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Interview with Harald Kruithof: “Diversity is energy”

Language Partners has been helping to bridge fluency gaps for more than 50 years. Increasingly, we have been receiving requests for training related to cultural awareness, diversity, inclusive culture and connection. We have now responded to this demand… in the form of a new offering under our new label Mazi Inc.

To celebrate the launch of our new label and offering, we spoke with Harald Kruithof, Managing Director of Language Partners and creator of Mazi Inc. In this interview, Harald explains how you can make diversity work to your advantage, that an inclusive culture is not something mystical, and which elements contribute to an inclusive culture.

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity means energy to me. All forms of difference generate energy, be it negative energy or positive. Personally, I have learned to be more curious about others and consequently feel comfortable working with those who think differently. This has, of course, taken a while…

How nice that you make the connection to energy. Why do you think this issue (diversity) is so important right now?

Diversity is an important issue because it is unavoidable. Even in seemingly homogeneous teams, there are big differences. Just think of the ratios between men and women and between generations. In addition, there are ethnic, geographical and religious differences, as well as physical and neurological limitations. If you don’t face up to these unavoidable differences, you will lose out. Employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction will decrease. Anger, frustration, absenteeism and staff turnover will increase. Then you often hear, ‘things used to be better’.

However, by embracing these differences and making the most of them, you will win out. This will ultimately increase productivity, innovative capacity, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction (and hence your turnover). Team members will then often go ‘the extra mile’, which is what makes all the difference.

What is different – or better – about a diverse team?

I think you mean, ‘what is better about a diverse team with an inclusive culture?’ You need the inclusive culture to make optimal ‘use’ of the differences between people. Then, you will gradually see a change in the way people work together.

This starts with being aware that everyone has their own norms and values, but also their own expertise and competences; sometimes you have to do your best to see the talents in others because of natural unconscious biases. Most likely, others will sometimes have to do their best to see yours. On this basis, an atmosphere develops where each unique individual can make an optimal contribution to the organisation.

In high-performing organisations, you consequently see that ‘the leadership’ actually manages to magnify and optimally leverage differences between team members, utilising the mutual trust and respect that has been built up.

Can you explain the concept of inclusive culture a little more? How would you describe it?

Let’s start by describing the concept of ‘culture’. The core of a culture consists of conscious and unconscious norms and values. For example, how you deal with hierarchy, with conflict management, with masculinity versus femininity, but also with decision-making. We translate these norms and values into corresponding behaviour. For example, when there is a high degree of hierarchy, we tend to submit almost everything to ‘the boss’ and we do not easily contradict ‘the boss’. Ultimately, we constantly reaffirm the norms and values, as well as the behaviour of our ‘culture’ that is based on them, with symbols and rituals. This set of values, behaviour and rituals is passed on to our ‘cultural peers’ through socialisation.

So an inclusive culture is a set of values, behaviours and rituals in which individual members feel free to contribute to the success of the organisation with all their talents and authenticity. The organisation, by the same token, allows its members to evolve and feel connected to each other.

This all sounds very nice and easy, but it is not that easy. The psychological freedom that characterises an inclusive culture is coupled with the condition that you use that freedom to be open; to giving feedback in all honesty and sincerity, but also receiving it. In an inclusive culture, there is room to make mistakes and to experiment. However, this only works if the members of the organisation are truly competent, have the discipline to deal with freedom, and continuously develop themselves. Cooperation and team spirit are hallmarks of an inclusive organisation. On the other hand, the members of such organisations are held individually accountable and do not hide behind the team.

In short, an organisation with a high degree of diversity can make optimal use of all kinds of entirely different areas of expertise, backgrounds and insights. This requires a culture – norms, values, behaviours, symbols and rituals – where members are given the space and freedom to provide each other with input and feedback. Finally, an inclusive culture is not something mystical or magical. You can describe it in very concrete terms and achieve it through training and follow-up. What this looks like is different for each organisation. It depends on the goal you are working towards: do you want to become more innovative, for instance, or primarily engage and retain employees, or a combination of these?

Language Partners has been helping people improve their language skills for more than 50 years. Fluency in a language contributes to inclusive culture. What other elements help in developing and sustaining inclusive cultures?

First of all, it is good to know why language skills contribute to an inclusive culture. This is nothing mystical either, but very concrete. It’s about members of a group feeling comfortable enough to actively contribute their talents to the organisation.

We perhaps all know the situation: you want to share something useful about a certain topic. However, the conversation is in English. Your English is a little rusty, so although you understand very well what the conversation is about, you doubt whether you have chosen the right words or the

right tone for what you want to say. Before you know it, the moment has passed. The second time something like this happens, you feel even more uncomfortable and the third time, you just give up. That’s a shame, because your useful input is then not included in the decision-making process. And you are left feeling insecure and frustrated. This phenomenon is called a “fluency gap“.

A fluency gap like this doesn’t only affect language skills; it can also be felt in behaviour. We’ve all been there: you arrive at a ‘new’ place, and are not sure how to behave, e.g. how to show respect. Just as you can bridge a fluency gap with language training, you can learn to recognise and develop appropriate norms, values and behaviour with the help of intercultural competence training. Both can therefore contribute to the creation and affirmation of an inclusive culture.

How can Language Partners help organisations who want to get started with diversity and inclusive culture? And where can the new label, Mazi Inc contribute?

Firstly, Language Partners trains professionals and teams in language skills and intercultural competence. We make use of ‘social learning’: students acquire knowledge and skills through a combination of e-learning and classroom sessions. They then put these skills into practice, after this they give each other feedback. This feedback ensures that knowledge and skills develop into competences and are successfully retained. Eventually, we develop ‘cultural impact’: the ability to negotiate effectively in an intercultural setting, to influence, to persuade and to steer.

If you would also like to influence the setting itself, for example by creating an inclusive culture, Mazi Inc. can help with a D&I programme. In this programme we first help translate the organisation’s objectives into a desired culture: which measurable norms and values correspond to those objectives and which behaviour should express them? Based on this, we develop an appropriate training programme, for example for D&I ambassadors within the organisation.

Of course, we also train managers in inclusive leadership: what should you and can you do as a business leader to contribute to the creation of an inclusive culture? After a pilot, we tailor the training where necessary, before also training other members of the organisation with the help of the internal D&I ambassadors and business leaders. Meanwhile, we continuously measure how the standards and values develop within the organisation and, of course, how ‘inclusive’ the members of the organisation perceive the culture to be. Ultimately, behavioural change only takes root when you can show results.

Mazi Inc.

Interested in Mazi Inc.‘s assessments and training offerings? Take a look at the website and contact us.

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