Jul 13, 2023
Corporate News / Feature Story
How Cross-Cultural Perspectives Strengthen Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) among Teams
Panasonic’s founder Konosuke Matsushita once said, “Every single person has their heaven-sent qualities found in no other, and success in life depends on making the most of our unique qualities.” Based on this philosophy, Panasonic has compiled its “Panasonic Group DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) Policy,” which calls on all employees to behave in ways that respect differences both internal and external, including those around values, personality, experience, age, gender, disability, and health condition.
As a part of these efforts, Panasonic holds an annual Group DEI Forum; this includes a global session that invites employees from different regions to share their passion and thoughts around this topic. This year’s global session, titled “How Cross-Cultural Perspectives Strengthen Teams,” invited four panelists and a moderator from four regions and countries—the E.U., North America, Latin America and Japan. The moderator, Wilsey Mockett, European Talent Director, Panasonic Business Support Europe (PBSEU), invited the panelists, all with many years of experience living and working in cross-cultural settings, to share the challenges they faced and the key insights that they gained from their experience as “minorities.” The panel then discussed how these experiences could be leveraged as strengths to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within their local teams at Panasonic.
It’s not right or wrong—just different
Working with a culturally diverse team challenges us to re-examine our own perspectives and approaches; yet it also provides us with opportunities to grow. One of the panelists, Yukihiro Kaneko, General Manager, Technology Division, Panasonic Holdings Corporation, shared the challenges he faced working as an on-site manager at a research organization in Belgium where over 3,500 people from 74 countries collaborated on multiple scientific projects. “The biggest challenge was to bridge the differences between Japanese and European team members to ensure the smooth progress of the projects,” he explained. “We encountered various differences—cultural background, working style and language. To overcome these, I tried to understand and explain each other’s perspectives to both Japanese and European individuals through discussions.”
Sylwia Miedza, Senior Manager, Organizational Planning, Governance & Communication, PBSEU/ Panasonic Information Systems Company Europe (PISCEU), also shared the challenges she encountered when she was assigned to a project with a person from a different country. She recalls, “My working style is being prepared a little bit in advance and having everything ready, but the person that I worked with was totally the opposite. I had a hard time getting used to that and was getting a little bit angry because I felt insecure.” She went on to describe the gradual shift in her perspective.
“I came to realize that there was no right or wrong;
there were just differences.”
“I came to realize that there was no right or wrong; there were just differences. And I found that different ways work just as well! The biggest shift was when I started to put myself in the shoes of the other person, trying to understand what benefits I can gain from their different approach and then trying to combine this with mine. This attitude of learning from others enlarges and enhances our perspectives.”
Paying equal respect to both commonalities and differences
“The biggest insights or lessons that I’ve gained over the years are that we basically share some commonalities, such as family, friends, careers or what we want to achieve in our lives, regardless of our differences,” said Ryan McDay, Senior Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Panasonic North America, as he recalled his upbringing in the U.S. Midwest in Indiana, where he was often labeled a member of a minority community. “When you get to the point where you understand we all have those things in common, you can find a conduit from which to connect with folks from different cultures and backgrounds, and I think that’s what’s key in the process of creating a more inclusive culture.”
“We basically share some commonalities…
regardless of our differences”
Following up on his comments, the moderator stressed the importance of not ignoring or diminishing differences in an attempt to stress the commonalities. Ryan echoed his sentiments and noted that we all need to value and respect those differences. He noted, “When we can look at situations from that perspective, it makes it a lot easier for us to come into an environment where you may not be comfortable or have that familiarity. Coming from a background as a member of a minority community, such experiences helped me come to the realization that there are those commonalities, and it’s through those that we can create a culture where folks can feel more valued and have that sense of belonging. And ultimately, that’s what we want to do as a company.”
Facilitating a space for innovation
Diversity can be a source of innovation at any workplace; yet, harnessing its power takes skill and a particular mindset if you are to create an environment where innovation can thrive. “You have to have confidence that the smartest answers come from the most diverse groups. If you put eight smart people in a room or around an issue or around a problem, and just let them run with it, you’d be surprised at seeing the different ideas and the different positions that come out from such group,” said Ryan.
“You have to have confidence that
the smartest answers come from the most diverse groups.”
Echoing his point, the panelists touched on the important role of a leader as facilitator to create an environment where everyone on the team feels comfortable. Wilsey noted, “I think there’s something around facilitation. Very thoughtful facilitation allows psychological safety and also allows all of those voices to be heard. If one can create such an atmosphere, you know you’ll have a much more successful project program, company, or whatever it might be.”
Using collective wisdom to get more elaborate results
Following up on the role of leader in promoting DEI, Sylwia noted that a leader should never think that they know it all, and to be sure to create “a space for differences” by first listening to others and making use of a team’s “collective wisdom,” as founder Konosuke Matsushita stressed. “If you have more people with different backgrounds, it takes longer, but you get much more elaborate results,” she said. “This enables us to not only benefit from the end result, but also from the process of discovering and learning from different approaches.”
“A leader should never think that they know it all,
and be sure to create a space for differences”
Added Yukihiro, “Because I am from the technology side, I believe that mutual understanding is very, very important. I would like to say that everyone is equal before science; when I was developing certain solutions, in order to improve these, we would incorporate diverse opinions and viewpoints.”
Overcoming stereotypes and prejudice to create more inclusive society
In addition to the speakers, 11 observers from different regions were invited to share their thoughts and questions during the event. During the open Q&A session, one of the observers asked the panel how we can challenge stereotypes and prejudices to create a more inclusive society.
In response, the panelists noted the importance of recognizing our own unconscious bias, and that we should first acknowledge aspects of our own backgrounds that may influence the way we respond to others. “It’s important for you to check yourself in the process. And then, after you’ve done that self-evaluation, it’s important for you to have the courage to address those stereotypes and biases,” said Ryan. “For instance, if our children said something that we felt was inappropriate, we would begin engaging with them around that particular topic and challenge them in a non-confrontational manner to plant a seed in their mind and look at the topic in a different manner in the future.”
Overcoming our own stereotypes and prejudice is a long process, yet every journey starts with one small step. Victor Gonçalves de Assis, Senior CRM Analyst from Panasonic Brazil (PANABRAS) shared his vision. “While it is difficult to create more diverse environments, it is not impossible. Come rain or shine, we must seek a world where there is respect and equality. Color, sexuality and religion can be divergent. But we are all human and we are in one place: the Earth.”
“While it is difficult to create more diverse environments,
it is not impossible”
Panasonic Group believes that making the most of each other’s differences promotes a happy and fulfilled workforce, and that this ultimately helps improve the well-being of our customers and society.
Wilsey wrapped up the discussion by referring to a quote by legendary management consultant Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” meaning that no matter how good a strategy you have, it is useless without a corporate culture.
To this end, Panasonic continues to pursue the creation of an inclusive work environment through its many DEI initiatives, including the Group DEI Forum, Unconscious Bias Training, and a number of other community activities, all involving employees from around the globe.
About the speakers
- Wilsey Mockett, European Talent Director, Panasonic Business Support Europe (PBSEU)
- Sylwia Miedza, Senior Manager, Organizational Planning, Governance & Communication, PBSEU/ Panasonic Information Systems Company Europe (PISCEU)
- Yukihiro Kaneko, Ph.D., General Manager, Technology Division, Panasonic Holdings Corporation
- Ryan McDay, Sr. Manager of DEI, Panasonic North America
- Victor Gonçalves de Assis, Sr. CRM Analyst, Panasonic Brazil (PANABRAS)
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Please note that German, French and Chinese versions are machine translations, so the quality and accuracy may vary.