Whether it be in the workplace or elsewhere, diversity is a key element in the successful functioning of a group. Yet, our individual understanding of the term itself can be highly subjective.
At ESCP, embracing all types of diversity, be it cultural, gender or religious, is at the very core of our values. By promoting and nurturing a working understanding and acceptance of diversity, we look to create learning environments that are open and inclusive. What’s more, in changing times where sucessful international collaboration will be increasingly important, it is a key ingredient in the development of key skills for tomorrow’s leaders. To get a grasp of just what this might mean for today’s student, we were delighted to chat with Clémence Plantié (MiM 2020) recently. For Clémence, her time at ESCP was the opportunity to engage actively with diversity. This meant an array of variations in terms of nationality, family, education, interests and experiences!
Sames inputs, different outcomes
With all this diversity, behaving based on assumptions can be risky: “I had to actively engage with an assortment of people within groups from the start. It can be hard to grasp how to communicate with people who have significant differences. Sometimes you find out later that something you said had inadvertently hurt another person”.
A key personal growth factor
Clémence saw this environment as a great opportunity to challenge herself.
Firstly, it was the realisation that “it would help me grow as a person. When we are exposed to diversity, it helps us progress. You can ask yourself on what basis you are making decisions, whether you are making them based on assumptions or based on what you truly believe in.”
Secondly, it was the opportunity to immerse herself in other cultures on a daily basis and find one that corresponded to her methodical approach. “At ESCP, you can seek out people who have the same work culture as you do.” And she wasn’t alone. “I knew people who, compared to me, preferred a more laid-back approach, and found themselves working with people from more easy-going cultures”. Work groups self-organised across borders!
It wasn’t always easy. New perspectives require self analysis and open-mindedness. Easier said than done! Clémence found that, apart from project meetings, her social life offered significant challenges in avoiding unfortunate misunderstandings. “In France, after class, we wait for our friends after class to go for lunch”. But this is not a universal practise. “For other nationalities, this just isn’t an important part of friendship”.
Clémence learned the importance of meta-communication, of figuring out how she and her classmates could communicate: “It is crucial to understand how you want to communicate, verbally or nonverbally. Only then do we start to understand what the person is really saying”. Clémence went that bit further: “If I was able to speak frankly, I would ask people to let me know if my style was not comfortable for them. Introducing the possibility of openness in how we communicate is key!”
Individuals, not groups
Creating assumptions based on nationality, gender or any other criteria is neither reliable nor beneficial. Clémence quickly understood the dangers of painting groups in broad strokes. Working in a group of Chinese and Italian students, it wasn’t because two or three Italian people reacted in the same way to a certain idea that you should expect all of them to follow suit! The same applied to the Chinese students. “If you do that, you are just creating stereotypes.”
Decision making for future leaders
In any situation, we have a choice in how we react. This idea of Free will is critical for Clémence. And it is something her experience with diversity helped her develop. “If you want to, you can really reflect on who you are inside. It allowed me to tackle the assumptions I had.” This questioning lies at the foundation in the development of strong but open-minded leaders for tomorrow. As Clémence says, “Taking more time to make decisions based on what you really believe rather than what you are expected to do”.
At the core of successful diversity in action is the development of a sense of empathy and self-awareness. In a challenging and increasingly diverse world and workplace, these two key qualities form the basis for the development of communication and leadership skills. As we have seen, Clémence is delighted to have experienced diversity at ESCP, we can only hope that you will too!