Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

Culture and Cause: It’s an Asian Thing?

Sad, but true. Belonging can separate us too.

It's a funny thing ~ sort of. I work side-by-side two Chinese people, one man and one woman, who together have presented an interesting pattern in our company. It took awhile for me to notice, but eventually I realized that every time the two of them agreed or realized that they shared something in common, they'd look at each other, then look at me and say, "It's an Asian thing."

At first, I was intrigued and wanted to understand how being Asian brought them to make such attributions about themselves. It's the ultimate appreciation of diversity, right? Learning from differences and gleaning insights into how cultural identities help shape who we are. But then after it continued from everything to being good with computers to being lactose intolerant, to liking the same websites and foods, I became interested in more than cultural influence and genetic heritage. After all, lots of people are lactose intolerant. I count myself as one of them. Or, on the other hand, should I assume that I'm not good with computers because I'm not Asian? It's hard to say. So, then I changed the comparison and looked at the three of us as two women and one man, absent our ethnicities. How interesting, I thought it was that she and I (her name is Patty) never - ever - explain our opinions or preferences as being "a female thing." It wouldn't even occur to us.

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The whole thing got me thinking. It made me wonder about how we relate to one another and ourselves at work on a different level. First, was my appreciation for how many people bond and break down barriers by sharing common ground. I agree that it is vitally important.  But then came the question of how many others are excluded as a result. In other words, how much sameness do we manufacture in order to create a sense of belonging and how much peripheral diversity do we overlook by doing that?

Well, the easy answer for businesses is to build a company with such a strong culture that everyone wants to belong to it. There is no better an identity to share than one without lines separating people based on "who they are," and that keeps the focus on dividing people functionally based on what they do.

 

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations.

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