Libraries, the universe and everything

Cultural Diversity and Working in a Global Information Environment: Keys to Success for the Information Professional
July 28, 2015, 14:48
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , ,

Reposted from the SLA LMD blog, my write-up of another LMD #SLA2015 conference session:

I thought this was a great session – one of my personal conference highlights, in fact – and I took pages of notes. I’ll save the play-by-play account for another time though – in this post I’m just going to try and pull together a few of the common themes.

We started with an excellent, and diverse, line-up of speakers: Gimena Campos Cervera from the Information Resource Center at the US Embassy in Rome; Monica Ertel from Bain & Company in California; Kym Holden, of the Australia Department of Education and Department of Employment; and Dr. Naeema Jabur, who is a Professor in the Department of Information Studies at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman.

Moderator Aimée deChambeau (Head of Electronic Services at The University of Akron) took an interesting approach to the session, posing a series of scenario-based questions to various panellists to tease out their own particular perspectives. I thought that this worked particularly well – as the session progressed we learned something about what each panellist does, the kind of situations they encounter, and their advice for working across different cultures, and it was a lot more varied than a straight ‘talking heads’ approach.

Listening to the accents represented in conversations before the panel started gave a clear indication that audience members represented a wide cross-section of countries and cultures. However, one point which came up early on was to resist the temptation to make assumptions about people based on observable evidence or cultural stereotypes! More scientifically, a quick poll of the audience showed that many of us in the room worked as part of international teams, and of course SLA itself is an increasingly international organisation.

When approaching any sort of multi-cultural situation, there are a few key things to remember:

  • Aim to be respectful, flexible, and accept that there must be differences rather than attempting to impose your own perspective
  • Treat all interactions as a learning opportunity, and be sure to learn from any mistakes
  • Maintain a sense of humour (whilst also remembering that humour is very culturally-dependent)

Key to beginning any kind of interaction, whether with colleagues or clients, is understanding what cultural differences might come into play, both from your own perspective as well as that of the people with whom you are interacting. This could be alternative perspectives on the same issues by people in the same place, as well as customs or working styles in different countries. Whilst there is an amount you can do to prepare in advance (by observing, reading up and/or talking to more experienced colleagues), one of the most powerful things you can do is to ask people how you should behave, or what they need from you in a particular situation.

It also becomes important to think around the issues at hand, and figure out how to arrive at a mutually-acceptable outcome, rather than just resorting to what you think the answer should be. Anecdotes shared by all the speakers at various points throughout the session really reinforced this message for me – their contributions included such diverse solutions as being the person who has to get up at 5am to participate in a global conference call, taking a creative approach to conference planning to include the most participants possible, working at individual branch level to find the best partner to pioneer a public library initiative, or re-evaluating your own notion of the definition of family to provide the best service to a particular community.

Because there weren’t any slides or traditional presentations in this session, there is nothing I can link to on the conference schedule for your reference, but in double-checking the website I rediscovered the program takeaways:

  1. Participants will leave with an enhanced awareness of the benefits of being culturally inclusive for themselves and for SLA.
  2. Participants will gain a clearer sense of what cultural intelligence looks like and its complexities.
  3. Participants will acquire practical tips on how to manage culturally diverse projects and working groups.

Personally I felt that these were covered admirably, but what did you think? If you attended the session I’d love to hear your thoughts on it all, and if you’d like any more information from me I’d be happy to share more of my notes!

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