MAKING CULTURAL DIFFERENCE TANGIBLE: MY PERSPECTIVE

tw: racism, stereotyping


It’s Monday afternoon, my internet is slow as I tune in to one of my favorite online classes of my master studies. Upon initial greetings the professor laughingly says “where’s that Saudi Arabian or Algerian girl, I suppose I’ll be seeing her again next semester anyways”. I try and figure out whom he’s referring to, there aren’t students of these nationalities in my class. Only when another student tells him “She’s here”, it hits me. He’s talking about me.


Cultural Differences At Work: Real Life Experiences


My name is Habiba, I’m an Egyptian doing my masters in communication in Berlin and the previous paragraph is an outtake of an incident I personally experienced during my studies, but is further representative of ones I have witnessed or overheard on a regular basis.


Reading more into micro-aggressions and implicit prejudices about underrepresented groups based on incidents I experienced in Germany, led me to IN-VISIBLE. I became aware of how implicitly bias could occur and realized that they are intertwined and complex. To this day it’s impossible for me to assert that the professor’s sentiment had to do with my ethnicity rather than how I was as a student, even bearing in mind that I’m top of my class, I hadn’t missed any lectures before and he knew and had called me by name every lecture prior. Researching “unconscious bias” was a big motivator for me to apply for a position at IN-VISIBLE Berlin.


Cultural Diversity: More Than Rhetoric


At IN-VISIBLE, I was happy to see a nuanced discussion about differences – and how they play out at the workplace. Within the diversity management discourse, in corporations, universities as well as in broader society, “cultural difference” was often portrayed as a valuable asset in teams, something we should all aim for; however, it is in managing the implications inherent to the presence of cultural diversity where organizations, at least in my experience, tended to fall short. I was tired of rhetoric positivity about diversity- with there actually being no room to address racism, implicit and explicit. I was happy to assist in workshops and to give inputs myself – telling others about my perspective as a student, as an Egyptian, as a person of color, as a woman – and all the previous together.


Someone’s Work Style is Not “A Window To A Culture”


One way cultural backgrounds can play a role in one’s work or studies when living abroad is that various aspects of identity can be mistaken for a window to a culture. There even exists this type of “benevolent” bias, where in an attempt to establish understanding or empathy towards you, irrelevant aspects are falsely attributed to your cultural background, rendering you susceptible to fighting against or contributing to an idea of “your people”. If that isn’t a daunting concept on its own, working as a consultant for equity in the workplace, dealing with topics such as racism, sexism, gender equity and various other social issues coming from a developing country is vastly more sensitive.


When Theory Met Practice: How To Accommodate Everyone’s Experiences At Work


While I was happy to find the opportunity to express my perspectives in the projects with IN-VISIBLE’s partner organizations, I also experienced boundaries. When the Sheikh Jarrah conflict took place in July, I wanted to be more political and would have liked to use the platform to discuss my personal perspectives on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was interesting, but also difficult, to experience the limits that we negotiated within the IN-VISIBLE team. How activist and political can a consulting agency that first and foremost aims at fostering gender equity be? How can you position yourself without taking the jargon of a rhetoric that overly reduces complexity?


What I took away the most in these moments: it is about acknowledging every person’s social identity in the team and the struggles that these bring into the team. I was mentally occupied during this time, the conflict bothered me. I felt seen by my team – and it is this quality that I personally believe as the most important for culturally diverse teams. They need time and space to build empathy for another and to understand the lived realities. Now, that my time at IN-VISIBLE has come to an end, I believe that these experiences shaped my views surrounding equity in the workplace the most. I wish that more organizations would dedicate the time and effort in addressing cultural diversity on an emotional level.





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