The growing proportion of people of mixed cultural identities in the global workforce provide companies operating globally with an unacknowledged opportunity to better bridge across cultural contexts and integrate and meld knowledge from around the world. Increasing numbers of organizational members find themselves in complex cultural settings. The typical organizational challenges resulting from this revolve around coordination and collaboration across multiple cultural contexts both internationally and increasingly within one’s own work unit. Whereas we have known for some time that a critical issue faced by Multinational Corporations (MNCs) involves developing abilities to function in, and benefit from, multiple cultural environments and to coordinate culturally diverse subunits, we have not realized that there is a growing new workforce demographic with latent skills in this area.
In a globalizing world, more managers and professionals are required to interact with individuals from other cultures, make and maintain cross-cultural connections, work in culturally mixed environments, and perform tasks with counterpart in different countries that require an understanding and sensitivity to different cultural perspectives. In addition, MNC success is based more and more on the transfer of information, knowledge, and practices, of ‘soft’ or ‘people-dependent’ technologies and of whole systems of organization across cultural boundaries. As a result, global business success depends increasingly not only on understanding different cultures but on being able to bridge between cultures and integrate within complex cultural organizations. For example, Professor Brannen’s research has found that even the transfer of seemingly non-culturally dependent knowledge or practices require deep knowledge of cultural meanings in the recipient organizations. Managers engaged in such transfers need to comprehensively understand interpretations of both the sending and receiving cultures in order to facilitate processes of sense making across cultures. As collaboration, communication and trust building gain importance and as flows of knowledge and processes become increasingly more critical success factors for MNCs, the role of individuals in mediating between and within cultures becomes a vital part for MNC performance.
Biculturals and multicultural individuals, people who have been deeply socialized and operate fluidly within and between distinct cultural meaning systems, inherently carry with them these critical cross-cultural adaptability skills needed by managers in MNCs. Such people of mixed ethnicities carry with them not only racial variation but also mixed cultural identities. Whereas the racial demographics are relatively simple to track, account for and describe, the accompanying mixed cultural identities are less obvious, relatively undocumented and not understood. In the same way as we know that people who have learned multiple languages in their childhood find it easier to keep learning new languages late in life, biculturals bring not only the obvious knowledge of their own cultures but also the latent abilities to understand and bridge between other cultures. In this forthcoming David Lam lecture, based on her ongoing research on the topic, Professor Brannen will address how the growing proportions of biculturals and multicultural individuals represent a new workplace demographic that brings an insufficiently recognized yet invaluable opportunity to companies operating globally.