21 May is the United Nations World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development and it is on this day that we celebrate the diversity of our people, the positive impact it has on our business and renew our commitment for greater cultural understanding and acceptance.
It is a beautiful day in Vienna, Austria, and a group of customer managers are on a visit from India. As this is their first visit to Mondi’s corporate offices we want to demonstrate Austrian hospitality while getting to know them better over a relaxed meal. Should we invite them to a Heuriger, one of the famous wine taverns in the scenic hills above Vienna where you can sample local wine and enjoy Wiener Schnitzel, roast pork or cold cuts? But is this really the best way to entertain our guests when most of them do not drink alcohol … or eat pork … or are vegetarian?
Dietary requirements are a classic example of a cultural difference that we need to be aware of. Yet cultural diversity is more than food and drink – we see it is an essential resource for our business model and its effective inclusion can profoundly impact the success of our business.
Although Mondi was founded in South Africa, we now have a significant presence around the globe. With corporate offices in Johannesburg, London and Vienna, and operations in 33 countries it is no surprise that our employees represent many different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Naturally we regard this diversity as an asset; it makes us more creative and innovative and ultimately more successful in today’s global market place.
With 26,000 employees, the breadth of our employee footprint means an international perspective is essential and so we encourage talented leaders within Mondi to broaden their knowledge by taking on positions and projects in countries other than their own. To support them we provide mentoring and training opportunities such as the ‘Intercultural Diversity and International Business Competence’ training course provided by Mondi Academy, our global training facility.
Born and raised in the multi-racial and multi-faith society of Malaysia, Diong Kee-Onn, Managing Director of Mondi Kuala Lumpur is no stranger to diversity. He leads a team of 70 people from seven nationalities, speaking ten languages. The cultural diversity within the Mondi Kuala Lumpur team brings a blend of ideas from different perspectives, which makes collaboration lively and rich with learning.
Diong says “It is no secret that unity in diversity brings about a melting pot of ideas and creativity, but this does not happen naturally. It requires an intentional and concerted effort. It is not merely about accepting diversity but embracing the variety of culture, differences, and the delicate interwoven balance required to bring out the best in everyone.”
Our Omani colleague Saad Al-Saadi has been the Human Resources Manager in Mondi Oman for 11 years. Saad works in a team of 55 colleagues from seven nationalities, speaking four languages. Dealing day-to-day with such a diverse team means being exposed regularly to situations and challenges that require people skills that help teams consider different perspectives and opinions. A team is only effective if everyone feels included. To achieve this, Saad focuses on being consistently available to all employees, and engages in learning about the different cultures in the plant. Whether it is about accommodation requirements for employees, language considerations, food choices, or religious needs, Saad and the management team experience cultural diversity every day.
Saad says, “Cultural diversity enriches our work environment and makes us stronger as a team. In my scope of human resources, I work hard together with our management team to make sure all voices are heard. This is the only way we can together achieve our common goals, while enjoying the benefits of cultural diversity we have in the plant.”
Even if you still work in your own hometown, it’s increasingly rare to deal solely with people from the same cultural background. Whether employed in our plants, mills or corporate offices, all of us at Mondi regularly come into contact with people whose cultural perspectives are different from our own.
Take Mondi Korneuburg, a producer of consumer goods packaging and one of the most diverse plants in the Group. Eveline Wagner, Managing Director at Korneuburg, explains, “Out of all of these different backgrounds, we have created a solid team based on respect and trust. Such diversity makes this a vibrant place to work, and each individual contributes valuable skills and perspectives.”
To overcome potential language barriers presented by greater cultural diversity, employees are paired up with a ‘language buddy’ to support them during the on-boarding phase and English classes are offered in some locations for employees who speak English as a second language. We also provide non-verbal safety videos, which demonstrate safe behaviour in a visual and easy to understand form.
Understanding the positive impact cultural diversity has on global organisations is of increasing significance to business leaders. Erin Meyer, professor at the INSEAD business school and intercultural expert and author of The Culture Map, says it is more important than ever for them to acknowledge and understand cultural differences:
“…[A]s globalization transforms the way we work, we now need the ability to decode cultural differences in order to work effectively with clients, suppliers, and colleagues from around the world.” 1
Sensitivity to cultural differences is already second nature for many of us, as shown by our colleagues:
Daniela Dorner is passionate about cultural understanding and takes time to research other cultures she deals with. An Austrian by birth, Daniela along with her team is responsible for Mondi’s Uncoated Fine Paper sales in Austria, Slovakia and south east Europe. She finds it enriching and a pleasure to work in an international team which also has high exposure to a diverse range of customers.
Daniela says, “We need to keep in mind that the way we see the world is not the same way our neighbours see the world. One key success factor I’ve identified for myself is to take a greater interest in each other and to take a ‘deep dive’ into cultures I engage with, including their history and any kind of particularities. My curiosity helps me to better understand my counterparts and build sustainable relationships.”
Evi Sourla comes from Greece and has worked in Vienna for 5 years. She manages communications and marketing for Mondi Industrial Bags, one of our most international business segments. In her daily work, she is very aware of the different ways that different cultures communicate.
Evi’s advice: “In order not to misinterpret a behaviour, an email reply or a greeting, you always have to keep an open mind. Before judging, observe a culture and learn more about its communication patterns. What is perceived as rude in one country is polite in another.”
At Mondi we celebrate our cultural diversity. It makes us stronger and more innovative through new ideas and the consideration of alternative perspectives. Discovering these benefits doesn’t just happen, it takes time and is hallmarked by a culture that is tolerant and open. As we look forward to progressing our work we are mindful of enriching and protecting this culture – after all we have we have a lot to learn from one another and even more to celebrate!
1) Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (USA, PublicAffairs™, 2014)
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