Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Are Culture and Power synonymous terms? How do they complement each other?
Historically, many countries have used their culture as a means of power to attract, influence, and in some cases even dominate other nations. Many have invested time, money, and resources into forming cultural establishments abroad to increase the strength of their presence and leave a prominent footprint that stays identifiable for ages to come. In any given international event, you may notice an elevated sense of pride and patriotism displayed to show what a country truly stands for. This exemplifies the definition of culture and the idea of power itself. All of these efforts over time have influenced how different people view each other, and how they individually value their own power.
The essence of culture goes hand-in-hand with the definition of power – it always will. So when this definition of culture is translated to a corporate perspective, what happens? What occurs when said culture determines the sort of power imposed on it’s employees? An organization’s culture is generally established by the leaders, based on their shared beliefs and values. Any good leadership should have a healthy balance of different perspectives, but how culturally diverse does a leadership have to be for everyone in the company to feel accepted and represented? Almost all companies take it upon themselves to emphasize on diversity and inclusion, but what is their approach? How diverse do we need at be at various leadership levels so that we can make sure the best standard of culture the organization represents is based on the values and beliefs of all backgrounds?
I personally struggle on a daily basis to balance my personal power (derived through my culture) with the power of my organization’s culture. Diversity does not only refer to the ethnic background of people who work together. It also represents all the different personalities and mindsets or visions that come together to accomplish and deliver any given task. The various personalities of people that come to work could be all over the spectrum but if that diversity is not represented in the culture of the organization itself, then the concept of “bring your whole self to work” is never achieved.
For example, a mother with small children who need her in the evenings may find it harder to receive recognition and move up the ladder than a male employee who could stay longer hours since he doesn’t have the same social expectations. This idea that longer hours means you are working harder is quite an anachronistic concept in today’s corporate society. We have technology on our side and the means to shift such an outdated notion of what hard work looks like but we put emphasis on everything but the main thing; the work. Despite all the hardships people have outside of work, when they do what it takes to go above and beyond their job description, that should be recognized. This is where awareness of diversity comes into play.
If we viewed each and every single person completely, accounting for their circumstances alongside their accomplishments then, we could understand and appreciate people for more than meeting deadlines. Take introverts for example; when given the right environment and the right chances to openly discuss their thoughts and ideas they thrive so well. But do organizations take that into consideration when thinking about productivity? How would an organization’s culture cultivate these people to speak up for themselves or their thoughts? How is the work culture accommodating for various forms of cultural power people bring in? This kind of culture can only become a reality if mindset on diversity resides as an interest in every employee at every tier of a company, not just at top-level leadership. I challenge you to take a big step back, and look at the big picture at your own organization. Observe if they practice what they preach. See if there is a way that you can help create a more accepting environment. See what you can do to cultivate a sense of openness that welcomes people from all walks of life. Be the change your company needs, be the one people come to. Come together.
You already have that kind of power in you. Seize it.