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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

3 Tips for Navigating Cultural Differences in Corporate America

Updated: May 11, 2022

Diversity of thought — you hear it all the time in corporate America. But are our “leaders” living this value and fostering it within organizations? Are YOU walking in this value?

If you’re like my guest and Executive Director of Strategy + M&A, Clean Mobility at Faurecia, Leslie Bednarz, you may have encountered hurdles living this value. Both personally and on the part of your colleagues.

That’s because diversity of thought among truly diverse groups doesn’t come easy. It takes work. Bednarz shares how she overcame this challenge below, so you can walk away today with actionable tips for shifting your career narrative.

What Is Cultural Background?

Cultural background is more than ethnicity. It’s the religious and moral frameworks you grew up with that guide your decisions today. It’s the socioeconomic limitations or privileges that shaped your access to opportunities: everything from the quality of your childhood neighborhood to the college you went to — and if you could even afford college at all. It’s the tint on the lens through which you see the world.

And oftentimes, you and your colleagues aren’t seeing situations (and each other) the same way because of it.

How Cultural Background Shows Up in Your Career

A first-generation American, Bednarz walked into the boardroom ready to respect authority and never to challenge it, even if she didn’t agree. Because this was the hierarchical social structure she navigated in her childhood home with her Filipino parents, she says.

The problem?

If you don’t speak up in boardroom meetings, you don’t get noticed for major initiatives or opportunities — the vehicles to promotion and getting your seat at the table.

3 Tips for Fostering Diversity of Thought

So how did Bednarz start leveraging her power — her voice — even though it made her uncomfortable?

1. Peel Back to Adjust Your Lens

The Peel Back. Bednarz used it to identify and then challenge the social conditioning that was holding her back in her career. Just as I had to years ago when my mother’s advice to “work hard and keep your head down” no longer served me.

As the name suggests, the process entails “peeling back” the top layers of yourself — how you operate — to understand why you behave that way. For Bednarz, it meant asking herself why speaking up in meetings made her uncomfortable.

What she uncovered?

Hierarchy. Respect your elders. Obey authority. The values that worked for navigating the dinner table didn’t serve her in the boardroom. So she started pushing herself to use her voice, share her thoughts, challenge consensus, and be bold when appropriate.

2. Be Prepared for Subtle Pushback

Just because you do the work doesn’t mean your colleagues have. Be prepared for subtle pushback when you’re showing up at the table. For example, Bednarz and I have both experienced dismissive behavior from male coworkers and senior leadership, for example, facial expressions suggesting they are just tolerating the few women speaking in the room.

When this happens, remember you only have control over your actions and responses, so model good behavior. Be the strong, positive female leader of change. Honor your unique strengths. Show up authentically in them. Because emulating the command and control tactics men get away with can — and often does — backfire on women with comments like “dragon lady” or worse.

3. Be Open & Accepting of Cultural Differences

As your opportunities to lead grow, foster diversity of thought by staying aware and open minded enough to really listen and believe in the strengths of each of your team members, urges Bednarz.

Remember, everyone has traveled different paths to the same table. Honor them all. If you’re struggling with this, don’t be afraid to challenge your beliefs and educate yourself on their cultures.

Adjust Your Lens

Are you uncomfortable exercising the power of your voice in your career? Book your 1-1, so we can Peel Back together. Like Bednarz and me, adjusting your lens may be just what you need to see the picture more clearly.

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