Wittenborg CEO on Perks and Challenges of Managing a Multicultural Workforce
Having a multicultural workforce can give you an important competitive edge, but managing diversity takes a lot of skill, according to Wittenborg CEO Maggie Feng. Feng recently shared some of the insights she has gleaned over the past two decades about managing diversity in an international institution of higher education.
Feng was a guest lecturer during the "Intercultural Business Communication" class for undergraduates last week. She spoke to students about setting up a family-like culture at an intercultural intensive organisation like Wittenborg and stressed how people's family and cultural background can often play a big role in the type of employee they are. She encouraged students to share how their own background has shaped them.
Wittenborg boasts more than 40 different nationalities among its workforce. "Cultural diversity helps to break down barriers and understand differences, but you still have to work out people's personalities and not just go on culture. Interacting with people in an informal setting like parties is also very telling when you want to learn about their personalities," Feng said.
Being a good listener is key
She cited clear and open communication, including being a good listener and taking note of people's body language as key to understanding them. "Listening skills is something that can make you stand out. Our communication skills have really been tried and tested the past year – whether in a family or work environment."
"I hate firing people"
According to Feng one of the most difficult parts of her job is dismissals. "I try to make the exit as mutual as possible. Unlike the US or China, here you can't just tell people to pack their stuff and go – there has to be a process. Also, you can't just fire people if you want to build your brand." She also said she dislikes being surrounded by yes-men. "If you want to work for me, you must have the courage to challenge me if you disagree. This is how we build the organisation as well."
As many of the students at Wittenborg are international, Feng shared some of the things she learned from Dutch company culture. "Some Dutch companies can appear very hostile to internationals. For instance, colleagues tend not to hang out after work, so it's sometimes difficult to learn about their personality in an informal setting. On the other hand, many Dutch companies are international and English is easily spoken. It would help, however, if you learned a few Dutch words to show that you are interested in being part of the group." Feng also touched on the infamous Dutch culture of directness . "Yes, they get straight to the point if they disagree with something, but will follow up with alternative solutions and not make you feel bad about it."
by Anesca Smith