26 Mar 2018

Conflicts in cross culture: Blue or Pink?

Conflicts in Cross Culture

Here’s another conflict in cross culture. Heard of gender stereotyping? The blue-for-boys and pink-for-girls kind? It’s not just us. It’s cultures all over the world. Not exactly that way but yes, well-defined gender roles are yet another dimension of culture. And conflicts in cross culture can arise from here.

Masculinity vs Femininity – A Cultural Dimension

In his 6 dimensions of culture theory, Geert Hofstede also talks of Masculinity vs Femininity. This is not gender distinction as you would see it but rather the way society sees gender roles as stereotypical. This means that there are accepted, acceptable and fixed norms of what the society expects the male and the female to do. Largely it means that the man is the breadwinner and the woman is expected to stay at home to bear and bring up children. But of course it goes deeper than that. The result? A stereotypical way in which men and women behave.

Traditional Roles. In Blue and Pink

Cultures like The Netherlands and Sweden are low on Masculinity. Wait a minute. Don’t mistake Masculinity for being Macho or Muscular. It’s not that. This means that males and females do not have typified gender roles or biases. It is quite common for the man to stay at home and look after the children should the need arise. In a workshop that I did in the Netherlands, the Dutch men were surprised (no, shocked) to know that their Indian counterparts in the team did not know how to cook. Not only did the Indian men not know how to cook, most of them said they were too embarrassed to even try and learn cooking.

But maybe cooking as an example itself could be also stereotypical. Most Masculine cultures are more aggressive and tend to be dominating. Compare these scores on Masculinity. Germany stands at 66 and India at 56.  The Netherlands and Sweden are just 14 and 5 respectively! After one of my cross-culture workshops, over lunch one of the CIO’s of a Swedish company was telling him how much he hated going home and having to do the washing! One cannot ever imagine an Indian senior executive (forget CIO) ever saying something like this – or even having to do it!

The Conflict

Where exactly does the conflict arise in the workplace? Feminine cultures mostly work in a more inclusive fashion. Decisions are taken by consensus. The boss remains a boss largely for ease of administration and most of the team members become part of the group taking decisions. Decisions in a largely masculine culture are taken by the boss. If this is also a culture with a high Power Distance (as in high on hierarchy like India) the decisions are even more “what the Boss wants”. This is where the source of conflict lies.

The Middle Ground

Of course, there is always a way of working across cultures, isn’t it? It’s like building a bridge. You can meet the other culture halfway. And get greater business efficiency and a winning team at that. A workshop can help. If you do wish to do that, do mention it in a comment below or write to me directly at vaishakhi@abacusyellow.com and we can start a conversation.

Meanwhile, do check out these other posts

On Hierarchy

On Individualism

Do read, share or simply comment on what challenges you have faced in this cross cultural world.