Mind the gap: Fostering cultural understanding in Dubai’s multicultural workplace

Regional HR Leaders can design and implement cultural awareness initiatives

By Dominic Keogh-Peters

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Published: Sun 3 Sep 2023, 8:00 AM

I love working in Dubai. The opportunity to embrace its cultural diversity, and having the privilege to work with and learn from incredible talent from all corners of the globe converging in this vibrant city is truly incredible.

My time in Dubai has also introduced me to many unique cultural norms such as the incredible generosity of Arabic hospitality and my personal favourite in my Indian colleagues culture – the jugaad. For those that don’t know it is the incredible flexible approach to problem solving using limited resources in an innovative way. It is often a sight to behold – a true work super power.

Whilst this diversity enriches the social fabric and offers a unique living experience, it can also present some unique challenges in the workplace. This is where Human Resources (HR) should play a pivotal role in helping to develop cultural understanding among employees. Through intended HR architecture promoting inclusivity, tolerance, and empathy, HR can create a harmonious work environment where cultural differences are celebrated and leveraged for greater collaboration and productivity.

Regional HR Leaders can design and implement cultural awareness initiatives to help employees appreciate and respect different customs, traditions, and beliefs. These initiatives can include workshops, seminars, and training sessions that explore various cultures represented in the workplace. These activities offer employees the opportunity to learn about each other’s backgrounds, fostering a sense of understanding and breaking down stereotypes.

Through different interventions HR can work closely with employees to sensitize them to cultural differences and potential misunderstandings that may arise in a multicultural setting. By raising awareness of these challenges, employees are better prepared to navigate cross-cultural interactions with sensitivity and respect.

A diverse and inclusive workplace is one where employees feel valued and appreciated for their unique contributions. HR can actively promote diversity and inclusion by ensuring equitable hiring practices, providing equal growth opportunities, and encouraging diverse voices in decision-making processes. By embracing diversity as a strategic asset, HR can set the tone for a culture of acceptance and appreciation for different perspectives.

Effective communication is the bedrock of a successful workplace. HR can organize cross-cultural communication training that equips employees with the skills to communicate across cultural boundaries. Such training can focus on understanding non-verbal cues, active listening, and adapting communication styles to accommodate cultural nuances.

HR can support the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) based on cultural backgrounds. These voluntary groups provide a platform for employees to connect with others who share similar cultural experiences. ERGs not only foster a sense of community but also offer valuable insights to HR on specific challenges faced by employees of diverse backgrounds.

Unfortunately conflict is inevitable in any workplace, but HR can play a critical role in addressing conflicts that may arise due to cultural differences. HR professionals can be trained in cultural sensitivity to ensure that they approach conflict resolution with empathy and understanding, taking into account the cultural contexts of those involved.

We can encourage the organisation of cultural events and celebrations in the workplace, allowing employees to share their cultural heritage with their colleagues. This not only enhances cultural understanding but also creates a sense of camaraderie and unity among employees.

We also should not just talk the talk – we should walk the walk. Leading by Example HR leaders should actively demonstrate cultural understanding and inclusivity in their interactions with employees. When HR professionals and the senior leadership team model the behaviour they expect from others, it sends a powerful message throughout the organisation.

Dominic Keogh-Peters is Group Chief Human Resources Officer of Galadari Brothers
Dominic Keogh-Peters is Group Chief Human Resources Officer of Galadari Brothers

Dubai’s multicultural workplace offers a rich tapestry of experiences and perspectives, making it a truly remarkable place to work and learn.

However, navigating the complexities of such diversity requires a concerted effort to develop cultural understanding and foster an inclusive environment. HR must play a pivotal role in leading this effort, with a range of initiatives that promote awareness, sensitivity, and acceptance. By emphasizing cultural understanding, HR can create a workplace that embraces diversity as a strength, leading to enhanced collaboration, employee satisfaction, and ultimately, organisational success.

In the incredible melting pot of cultures that is Dubai, the role of HR in nurturing cultural understanding cannot be overstated, and if we are not leveraging our diversity as a superpower – there definitely needs to be a cultural jugaad.

The writer is the Group Chief Human Resources Officer of Galadari Brothers . He is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a graduate of the Wharton CHRO programme. His work on organisational transformation has been showcased by the CIPD in their digital learning series and presented at the CIPD London Festival of Work. In 2023 he was listed in the top 50 most Influential HR leaders in the MENA by the Economic Times.

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