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Lady bosses weigh in on workplace cultural differences

Among the more important issues the CEO should address in the company would be the monitoring of any cultural misimpressions the management and staff may harbor toward their own counterparts, since this can lead to communication problems and negative feelings that may affect company morale as a whole.

More than anything else, these sensitive matters should be dealt with utmost tact and care so as promote better camaraderie in the workplace instead of ignoring discrimination with regard to such issues as nationality, gender, religious or sexual orientation, educational background, and age.

This was the consensus of no less than eight top-ranked female executives, as each one of them discussed their personal and corporate life en route to their C-suite positions during the Asia CEO Forum held recently at Harold’s Hotel Cebu.

Cultural understanding

According to Karen Batungbacal, executive general manager of QBE Group Shared Services, there is nothing like education to erase any preconceived biases and prejudices on the part of the individual in order to better understand the cultural background and quirks of the person.

“Better yet, we should also conduct trainings to introduce the Filipino culture to them to ease their transition with the local populace,” she added, referring to foreign coworkers.

“They should also try to understand certain traits and qualities of the Filipino psyche to promote better cross-cultural ties.”

This two-way process would also promote better understanding and clarity on both parties so as to minimize and be less distracted from culture shock on the job, and instead, work for the common good and welfare of the company.

Carmie de Leon, vice president of sales and marketing at Healthway Medical, batted for objectivity in addressing the issue. She also urged the executives to explain in a pleasant and tactful manner in order to get the message across more effectively to the parties concerned.

Almira Absin, chief operations officer of Azpired, an upstart Business Process Outsourcing company based in the Visayas, spoke of face-to-face discussions to air out the issues and eventually being heard and understood in the process.

Anny Hefti, a foremost advocate of Filipinas in Switzerland, focused on knowing stereotypes, knowledge of own and other party’s culture, expectations, and fruitful communication in order to deal with the situation with a minimum of error. Both parties should also reveal their own culture to each other and listen intently for feedback.

Sheila Lobien, regional director of JLL, a top real estate company, was quite at home with the issue since she has dealt with multiple nationalities nearly throughout her career. She recommends an open mind when dealing with people, the guidance of mentors, and knowledge sharing for a more fruitful two-way approach.

Sam Melchor Santos, an educator and a UN awardee, dwelt on respect from birth, self-worth, and empowerment.

Cora Ballard, chair and president of Rider Levett Bucknail Phil, an independent construction firm, has worked in many countries and with many nationalities. At one time, she was the only Filipina architect among 11 top Japanese counterparts.

“I had to tell them in a very tactful and nice manner that I wanted to be treated as an equal. I had to carefully consider the external circumstances before I talked to them. It took a while, but I eventually earned their nod. People have to respect cultures worldwide and I’m glad they took my side,” she told the audience.

Grace Decena, Asia-Pacific AVP for human resources of Wipro, recommends taking note of the internal culture in certain company departments, and the entire company culture as well, since there is always something unique in the sub-cultures.

“One should listen, communicate, and provide feedback in the process. This will teach you to be more accepting and tolerant of people and discover on which approaches or methodologies work and which do not,” Decena said.

The event was headed by Richard Ellis and his wife Rebecca Bustamante. The couple have also organized several like events, mostly in Marriott Manila.