• Sophie Haaland Matláry

Multicultural work-places in Norway

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

We all talk about living in a multicultural society – but what do we really mean when we say we have a ‘‘multicultural society‘? what type of society are we trying to create? Published in Fædrelandsvennen, March 2019.

From my perspective, multicultural aspects of a society are not easy to spot – they cannot be spotted superficially - but should rather be experienced. Multicultural aspects of a society are not defined by the skin-color of its citizens, gender, or other such superficial qualities.

Multicultural qualities of a society are in my opinion only seen through men and women that are promoted because of their special knowledge and deep understanding of different cultural dimensions - and due to that, also their unique chain of thoughts.

This includes knowledge of languages and frames of reference outside their own countries.

A woman or a man with a background from a different country is interesting and useful in a globalized political and economic world. Not because he or she is different from the majority, but because he or she possesses qualities that make her ‘usefully’ different to a company – in addition to having a deep knowledge of the workings of the company or organization. As an example - a lousy financial advisor with a multicultural background is not useful or interesting in itself. Therefore, a person with a minority background is in no way a direct “add on” to a company – unless we are talking about advertisement and branding of the company outwards. In this case, it might be useful to take advantage of the different cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the staff, as cynical as this may seem.

This brings me to the question of hiring women and men based on their gender representation in an organization.

That is something, which is not of great value nor interest to most organizations – simply hiring this and that many women; this and that many Muslims or foreigners just for the sake of representation in the company. Because thinking in such ‘percentage terms’ means that we all fit into one type of box, and we have solid and different human categories to fill in the work-place.

But can all women be framed and fit into a percentage in a company? Are not women more than their gender? Is diversity at the work-place necessarily linked to skin color or gender? This would be to generalize about something so basic as physical traits. This type of forced multicultural-ness is instrumental and seems to be more of a sort of way for the company to evaluate if we ‘managed to represent them all’ – in case anyone would do an outside screening of the company.

Being multicultural means seeing things from different perspectives, new angles, and to think outside the box, using creativity and allowing for otherness to exist and thrive. This is done by breaking cultural expectations and norms at times. A person might belong to one culture or many; it all depends on what they have experienced - and the type of lives they have lived. Since we live in a globalized world, we also participate in a global financial and market competition. Are you doing business with China then you need awareness of Chinese traditions and business etiquette as well as cultural codes. Companies and organizations therefore need awareness of languages, culture, different religions and regions of the world. You need insiders in your company that truly understand the clients from different parts of the world if you want to succeed.

It is therefore very upsetting that NHO (Norways confederation of Enterprise) yet again has stated that hiring managers do not reward employees with more cultural awareness, languages and knowledge of ‘otherness’ in 2019. It seems that hiring managers prefer to take the safe road and hire employees that are very alike themselves, with the same ethnic and cultural background. But we have to accept the realities of the times we live in – the Norwegian frame of reference is not universal, we are living in an international world. We have to adapt ourselves to the world and not the other way around (obviously). If we care this much about creating a multicultural society in Norway, then we need to start defining what it really is about and acknowledge that we are not adapting to life outside our own cultural frame yet.

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