The 3Ds: Diversity, Development and Dialogue, It’s a chalk, no It’s a Mic,

On April 4, seventy participants filled in Ibex conference room at the Hilton to have a conversation about the 3Ds: Diversity, Development and Dialogue. The session which started at 6:30 begun with an exercise on which three volunteers were asked to be blind folded prior to touching a specific part of an object they have not seen. The first participant after touching the object bottom part said it was a chalk, the second participant after touching the top part said it was a mic and the final volunteer after touching the middle part said a plastic ID card.

So what was the object all three touch? A microphone! How our limited experience or specific context we are exposed to   influence everything was an eye opener? Now that the audience was captured and eager to further explore the topic, the session facilitated by AWIB President Sewit Haileselasse started with inviting the three speakers to the front. Namely, Dr. Nefertiti Makeda: Founding Head of School Andinet International School, Gayathri Butler: Country Director of Girl Effect Ethiopia and Nebat Abbas: consultant and trainer in the fields of Human Resources at Phoenix Business Consulting Plc. For detail profile of speakers

Our very survival has never required greater co-operation and understanding among all people from all places than at this very moment in history—when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do—that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

-Barack Obama

Intercultural competence was the topic Dr. Nefertiti wanted to speak about. Quoting President Barack Obama, she stressed the fact that, in no other time than now how necessity it is for individuals to be willing to have a deeper level of dialogue to understand and appreciate diverse cultures. Unless we are conscious of our own biases and stop ourselves from rushing to judge others, not striving but surviving in a globalized world where things happening million miles away affecting us personally will become an impossible task.

The following Intercultural definition was given by Deardorff, D. K. in 2006: Intercultural competence is the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behavior and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions. But before talking about Intercultural definition, there needs to be an understanding of what do we mean by Culture?  Culture was defined by Herbig, P. (1998) as “the sum of a way of life, including expected behavior, beliefs, values, language and living practices shared by members of a society. It consists of both explicit and implicit rules through which experience is interpreted”.  Geert Hofstede, the most famous researcher in the field, refers to culture as a “programming of the mind”.

Dr. Nefertiti based on the definitions above and also her personal experience as an expat living and working in Ethiopia for the past 19 years, highlighted the danger of the I don’t accept you but will tolerate you attitude we all seem to have these days.  This is neither an effective communication to understand others or appropriate in a sense of respecting the other as we want to be respected.  Given the current changes in the country and the government aspiration in opening up the economy to invite in the international community, Dr. Nefertiti stressed the need for Ethiopians to work to be competitive in the global stage and stop tendencies in making others fit into our way. She added “The need to know and practice respect for diversity requires open dialogue. Pausing to question our stands or views and always being ready to learn and change is what we need to develop intercultural competence”.

The following constituent elements of intercultural competence by was presented by Dr. Nefertiti to give an idea of what kind of awerness, behaviour or action be expected of an individual who belives in diversity, dialgue and development. In no particular order :

Knowledge:Cultural self awareness; culture specific knowledge; socio-linguistic awareness; grasp of global issues and

Skills:listening, observing,evaluating using patience and perseverance; viewing the world

from others’ perspectives

Attitudes: Respect (valuing other cultures); openess (withholding judgement); curiosity (viewing difference as a learning opportunity); discovery (tolerance for ambiguity)

Following Dr. Nefertiti’s Educative journey about Intercultural Competence, Gayathri spoke about how that looks in an actual working environment using her organization as an example. After giving a brief description of what Girl effect does and how it chose to do that, she went straight to the main topic of her presentation: her staff and how they relate to each other. With 80% Ethiopians and 20% expat ratio and with diverse skill set, at Girl Effect office in Ethiopia there is no lack of diversity. Diversity at Girl Effect is an asset which they are exploiting systematically to deliver their goals.  Self-awareness, open platform, having a joint vision and not focusing on differences but working across them and believing that we are more than our individual needs and have a higher purpose has led to having an efficient and effective team.

Prior to Moving to Ethiopia having hand the chance to live and work in the Caribbean, South America, and Israel have given the opportunity for  Gayathri to be exposed to different cultures and way of life. especially for an Indian woman born and raised in the UK and married to a white man, the issue of diversity, and dialogue is not external but personal.  She further added, when one is also entrusted with a leadership role to address development issues, in her case it fighting the marginalization and vulnerability of girls in society, the need to understand and work in different cultures is a key requirement. In Ethiopia, Gayathri said, the culture of most often people shying away from truly expressing what they feel. This at first have challenged her, but through time with proper coaching and encouragement, she has come to see her Ethiopian staff he management in particular and the team in general to identify talents, strengths and areas for improvement as an individual and a team. This has proven very successful in having a diversified talented and multi-tasking team with exceptional performance record.

After hearing her argument about diversity the question Gayathri faced from the audience was, if her office embrace diversity then why was their program in Amharic only. Her reply was “ When we started to choose to make the program in Amharic as the highest child bride percentage was in Amhara region. As we wanted to work on that, our target audience communication language happened to be Amharic. Now, with a new cast and various topics to address, the program will be done in Amharic and will be aired on Kana television, but Girl effect will use dabbing techniques to have the program in different local langue to reach wider audience.

Girl Effect- a creative non-profit – experts in media, mobile, brand and international development – working where girls are marginalized and vulnerable. We build youth brands and mobile platforms that millions of girls and boys love and interact with. From apps that build skills, to TV dramas that explore vital issues, to magazines written and distributed by girls.

Having gender diversity is a smart business decision

For Nebat Abbas, the issue of diversity is not about seeing it as an asset and embracing it, but all together when it comes to gender, she advocates for actively going out of your way in creating it. Siting researched studies, Nebat argues that, organizations with functioning gender diversity in the workforce have to mention few: increased their productivity, improved creativity and increased performance percentage.

Specific Benefits of Gender Diversity were further highlighted to show how it has an influence in improving environment, social and governance metrics through:

  • Managing risks better
  • More comprehensive understanding of key company stakeholders
  • Improved board effectiveness

“ I was surprised to see in Ethiopia more than cultural   gender d playing a big role in the society.  The reality of men assuming the authority figure and giving orders and women obeying them without question was shocking for me. Even more not being conscious about this bias as a society and not having open dialogue to address the equality was more baffling to me”

Dr. Nefertiti

In a patriarchal culture like Ethiopia and with a general assumption in society about women in lead getting there because of affirmative action or favoritism or because their husbands put them there, the question of creating a gender diversity in organization through bringing on board qualified women was further discussed by Nebat. While giving note of operating environment and the several bias which exist and need to be addressed, she laid out the following 5 Steps to follow to implement a diversity Initiative:

  • Involve the entire top management team
  • Adapt the organizational structure
  • Communicate about the initiative on continuous basis
  • Create a formal project plan
  • Change all HR initiatives to include diversity

According to Nebat, for companies to fully embrace Gender diversity they need to start making women visible through the data they are generating. For example, women consist of at times more than 50% of the consumer base. At household level, women are the decision makers when purchasing items being used. Data don’t lie and what it is showing us is, women are a force to be recognized and through diversity embraced to make businesses successful. One can start promoting gender diversity through building   alternative career paths, consistently implement transformation trainings, holding networking events focused on women, mentoring and sponsoring and family friendly policies. Through this all, Nebat stressed we should never forget to partner with men. Without men nothing is possible.

In conclusion, all speakers agreed on the need for the Ethiopian society to open up to embrace diversity and the need for an open dialogue where conversation on culture, tradition, religion, ethnicity and so on is encouraged and embraced openly.  As Ethiopians we have a long way to go, but we need to start now as we are already late compared to the world. As individuals, the speakers pointed we have to restrain ourselves from imposing our views and believes on others. Always, we need to be open to learn and use every opportunity for growth. We have to be willing to say, I want to learn about your culture so not to offend you and also stop being defensive or offensive when it comes to culture.

We need to start to build skills to understand the world and people in It. Our views should not be limited to our context, there is much more out there and in the fast paced globalized world to go further and benefit from development, understanding the fact that there is much more that connect us than divide us has become the better option.

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