distinctively.
The bargain is that, while you give up your old identity, the identity you adopt is becoming yours by newly incorporating some of your past.
This is only slightly different from the Salad Bowl metaphor of India.
In India, it has often been said that numerous religions and cultural identities are celebrated for retaining their distinctiveness even while they all submit to the same democratic political system that fuses them together. Each one retains a unique taste and look, but combine to make one cohesive salad. This is known as the Salad Bowl metpahor. They don’t shed themselves by fusing into one, but instead coordinate together and complement each other.
At Prialto, we have a unique laboratory in which to weigh the merits of these two metaphorical templates. We operate out of three countries, each with their own social tapestry of differences. Amidst our differences, though, we jointly serve an urban customer in North America.
The reality is that both metaphorical templates, the Melting Pot and the Salad Bowl, can coexist in the same company depending on the activity. The key is to be clear whether we are innovating on a service development activity or executing on a customer service activity.
When innovating, it makes tremendous sense to tap into our varied experiences and highlight our different points-of-view.
But when executing, we come closer together and put aside our differences to attend to our customers.
One of the most inspiring aspects of our business model is that we have no need to completely submerge our cultural differences. That’s because our global workforce has the pleasure of serving a clientele base that hails from the most cosmopolitan parts of the United States.
Because our clients are accustomed to hearing different accents throughout their daily lives, they are generally accepting of the fact that our virtual executive assistants retain their Spanish or Tagolog accents. It’s always fulfilling to hear our clients express gratitude and delight after receiving nationally distinctive gifts and greetings from their Prialto virtual executive assistants who operate out of our service centers in Guatemala and Manila.
What fuses our varied cultures together at Prialto is these clients. Whle they are open and appreiative of cultural variiance, they uniformally expect a high level of consistent execution. This is where we are quickly and organically unified under one Prialto umbrella.
We are clear that our pay, the very sustenance for our collaborative enterprise, comes from our clients. We are nothing without them. Therefore, we unite in the truth of our clients’ various wants and preferences. This always come first.
Guatemalans might prefer a longer, more thoughtful greeting at the beginning of each new phone call: But our on-the-go clients want us to get directly to the point of the call, so that’s what we prioritize at Prialto.
Filipinos may be accustomed to always using honorifics. To them, it may feel rude to forgo the use of “sir” or “ma’am.” But our clients think such honorifics are a crutch and used to cover up bad service execution. So we leave out these honorifics.
There is, of course, no right or wrong here in any cosmic sense. But there is a need for commonality, so it is only logical to unify around the client’s preferences. To debate this would be like traditional farmers arguing against nature, trying to plant a tropical fruit in the mountains or winter vegetables in the spring.
When it comes to sustenance, one must always go with nature. For a company, sustenance comes from customers, and nature means unifying around their preferences regardless of the preferences we are accustomed to at home.