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Transcript: Tapping the potential of bi-cultural employees

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Mary Yoko Brannen who is a professor at INSEAD, one of the world's top business schools.

Good morning, Mary Yoko.

MARY YOKO BRANNEN – Good morning, Karl.

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KM – When I hear about these people that are bi-cultural I can't help but be a bit jealous because it seems they have learned a lot – very positive. Are there any potential negatives coming from being bi-cultural?

MYB – Yes, in fact. It is nice that you see the positives because most biculturals grow up feeling like they sort of have a chip on their shoulder: that they are two cultures but they don't really feel one or integrated. So many bi-culturals are fragmented and they don't feel like they are as Vietnamese as their parents are or they don't feel like they really fit into the culture in which they are living so they are sort of marginalized.

So when they enter into today's organizations, also what the statistics show, is that in the developed world, the developed economies, the top management tends to be mono-cultural – except maybe where you are from – in Montreal. There are very few cities that are in the developed world that are bi-cultural. So usually the top management in developed countries and economies tend to be mono-cultural; the incoming work force is bi-cultural.

Many of the bi-culturals, as I said, have a chip on their shoulder. They are neither-nor, either-or – they are not integrated! The people who have hired them don't understand the skill sets that they bring and oftentimes expect that they bring cultural specific skill sets, which they don't have – [i.e.] they are not good at Vietnamese as their parents.

When I came to the United States I was hired at the University of Michigan to teach the Japanese business system. I felt like a total failure – I just grew up in Japan, that didn't mean that I knew the Japanese business system or everything about Japan but I knew a whole lot of other things. I could teach cross-cultural management, and these kinds of things. It is very important for organizations to understand what the composition of these people are, the new demographic, what they bring – both the tacit things that you don't see in terms of how they present themselves or the demographic check box that they check.

So we need to make patent what are these tacit skills that are very valuable to today's organization and at the same time that can help bi-culturals who feel like they're marginal feel like they have something to really offer an organization.

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