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Not Your Father's Workplace

Stereotypes, Be Gone

Savvy total rewards professionals must continuously develop their cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CQ). It is an invaluable bottomline boost to be nimble and work with people from various backgrounds and parts of the world, says a pioneer advocate for the business benefits of diversity. “Being culturally intelligent is about being smart about different cultural groups,” said Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA). “The workplace is becoming a lot less homogeneous. There is no longer one way of looking at working. Every business needs to be a culturally inclusive organization.”

Building CQ rests on three actions — valuing, respecting and hearing — the employees, clients and other people a business interacts with, Fernandez said.

“If you deal with people in a way where you show what’s important to them matters to you, they become much more engaged,” he said.

Compensation/benefits and facilitators of worklife effectiveness are among the areas that test TR practitioners’ CQ.

“It’s no longer your father’s workplace where if you were scheduled to work from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., you made sure you got in at 7:30 a.m., before the boss, and stayed until 5:30 p.m., after he left,” Fernandez said. “Younger workers saw that kind of commitment didn’t work for their parents and they are much more concerned about total quality of life (which includes time away from work). It’s not just about the paycheck. They want to work for a company a person can believe in, a company that addresses things that matter to them.” 

Those workers are seeking companies that offer such options as flex scheduling, four-day workweeks and working from home to facilitate work-life effectiveness.

Fernandez points to one MFHA client that is operating at 20% under capacity because it is sticking to unattractive work shifts that are driving away current and prospective employees. Part of being culturally intelligent is understanding history, said Fernandez, whose first exposure to diversity efforts was growing up in 1970s Boston, where desegregation busing — the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools to redress prior racial segregation of schools — sparked controversy and violence.

Until about 30 years ago, the country’s business structure was based on a male, Euro-centric point of view. “There was nothing else in the mix,” Fernandez said. “Other people” who were hired were expected to fit into that mold and not bring their diverse backgrounds, experiences and beliefs into the workplace.

Back then, businesspeople were more apt to look at diversity as the right thing to do, Fernandez recalled. Now, there is a growing understanding that it’s the smart business thing to do.

“I remember the Workforce 2000 report that came out in the 1990s,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t believe or understand the impact of its projected black and Latino population growth. All that has happened, and those trends are accelerating.” 

Amid that 1990s business climate, Fernandez founded MFHA 22 years ago. The Providence, R.I.-based alliance, whose trademark is “building culturally intelligent brands and leaders,” partners with a broad array of organizations to promote diversity and its economic benefits in the restaurant, foodservice, and lodging industries. Recognized as those industries’ diversity thought leader, MFHA conducts research, consults with companies on how to gain diverse employees and customers and helps to enhance the image of the industry. The organization also works with business leaders, suppliers, community organizations and educators throughout the United States.

Part of being culturally intelligent is understanding history... and recognizing and addressing unconscious biases.

Another part of being culturally intelligent is recognizing and addressing unconscious biases, Fernandez said. “We all bring biases, backgrounds with us,” he said. “When you understand you have unconscious biases — with me, it’s neck tattoos — you force yourself to address them. You understand just as I don’t want someone to judge me by my skin color, they don’t want me to judge them by their neck tattoos.

“When people know you are working on those biases to understand who they are, they become more engaged. I know I appreciate it when people know me well enough to know I am black but not African-American, that my heritage is from the Cape Verde (West Africa), which is not the same as being black from Jamaica or Savannah, Georgia, where my wife is from.”

Building that kind of understanding has bottomline benefits, Fernandez asserted. “When you are looking for someone last minute to fill a shift, a person is more apt to do it if they know their boss appreciates who they are, that what’s important to them matters. 

“Better engagement produces better business results.” HR practitioners often face another CQ challenge — convincing reticent senior leaders of the benefits of diversity and inclusion, Fernandez pointed out. He recommends sticking to a very simple business case.

“It is getting more difficult to find good people,” he said. “If you don’t have a diversity strategy, and your leaders do not have cultural intelligence, you are much more likely to do something that is culturally stupid and find yourself in the news and social media. You have to be inclusive or your customers and employees will reject you and you won’t be in business.”


Instead, through cultural intelligence, businesses can “do well by doing good,” he said. “Get the best people who have the best ideas. Show humanness, do the right thing and make money.”

Jim Fickess Jim Fickess  writes and edits for WorldatWork.

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