Category Archives: Global Mobility

by Angie Weinberger

Multinational companies in Switzerland promote an “inclusive” culture. All people regardless of their religious or cultural background should have the same opportunities within the company. While I often hear that Switzerland is so intercultural as it has four different language regions and lies in the middle of Europe I experience a different reality. In public discussions we speak about differences but we hardly touch pragmatic solutions for helping each other to get along. Here are 13 easy to implement ideas to make your Muslim employees feel more included in your workforce.

At the bottom of inclusiveness is intercultural competence or as I call it “Global Leadership Competency”. Last year, one of my Muslim clients was attacked in the tram (local train) because she was wearing a headscarf. She and her husband had just moved into Basel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She then decided not to wear a headscarf and to speak German in public. She is fluent as she grew up in Germany. One of my colleagues told me about an African-American who is scared to leave his house because he is constantly asked for his papers and stared at. He wears a beard and his religious background is not Muslim but he feels treated like a terrorist here.

Another one of my US clients who is of Malaysian decent asked me why he is constantly asked for his residence permit these days. And I heard many other stories from friends who just happen to have a Pakistani, Indian or Tunisian background. Most of them are well-educated professionals who could work anywhere in the world.

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We help our clients to gain their confidence back. We point out that Switzerland is an open country with a long history of religious freedom. That includes the freedom to not believe in anything at all. We raise the intercultural competence of the employees in the companies we work with but we cannot reach every single person in the country. I am embarrassed when I hear such stories.

We wish for our clients to be received with open arms in everyday life and in the companies they work for irrespective of their cultural and religious background.

Since 2000, I observed that many global companies develop intercultural competence of their staff and managers mainly through training and legislative minimum standards. While this is better than nothing it is not enough. In Switzerland, the current trend in diversity training is to uncover our “unconscious bias”, i.e how our unconscious stereotypes affect our hiring and promotion decisions. We tend to like people who look like us, think like us, behave like us come from backgrounds similar to ours. This is also called the Mini-Me syndrome.

I don’t see many discussions in corporations around intercultural, interracial and inter-religious differences and commonalities. The main reason is that outside of intercultural training these differences tend to be seen as personal differences more often than cultural differences. Once there is a conflict it is often attributed to the individual rather than cultural background. Or the other way round: Negative judgements are attributed to the cultural background rather than the individual behavior. Hardly anyone I know has enough knowledge to even distinguish between a stereotype and a cultural tendency.

We should encourage intercultural discussions more often. Awareness creates acceptance in a multicultural environment. In Tourism, we tackle customers differently according to their cultural background. In companies we can provide a discrimination-free environment and welcome everyone with open arms by considering a few minor but effective adjustments.

1) Religion is a private matter of every employee which should not have to do anything with her or his work performance. If we focus our assessments on performance rather than person we are on a good track.

2) Muslims might need short breaks to pray. If we use a trust-based time management system rather than strict time control we can ensure that the religious minorities get the prayer time during the day.

3) In hospitals physician must learn rules which have to be observed by Muslims especially when a man treats a women. In case of doubt ask the patient.

4) In tourism we need to learn what is important to client from the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia for example as with the ban of burqas we might not be able to serve those clients in Switzerland any longer.

5) In the police we need to ensure that we are moving away from stereotyping and get a clear understanding of why many young man feel overburdened with the life in another culture while their families at home depend on their financial support.

6) As therapists and other health care professionals we need to learn how trauma of war and being alone when you come from a collectivist cultural background might affect your psyche. We also need to understand that counseling might not be a concept in many of the home cultures of Muslim employees (assuming they did not grow up in Europe or the US).

7) We need to differentiate the social classes of the person we speak to. If you have an Islamic banker or a writer who had fled from Afghanistan, then you are likely to have no misunderstandings because you can communicate with both in German or English. But if you talk to a less educated colleague who has just arrived in Switzerland and does not yet speak the language well, then of course you will need to simplify your language and use techniques to check in if he or she understands you. Avoid to speak in child language and use proper German or English when speaking.

8) We need to train our staff members at authorities, medical assistants, personal assistants and company receptionists to deal with cultural differences better.

9) We can get the basics for inclusion right. It is also important for Jews, Hindus, Jains and many other religious minorities to know what they eat and drink. You can install signs in the canteen and explain what is in the food. You can offer one halal meat dish. At cocktail parties you can show which drinks contain alcohol and explain that everyone is welcome even if they don’t like wine.

10) We can approve extended holidays over Muslim festivals to fly or drive home. Adapt your company’s HR policy to provide more flexibility for different religious holidays.

11) We can congratulate Muslims on their holidays. In the fasting month of Ramadan allow shorter working hours.

12) We can provide prayer and meditation rooms to our staff. It helps all staff members to have quite zones where they can contemplate, pray or simply meditate in these hectic times.

13) We can provide more vocational training and internship opportunities to refugees and asylum seekers. Many refugees do not have formal qualifications and will fall through the roster of our recruitment processes but we could see how they work if we provide more internships and vocational training to them.

I hope that these 13 pragmatic ideas will help you to build an environment in which your Muslim employees feel more included. If you would like more customized advice please contact me at angela@globalpeopletransitions.com.

 

 

When I started my career in HR I used to like business trips. In those days they were rare and we got to stay in luxury hotels back in the early 2000. Nowadays with cost-cutting, tight security and being over 40 years old, business trips have become less sexy. If you are like me you probably prefer to sleep in your own bed, wake up next to the person you love and eat home-cooked food over anything you get in a restaurant. Maybe you even hate packing.

For all of you I have developed this list of seven hacks to make your business trips more enjoyable:

1) Plan more time than necessary and allow yourself to work from home on the travel day

Instead of rushing to the airport or from the airport back to the office after a day full of meetings tell your staff you will be working from home for the time you are not on your trip. Tell them how they can reach you.

2) Pack the night before the trip with a checklist and use extra shampoo, toothbrush, combs

Pack the night before the trip with a checklist. You should remember that you normally take the same clothes on business trips as well as the same chargers, notebooks, kindle. List everything and have a few business trip outfits that look great even after they have been in a suitcase.

Instead of throwing in your toothbrush last minute or forgetting half of your make-up buy all beauty products twice. Have one travel hygiene kit with airline sized toiletries that can sit in your suitcase and even get lost.

3) Take one extra set of clothes and shoes in case you have to stay longer than expected.

We never know what happens on a business trip and we don’t want to look ridiculous because we are wearing the same clothes every day. Consider to bring at least one set of clothes more than you need in case you have to extend your stay or you are stranded at the airport. Change shoes daily.

4) If you drive with your car drive slowly and deliberately.

Being German I am always amazed at how tough it can be to drive long-distance. There are trains yes, but not every client is accessible by train. I am trying to make car travel easier by taking breaks and driving more deliberately. I try to stay away from my phone and let me thoughts meander listening to music. It’s a great way to download excessive information in my brain. Once I arrive at the destination I allow myself a nice dinner.

5) Take an old-school backup of hotel directions, reservations and airline tickets

In case you love your smartphone like I do and you don’t always have access to a power charger you might want to bring paper versions or other old-school backups of your hotel directions, reservations and tickets.

6) If you travel with different currencies regularly use two wallets / purses

When I go to the EURO-zone I bring a second purse with me as I don’t want to mix up currencies and coins all the time.

7) Once you arrive at your destination unpack immediately

Make yourself feel at home in the hotel right away. Unpack, take a shower and go to dinner. Forget your work for the rest of the day and start with a fresh mind the next morning. If you are like me and like to read in bed, bring the book along. If you love to go to the gym early in the morning find a hotel that offers a gym. Try to maintain your home routine to help your body adjust to the stress. If you do a lot of air travel and have to cope with jet lag I advise you learn a relaxation method.

These are a few tips to make business trips less stressful. When they really annoy me I try to look at the benefits such as having an evening to myself or having someone making breakfast. We all love to be at home but coming home after a few days away can also be romantic.

 

Wishing you happy holidays and all the best for 2016…

Happy Holidays 2015 (PNG)

 

We will be back in the office on 4 January 2016. If you feel an urgent need to talk please call +41797944896 or email angela@globalpeopletransitions.com.

Our special gift to you: Download LOVEQUOTES2010_print from Twitter. Feel free to share them. One of my favorite quotes is this one:

“All world religions have the same basic truth: #God is #Love. Why do we believe those who want to separate us from love? Hate has no value.”

@angieweinberger, Love Quotes Twitter 2010

Yours

Angie Weinberger & GPT-Team

 

Switzerland, Austria and Germany have changed since the 19th century started.  Not only through the Second World War. Globalization changed our way of working. When my generation went to university we wanted to be “international” but I feel that nowadays this isn’t cool anymore.

Regional identity is trendy. You can see this in political movements from Scotland to Barcelona. You see it in the written expression of dialect versus formal “high“ languages in Spain, the UK, Switzerland and Germany.

I am amused that youth enjoys “Volksmusik” (traditional music) more than rock’n’roll and that the “dirndl” had a revival over the last five years. Even I got one and while it’s ok to be conservative our inner “Heidi” needs to grow up.

Chalet in Austria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality is diverse and full of color!

Global companies deal with diversity of their clients and staff. Many diversity and inclusion initiatives are run under affirmative action legislation. In the European Union we discuss quotas for women in leadership roles. We want to avoid gender and cultural bias. We talk about age diversity and feel it’s a solution to the war for talents and lack of skilled labor if we ask our senior worker to stay a few years as consultants after their retirement.

When will we discuss diversity of cultural backgrounds and mention religious diversity in a positive sense? 

In Europe we fought for religious freedom since the enlightenment. So why should we think that religious freedom can only be given to us?

We all believe in Equality, Freedom and Brotherhood. Freedom means that you can chose your religion freely and that you can chose not to believe in anything as well.

We have to develop our collective intercultural sensitivity. We have to drop our assumption that our way to live, work and act is the only correct way in the world.

Intercultural researcher Milton Bennett calls this assumption “ethnocentric”. It comes in a development stage of denial, polarization or minimization. If you take a look at the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity by Milton Bennet you will probably notice that our current public discussion and our media are driven by the denial and polarization stage of intercultural sensitivity. The worldview of “Them” versus “Us” is enforced daily. To me this is propaganda and not very advanced.

Have we not learnt from the past I sometimes ask myself? Do we not understand that the refugees in Europe flee the same terror that we despise? How can we dare to even talk of refugees and terror in the same context?

Watch the media closely. They should know better and be more differentiated. Why would you speak of the percentage of Muslims living in a country as an indicator for the risk of terrorism? That would be like saying: “In Italy we have a high percentage of Catholics. That’s why we believe there is a higher risk for rape of our youth.”

You deduct a behavior from a very small percentage of criminals to the majority with only one common denominator called religion. Have we not learnt statistics? Have we not learnt to be differentiated in our world views?

I think we have to be very careful in our judgements. I condemn terrorism and rape too but I do not relate it to religious or cultural background. 

You might be afraid of what you don’t know and don’t understand. Your parents might have taught you not to talk to strangers and to lock the door. So yes, the first time you see someone who looks different you might be surprised, maybe even a little shocked. Once you get to know the person though did you not notice that they deserve your respect and trust?

With refugees at your doorstep it would be so easy to overcome your fear. Take a first step. Speak to a refugee. Or just speak to a person you don’t know who looks different. Smile at a “foreigner”. Be kind to a person who looks sad.

Open your mind to the endless possibilities of human interaction. Open your heart. Open your home.

We are more sensitive to security issues after terrorist attacks such as the Paris attacks of 13 NOV 2015 or after a natural disaster. You can take limited precautions as emergencies come without being planned or expected. That’s why they are called emergencies.

You can take certain actions and these will be helpful in an emergency situation be it a health issue, the death of one of your close relatives, a natural disaster or a terror attack.

Here are my tips on security measures for international business travellers and expats.

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  • Only travel when it is a necessity. Check if meetings can be held via videoconferencing technology instead.
  • Update your personal information on Social Media.
  • Log in and register on the website of the security provider your company works with. If you don’t know the security provider ask your travel manager, HR manager and Global Mobility Team. If none of them knows, ask Risk Management or Corporate Security. This information should be published on your company intranet site. Many companies work with International SOS ISOS and my experience with their support for expats is excellent.
  • Have a business card size overview of emergency numbers in your wallet AND your phone. Carry this card with you at all times. Have your passport, ID, work and residence permit on you.
  • Carry a card with your blood type and allergies or other medical conditions in your wallet.
  • Stay connected to your spouse / life partner and agree regular times for calls when you are traveling.
  • Read the emergency travel alerts provided by your Embassy.
  • Stay connected to other families in the host location. Contact International SOS (“ISOS“) or your security provider immediately when you feel you need to leave the country for health or safety reasons.
  • Have an emergency medical kit with you when you go on a business trip. Most company doctors provide such a kit when you go there to get necessary vaccinations and travel advice. Watch out for health issues after your journey.
  • If you have been in a traumatic situation seek psychological support for yourself and your family members. Your company will provide a contact.
  • As a single female business traveler prioritize safety and request safety rooms in hotels. Travel with recognized taxis and keep away from bars. In male-dominated cultures hire a driver or ask your host to ensure your personal safety.
  • Learn emergency phone numbers in the host country by heart.
  • If you manage a global team establish a call tree in your team and devise a back-up structure for emergencies. Have an emergency data system for a day where you all have to work from home.

We all don’t want to think about emergencies but when we are in such a situation it is important that we can fall back on a program we have learnt. It is important that we know already who to call and where to find the number. If this is helpful for you please share.

Angie Weinberger

PS: I also recommend you read chapter 11 of “The GM Workbook”. If you email me I will send you the chapter.