Unconscious Bias in the Workplace: Preventing Intercultural Misunderstandings


Recent news exposed the intercultural conflict at Amazon and Starbucks. Business owners must ask themselves, “What, if any, economic or social value is there in being a culturally competent organization?” Surely, with the emerging demographics in the American workforce, we may, find our monolithic policies under scrutiny from any number of protected groups. However, it is not the workplace rights of protected groups that should rouse our business senses to fear for our profits, rather it is through embracing the diverse needs of these groups that innovative, and highly competitive business strategies are cultivated.

Research has shown diversity is good for business. Token efforts taken to create a superficial image of inclusiveness will lead to negative consequences. This will hamstring any progress that most cutting-edge and globally successful companies strive to embody. A company must take the uncomfortable step of addressing the conditions within their companies which cause cultural misunderstandings to arise.

Amazon and Starbucks took a short-term approach aimed to solve their cultural misunderstandings. Unfortunately, such this step yields only a temporary solution. To prevent these problems from occurring again, a more integral approach is needed. Filsan’s Cultural Competency Trainings and Consultation services provides an approach to eliminate unconscious bias. However, most sensitivity trainers and coaches believe a one-day training will not change long-term behaviors, stereotypes, and perceptions. Investing in ongoing cultural competency, education and long-term diversity planning is how organizations can fully embrace the ever-changing task of leveraging diversity.

When culturally competent leaders opt to model for their employees, they effectively address issues around employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity regarding diversity.

Lastly, companies benefit from their employees’ highest performance when they nominate culturally competent diverse role models at all levels of the organization. Furthermore, company executives must realize diversity is not a gimmick but an asset that leads to innovation. To overcome cultural misunderstanding in the workplace, leaders have to acknowledge unconscious bias based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientations. When employees feel valued and respected, performance and productivity will rise. It is to every company’s advantage to practice welcoming behaviors, commit to changing old habits involving biases and adopt cross cultural awareness.