Challenging the use of country as a proxy for culture

Business managers are required to work in increasingly diverse environments, facing issues that are increasingly dynamic, complex and uncertain in the face of global economic, social, and technological shifts. The behaviours used to respond to these challenges are influenced by culture. A manager’s network, experience, training, and explicit and implicit norms act as sources of guidance for them to interpret information and form a decision.

A person’s culture can affect ways of communication, interpretation and explanation of certain behaviours and situations. Dealing with ethical dilemmas, implementing new business models, negotiating deals, understanding new work environments, providing employment satisfaction, and more recently, navigating online cultures are just some issues that require cultural intelligence to explain and predict.

Associating certain behaviours to different countries have long been a way of identifying and comparing cultures and widely assumes country homogeneity. Previous studies on national culture have compared vastly different working styles between East-Asian countries and the West. However, a recent study published on Havard Business Review found that equating country with culture can overlook even bigger cultural gaps within a single country – including those of age, gender, number of years of education, socio-economic status, and occupation. That is, it could make more sense to talk about cultures of age and cultures of the rich or poor than it is to discuss the cultures of countries.


  • Consider the cultural differences in age, occupation, and socioeconomic status in your workplace. Seek out, embrace, take advantage of cultural commonalities to build relationships, rather than focusing on differences.
  • Acknowledge that cultural stereotyping by country can be ineffective when you are putting together teams, leading your employees, or trying to motivate them.
  • Reflect on your own culture and work style and how it may affect others in your workplace.

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