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Innate and achieved multicultural individuals

In this video, Lee talks with Dr Jeff Shao from Monash University about their research on innate and achieved multiculturals.
LEE MARTIN: By now, hopefully you can recognise if you or those in your team are multicultural, and why that can be an asset. But not all multicultural individuals are the same. To better understand how multiculturals can add value in the workplace we need to consider differences among them. There are different ways to become multicultural. Here, with the help of my research collaborator Dr. Jeff Shao, we’ll explain our research on the process of becoming multicultural and how that may have an impact on the way individuals behave at work.
JEFF SHAO: So in our research, we explored two main ways of becoming multicultural, leading to two different types multicultural individuals– innate and achieved. Why don’t we demonstrate these two concepts by sharing our own experiences?
LEE MARTIN: Great idea. I’m an innate multicultural because I was born and raised in a multicultural household. From a young age, I was exposed to both Anglo-Australian and Chinese culture at the same time at home, so I became multicultural by mixed cultural upbringing.
JEFF SHAO: Whereas I’m an achieved multicultural, because I learned my two cultures one after the other, and in different contexts. I was born in China and raised in a traditional Chinese cultural environment. I only started to be immersed in the second culture after I moved to Australia in my mid-20s. So I became multicultural by picking up a different culture outside my home environment.
LEE MARTIN: We found through our research that innate and achieved multiculturals differ in some key aspects.
JEFF SHAO: For example, achieved multiculturals– people like me– tend to form separate cultural identities. You see, I have a Chinese identity and also an Australian identity. Achieved multiculturals also tend to think in different ways depending on cultural environment. For instance, in a Chinese cultural environment I tend to think in a Chinese way, whereas in an Australian cultural environment I tend to think in Australian way. This is called frame switching.
LEE MARTIN: In contrast, innate multiculturals– people like me– tend to form a hybrid cultural identity as adults– in my case, a blended Chinese-Australian identity. Innate multiculturals also tend to think in a hybrid way. For example, I don’t really think in a completely Australian way nor in a completely Chinese way, but rather somewhere in between.
JEFF SHAO: It’s likely that your identity and the way you think will have an impact on who you see as your in group members, how you interact with your teammates, and how you lead a team.
LEE MARTIN: That’s right. Have a think about yourself and your cultural upbringing. Would you classify yourself as an innate multicultural or achieved multicultural, or monocultural? Do you fit the identity and thinking patterns that we’ve described here? By understanding yourself better you can start to gain some insights into the unique contribution you can make in a multicultural team.

Multicultural individuals are not all the same. It’s important to consider the different ways that people become multicultural, as this variation will likely influence how these individuals contribute in a team.

In this video, Lee talks with Associate Professor Jeff Shao about their research on innate and achieved multicultural individuals.

There are two main types of multicultural individuals, based on the process of becoming multicultural:

  Innate multicultural Achieved multicultural
Typical examples Second-generation immigrants
Multiracial individuals
First-generation immigrants
International students
How they become multicultural Through experiencing multiple cultures simultaneously at home from a young age: this is known as early immersive culture mixing. Through experiencing multiple cultures sequentially: they learn only their first culture at home.
What this means Tend to develop a culturally mixed or hybrid thinking style and identity. Tend to develop multiple culturally distinct thinking styles and identities.

In reality, the distinction between these two types of multicultural individuals may not be so clear-cut. It’s likely that there’s a spectrum of early immersive culture mixing that shapes whether we become an achieved multicultural or an innate multicultural individual.

It can be useful to reflect on your own multicultural experiences, and how this might affect you or others at work.

Your task

If you are multicultural, do you consider yourself to be more of an innate or achieved multicultural individual? Do you think it influences how you interact with others at work?

If you don’t think you’re multicultural, do you know people who are innate or achieved multicultural individuals? Do you think they interact with you in different ways?

Share your experiences in the comments.

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Leading Culturally Diverse Teams in the Workplace

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