Do Canadians Have an Advantage in International Business?

The key to doing well in multicultural management positions

By Chelsi Robichaud, Staff Writer

Cultural diversity is important in international business, and efforts are being made to put pro-diversity programs into place. Canadians have a multicultural advantage that other people may not, and some of those with roots in other countries are profiting from their genealogy.

An article written by Stephanie Levitz for Canadian Press states that “about $14 million was spent under the program to fund 140 projects and events” in 2010 to 2011. However, Levitz tells us that “that money represented only 63 per cent of what was set aside […] and the department’s marquee funding program has seen nearly 40 per cent of available funds go unused.”

The amount of immigrants acquiring citizenship in Canada has been rising over the years. Though only 60 per cent of immigrants acquired their citizenship in the 1970’s, this number went up to 73 per cent nearly 40 years later.

“The Reality” of Canada Today

Though multiculturalist presence is not a new notion in Canada, it is forever evolving. Doug Saunders writes in his article “Immigrants’ children find multiculturalism obsolete”: “For the first generation, multiculturalism was a way to feel part of the national whole; for the second, it often feels akin to a barrier to such inclusion”.

“We heard many stories […] of Canadians being hired locally and moving on to positions of great responsibility in other parts of the world,” the Chief Executive website states. “Because Canadians grow up in a multicultural society, we seem to travel well and flourish in managing others around the world.”

The article outlines how multiculturalism is present in most people’s veins. “Take me, for instance,” he writes. “Just another white guy in a suit? True, but I am an Anglophone married to a Francophone who teaches Italian.  We each have an immigrant parent and our daughter is Chinese. This is the reality of Canada today.”

Do As the Romans Do?

In an article titled “Managing Cross-Cultural Encounters: Putting Things in Context”, written by Luciara Nardon, professor at Carleton University, and Richard Steers, professor at Oregon University, it is suggested that the catch-phrase “do as the Romans do” isn’t extremely applicable in these cross-culture management situations.

“It is based on four incorrect assumptions,” the article states. “First, that all Romans (or whoever) are alike; second, that people from different cultures will behave as we expect them to in cross-cultural situations; third, that it is necessary to act like everyone else in order to get along; and fourth, that it is possible for people to mimic local behaviors without losing their authenticity and hence their effectiveness.”

The second point – that not every culture acts as we expect them to – is spot on.

Lionel Laroche’s education was focused on chemical engineering, but now he works in cross-cultural training.

“What age does the average Canadian kid make his or her first public presentation?” Laroche asks. Most Canadians know the answer to this: at a very young age. “By comparison, at what age does the average Chinese kid make his or her first public presentation?”

Cultural differences extend further than primary school, of course. Laroche goes on to explain how this effects the business world.

“Even if I know that making good presentations is important by Canadian standards, it doesn’t mean I know how to make a good presentation by Canadian standards.”

The article by Nardon and Steers’ goes on to outline the culture differences of how an individual’s clothes will be interpreted by others.

“Regardless of her cultural background, a woman’s decision of wearing a headscarf for a meeting will be interpreted differently if she is located in Saudi Arabia where headscarves are mandatory, France where headscarves are banned in some places, or Canada where wearing headscarves is an individual choice.”

Little things matter.

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