The woman’s plea over a social network was clear and to the point: “I am going to Saudi Arabia on business and I need to find someone who can tell me how women have to act there.”
She said that she was traveling to a country she knew little about and feared that her lack of knowledge of government rules and customs for a single woman traveling alone might impede her ability to accomplish her work.
And, she assured people that while she is not on a 007 secret agent mission, she just wanted to be able to conduct her investigation with the same freedom she had in the United States.
This is something she had never dreamed her life would come to, just an opportunity that surfaced as she transitioned through a tumultuous work environment. Yet, increasingly the ability to understand cultural differences around the world is becoming a major component of climbing the corporate ladder.
A study of more than a thousand workers and hiring managers by DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board points out the lack of global knowledge and perspective is an impediment to those hoping to become senior executives.
Clearly, this phenomenon has been growing for many years, but increasing connections – and competition – among businesses around the world is driving this point home. The top business schools are addressing this, but a large percentage of people who will climb into these executive jobs haven’t had the opportunity to go to business schools.
Only 18 percent of hiring managers believe most workers have the broad knowledge necessary to run companies. Most significantly, the lack of a strategic perspective and global awareness are obstacles to advancement in today’s world.
Economists and labor analysts have long been concerned that Americans don’t know much about the world around them, instead focusing on their limited market within the U.S.
For instance, a Gallup poll reveals that only about one in four Americans even speak a foreign language. Yet, 19 percent of Americans believe it is essential to speak a second language and another 50 percent believe it is a valuable skill.
By contrast, more than 50 percent of Europeans speak a second language, and many of those know a third language as well.
The lack of knowledge and understanding of other countries and their cultures could become an increasing liability as the tentacles of the world’s economy reach out in various ways. Simple communication and the adaptability to individual cultural rules become more important in this worldwide connection.
And while those skills may be required for executive positions, they also are important for workers down through the ranks. The more American workers learn about other societies – either from colleagues who have worked in foreign lands or by living or working briefly in other countries, the better equipped they will be for the future.