Multicultural Individuals in the Workplace

More people are becoming multicultural these days, meaning that they embody more than one culture. This is because globalisation and migration bring constant opportunities for different cultures to not only meet, but to interact. For example, in Australia, 28% of the population was born outside of Australia. In Canada and the US, this statistic is 22% and 15%, respectively. [note]United Nations, 2015. International Migrant Stock 2015 dataset. Available at:[/note]

[pullquote]When people move to a new country, they usually bring their own culture, but may also absorb, and influence, the culture of their new country. [/pullquote]

What these developments imply is that multiculturals will make up an increasing proportion of the population. In this article, I’m going to introduce the topic of multicultural individuals by answering three questions: 1) Who is multicultural? 2) How has our understanding of multiculturals changed over the years? 3) Why do we care about multiculturals?

Who is multicultural?

Generally speaking, a multicultural person is someone who has more than one culture within themselves. Often, multiculturals are migrants or children of migrants (i.e., first- or second-generation immigrants), though anyone who has had an immersive and transformative experience with more than one culture, to the extent that it becomes part of who they are, can be considered multicultural. [note]Martin, L., & Shao, B. 2016. Early immersive culture mixing: The key to understanding cognitive and identity differences among multiculturals. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 27(10), p.1409-1429.[/note]

#Multicultural individuals were often viewed by scholars as struggling between two different cultural identities. Click To Tweet

How has our understanding of multiculturals changed over the years?

In the past, multiculturals were often viewed by scholars as struggling between two different cultural identities, having to choose between one or the other. But now, multiculturals are seen as embodying multiple cultures within themselves at the same time, which may bring unique potential benefits. In this millennium, scholars have made great advances in understanding how the multicultural mind works. [note]iii Hong, Y., & Khei, M. 2014. Dynamic multiculturalism: The interplay of socio-cognitive, neural, and genetic mechanisms. In V. Benet-Martínez & Y.-Y. Hong (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Multicultural Identity, p. 11–34. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.[/note]

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Also read:  What kind of a Multicultural are you?

Why do we care about multiculturals?

There is mounting evidence that multicultural individuals have an edge over monocultural individuals (those who only have one culture) in terms of certain qualities and abilities. In particular, management scholars are becoming interested in how multiculturals may make unique contributions to organizations. [note]Fitzsimmons, S. R., Miska, C., & Stahl, G. K. 2011. Multicultural employees: Global business’ untapped resource. Organizational Dynamics, 40(3), p. 199–206.[/note] This should be great news to the many multicultural individuals in the world (and likely most of you reading this article!).

Over the next few articles, I’ll share some recent research findings on multiculturals. But to grasp the essence of what it means to be multicultural, we need to first understand what ‘culture’ is exactly, and how it influences us. This will be the topic of the next article.

If you have any questions or stories about culture or multiculturalism, please feel free to get in touch with me. You can email me at lee @ or leave your comments below. 

The views and opinions expressed by columnists are their own and may or may not represent those of or its team. 

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