Language instruction as a diversity initiative

Posted on January 24, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Are you an expat working in the US? If so, I’d like to know about the language and cultural challenges you face in the workplace. You can post a reponse here, or email


Any corporate diversity/inclusion initiative must include helping expats assimilate into the workforce. Diversity and inclusion are not just about leveraging difference, but about helping outsiders assimilate to the group.

Imagine for a moment that you are working in a foreign country and conducting business in a foreign language. Unless you have native-like fluency, you probably cannot express yourself as fully and profoundly as you would like to, and have to adjust your thoughts for what you’re capable of saying. You may be embarrassed or shy to speak up because of your limited language skills. You have a great depth of knowledge in your area of expertise, but don’t have the vocabulary to express it. Although you are influential in your native language, you have trouble leading in the foreign language in which you work.

I’m working on an article on the language and cultural challenges facing expat employees in the US. Almost 16% of the US workforce is foreign-born. 50% of the this group are Hispanic and 22% are Asians. Both groups tend to be in certain occupations. In some industries, expats can make up a signification percentage of a company’s human capital.

Among foreign-born workers, 2 tiers exist: Latinos with low education and low skills, and educated professionals from Asia. Both groups have workplace communication problems, but the problems are different for each group. For Hispanic workers in construction, manufacturing and services, workplace language issues may include following procedures, safety and reducing errors. For Asians in professional jobs, communication problems could include participating in meetings, delivering presentations, and business writing. Both groups will face problems in adjusting to American workplace culture.

Any training program must be tied to business objectives. Assuring your workforce has language fluency is tied to business objectives in that it:
• Reduces time to market through greater productivity
• Leads to fewer error and miscommunications
• Increases safety
• Taps into and maximizing talent

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