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On a global scale, we use the word “culture” to refer to the ways things are done—what is acceptable—in a certain geography—Japanese, Argentinean, Californian, Aborigine, Greek, Mexican, etc. The word “culture” refers to accepted norms, values and behaviors. Culture includes language, clothing, food, religion, and the like.  In the geographic culture of North America, we speak English (or Spanish).  We wear Western clothing (vs. saris or kimonos or loin cloths).  We eat with silverware (vs. with chop sticks or our hands).

We can break national culture down into “subsets of culture.”  Within the U.S. culture, for example, a farmer from the South reflects different subsets of culture than a Brahmin Boston lawyer or a California surfer.  There are ethnic sub-sets—African American, Hispanic and Latino, Asian, etc. There are regional subsets, e.g., Western (Northern California vs. Washington State), Eastern (Maine vs. New York), Southern (Virginia vs. Arkansas) and Mid-western (Northern Illinois vs. Iowa).  And sub-sets based on socio-economic “level,” sexual orientation, gender, generation and styles.  Your particular combination of subsets of culture makes up your “cultural profile.” 

In my last blog (Nov. 15), I suggested that you download an instrument called “Cultural Composition: How We Are Different.”  It is on my website, under the last menu item on “About Us” tab—Free Downloads. The instrument includes 12 categories of subsets of culture (with more pages there would be many more categories). In my Nov. 15 blog, I used the instrument to point out how many kinds of differences there are.  Another use of the instrument is to assess your own cultural profile and the dominant cultural profile(s) that influence(s) your organization’s culture. This enables a perspective on how “being different” can affect engagement.

The culture of an organization is most heavily influenced by the cultural profiles of those with the most power.  Print out the instrument and make copies.  Have team members  fill in the circles that best describe them.  Better, print the instrument on card stock and have people punch out the appropriate holes—and then hold up two or more cards to see where there is overlap and where there is difference.  Look particularly at the four categories of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Now ask:

  • What are the cultural profiles of those with most influence in your team or organization?
  • Do the norms in your organization reflect the norms of these dominant cultural profiles?
  • Are perspectives and norms that differ from those “at the top” valued and appreciated?
  • What is the level of engagement of those whose cultural profiles vary significantly from the profiles of those the most influence?

This assessment enables you to begin to see who feels most naturally comfortable in your organization and who may feel less included.  If you can measure the level of engagement of those whose cultural profiles are different from the organizational norms, you may see you have some work to do to create an inclusive culture where engagement runs deeper and more broadly.