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DEI in the US and Overseas, and Brazil: Luiza Dreasher of Mastering Cultural Differences

Luiza Dreasher

As President and CEO of Minnesota-based Mastering Cultural Differences, Luiza Dreasher has over 20 years’ experience in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), and cultural competence. With Whites projected to be the minority in the US by 2045, Luiza explains the economic benefits of implementing DEI programs in all organizations … resulting in more customers and more sales. While some employees may feel threatened, she emphasizes how buy-in from top management and measurable metrics are essential. She also discusses the negative impact on resisting places such as Florida. As importantly, Luiza shows how to create DEI programs in countries where loyalty to one’s tribe or community is far more critical than to one’s country and where groups may be hostile to each other. Luiza also presents cultural differences with her native Brazil regarding major concepts of time and fundamental communication styles, and how these affect both business and social interactions.

Highlights:

The benefits of diverse and inclusive workforces

General principles to adopt to achieve diversity goals.

DEI in countries with tribal loyalties

The Brazilian cultural roadblocks to communication with Americans

The Global Academy

Luiza Dreasher bio:

Luiza Dreasher has 20+ years’ experience in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competence development. Her expertise in global and domestic diversity has led to consulting jobs and training to numerous audiences, including the United States Department of Defense, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Schreiber Foods of Brazil, GTI Energy, Navitaire, MN Department of Public Safety, and numerous institutions of higher education. 

Luiza has taught courses focusing on Social Justice, Cross-Cultural Race Relations, and Diversity Management. While serving as an Assistant Dean and Director of Multicultural and International Inclusion at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, she developed and taught a course on Cultural Competence for the Legal Profession.

As a contributing writer for The Inclusion Solution, a newsletter distributed by The Winters Group, Luiza focuses on transformative solutions for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. With a readership of over 195,000, Luiza has written about strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, the detrimental impact of microaggressions, achieving inclusive religious observance, age discrimination, how organizations can play a critical role in addressing racial inequities, and how biases and lack of cultural competence keep diversity out.

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Mastering Cultural Differences offers consultation and training solutions for culturally diverse organizations that want to implement successful and long-lasting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. The end result is an organization where employees feel valued, respected, and want to stay.

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Mastering Cultural Differences, The Global Academy is an online program designed to help you recognize the cultural differences impacting your organization so you can work more effectively across those differences.

This program is for you if (1) you want to know exactly when cultural differences are at play in your cross-cultural interactions, and (2) you want to learn how to adjust your behavior to the cultural orientation of your employees and clients so you can avoid misunderstandings or potentially embarrassing moments. You will go from feeling fearful and confused to having clarity and certainty when you are working across cultures.

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Full Transcript

Hello everyone and welcome to the new edition of Global Gurus. We normally start with a blooper with a funny mistranslation of a foreign sign into English to illustrate the importance of professional language translations. However, since today’s guest comes from Brazil, I thought it would be even more interesting to have some Brazilian Portuguese expressions which obviously do not translate properly into English, so again with… and asking forgiveness for Brazilians who may be listening to this, Portuguese is not one of my languages, and I can certainly, hopefully will not, but possibly will bastardize the pronunciation. So please forgive me, but I will make a good attempt at it.

So, one of them is “Queimar as pestanas” which literally means to burn the eyelashes, which is an expression meaning to read a lot. And one which is most appropriate I think is “A vaca foi pro brejo”, which literally means the cow went to the swamp, which is a Brazilian way of saying that the situation is hopeless. And if you put either of these expressions into something like Google Translate, you will get a literal translation, which is why it’s important to rely on professional language agencies such as ours to ensure that nuances, expressions, and acculturation are done properly in your professional translations. 

So, with that, today’s guest is Luiza Dreasher, who is currently president and CEO of Mastering Cultural Differences based in Minnesota. 

Luiza has over 20 years’ experience in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and cultural competence development. Her expertise in global and domestic diversity has led to consulting jobs and training for numerous audiences, including the US Department of Defense, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Schreiber Foods of Brazil, GTI Energy, the French company Navitaire, and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, as well as many universities. 

She is contributing writer to the Inclusion Solution, a newsletter with a readership of over 195,000 people. Luisa has been featured on ABC, NBC, Fox, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, and other media outlets. Glad you’re with us.

Well, thank you for the invitation. It’s really my pleasure to be here.

So, let’s start with some fundamentals. How do companies and organizations benefit when they have diverse and inclusive workforces?

First of all, I would say they have no more choice. You know the US is becoming increasingly more diverse. In fact, according to projections by the US Census Bureau, by 2045 the expectation is that whites will be a minority in this country. 

By our accounts, we already see a lot of diversity in organizations. We have different genders, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, non-affiliation, different ages, ability levels, and many other identities. All these individuals have different needs and expectations. They must be taken into consideration. 

There are two other factors contributing to the diversity in organizations. I would say globalization and increased immigration which are bringing people from all over the world together and with that we have another set of challenges. Now we have different languages and communication styles, different value orientations, and different beliefs, and we need to understand these differences so we can work well across differences. 

Despite all these challenges, research shows that organizations can indeed benefit when they have a diverse and inclusive work environment. For example, when you have a team with different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences, it can lead to enhanced innovation and creativity, improved decision-making, and better problem-solving because you allow for a more comprehensive analysis of the challenges. Inclusive environments foster a sense of belonging in psychological safety, which can lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction, increased productivity, and ultimately, retention of top talent. Organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion often gain a positive reputation and an enhanced brand image. 

And this can lead to increased customer loyalty in faster confidence and even public support. And there’s more. I think you know companies that are recognized as champions of diversity and inclusion are seen as socially responsible and forward-thinking, which can provide a comprehensive advantage in the market, I would say. Now if all else fails, there is also the business case for diversity and inclusion by having employees who reflect the diversity of their target market. Companies are better positioned to develop products or services and marketing strategies that resonate with a wider range of customers. In other words, more customers, more money. It’s as simple as that.

It is very elementary and you’re absolutely right. And of course, it’s, as you said, very good for the brand image as well. What general principles should companies adopt to achieve these goals that you mentioned?

There are many things that they can do to make DEI sustainable. For example, I would say #1 support from the leadership is key. And one of the most significant challenges to implementing successful DEI initiatives is the lack of support from the leadership. Without buy-in from senior executives, DEI Initiatives will struggle to secure funding, resources, or visibility within the organization. 

So, organizations must prioritize diversity and inclusion from the top down. In other words, for diversity and inclusion to succeed, we need leaders who are engaged and committed to the effort. Another challenge to implementing successful diversity and inclusion initiatives is resistance to change. DEI Initiatives often require organizations to rethink their policies, practices and their culture, which can be challenging for employees who are comfortable with the status quo. Employees may also feel threatened by efforts to increase diversity and inclusion, fearing that they may lose opportunities or be treated unfairly. 

So, to overcome this challenge, I think organizations must communicate the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion clearly and transparently … and emphasize the positive impact that they will have on the organization. 

Lastly, you cannot change what you don’t measure, so organizations need to collect the data to track progress; they need to establish clear metrics and goals for diversity and inclusion initiatives. And use data to measure progress and identify areas for improvement. This could involve conducting employee surveys, tracking retention and promotion rates, or benchmarking against industry peers. The key thing is to put a consistent mechanism in place so organizations can evaluate their DEI efforts to find out whether or not these efforts are indeed contributing to their organization’s success.



There are some states I believe, like Florida for example, that are trying either to outlaw or to remove DEI from workplaces. What do you say to states, cities or organizations that are doing this?

It is a challenging question. In a couple of the modules in my DEI Leadership Academy, I stressed the importance of dialogue. In this country, it seems that the preferred mode of communication is debate. In other words, I am right, you are wrong, and my job is to prove you wrong. In a dialogue, you need to understand multiple perspectives. They all need to come to the table. 

So, when you look at the argument from those against the DEI, for the most part, it seems to be because they see it as government interference or infringement on individual freedoms or reverse discrimination or the belief that merit should be the sole determinant of promotion decisions. This is coming from a misguided notion that diversity is synonymous with lowering standards, but this is a separate conversation. Now those in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion see it as necessary to address the systemic inequities that have been in place since this country was established. 

For example, you’re looking back in 1790, Congress declared that only white immigrants could become naturalized citizens. It wasn’t until after the Civil War in 1865, that naturalization was extended to persons of African descent. That was 75 years later. When World War II ended, you know, thousands of GIs came home to start families and achieve the American dream of home ownership, and the Federal Housing Administration made that possible by guaranteeing them long-term, low-payment mortgage loans. Black GIs were faced with a very different reality. They were denied access to the same types of loans. In addition, many housing development owners stipulated that their houses were not to be sold to Blacks.

So that deem reality is that the society we live in today is a product of a system that advantages some groups over others. Without intentional efforts, marginalized groups will continue to face barriers to employment and advancement. To make a long story short, you know what I would say to states like Florida? I would say it’s a mistake. It’s short-sighted, it’s wrong. It’s coming from a place of fear and ignorance. 

And it is a setback for the people and the state as well. There are no travel advisories for Florida. I worked in study abroad and I was used to seeing travel advisories and driver warnings for US individual students going abroad. So now we see it for Florida; there are calls for an economic boycott. And in addition to the brain drain, because I talk to people in Florida and I have friends and colleagues in Florida, I wonder how many individuals will want to relocate to Florida, especially millennials and Gen Z’ers because they see diversity and inclusion as a requirement, and they tend to avoid companies without a diverse workforce, a clear promotion track, and a clear commitment to confronting systemic inequities. Diversity is here to stay. No doubt about it, the issue now is how organizations will use that to their advantage.

That’s very interesting. And I for one, have no desire to travel to Florida because of their policies and, I make a conscious effort not to go to any conferences there or have a reason to go there.

I just refused an invitation to speak in Florida.

For that same reason, yes. That raises another question. DEI is very appropriate in the United States, of course in Canada, and in other places, perhaps in Europe. It raises a very different issue that most people in most of the world have their primary loyalty to their tribe, their community, their people, their religion, whatever it may be. And not their nationality. So how can companies create a welcoming environment when they operate in countries with this kind of scenario?

Not a difficult question. I think creating a welcoming environment in a diverse society where groups may have hostility towards one another will be very complex. It’s a very complex challenge for companies. However, I think there are some approaches that can help bridge the divide. 

First and foremost, I think organizations need to have the knowledge and recognize hostility, and accept that it exists because ignoring it will not work. I also think companies should establish clear policies and guidelines that emphasize respect and nondiscrimination in the workplace. You cannot harass, and you cannot discriminate. You cannot create a hostile environment. There are laws against It especially speaking of this country at least. The organization needs to enforce these laws. 

Also very important, I think you need to create safe spaces for conversations. Encourage open dialogue, active listening, and empathy among employees, and highlight the importance of treating all colleagues with dignity and fairness. They need to get to know each other as individuals. 

You can also provide an opportunity for employees to learn about each other, either through cultural events or educational opportunities. The key to this point, I would say, is to help them learn about each other as individuals in a low-risk way and find some things they have in common. And it could be at this point the commonality is we need to make sure we are going to meet the deadline, the project deadline. 

Overall, I think companies need to strive to create a sense of belonging for all employees, regardless of their background. We should encourage teamwork, collaboration, collaboration, and create opportunities for employees to contribute their unique skills. Perspectives recognizing and rewarding inclusive behaviors are very important for a company at this stage. I will also say you know that building a welcoming environment in the face of intergroup hostility will require time, a lot of commitment, and ongoing effort on the part of the organization.

One of the easiest ways to build inclusion, or at least understanding, is through music and through food sharing music and through food. And as you may know, I run an interfaith dialogue group. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and one of the ways that we started was primarily by sharing meals together and then later music, and then we got into discussions. And it helps to break down barriers and see people as they are.

Absolutely, it’s what I call the 3 F’s: fun food and festivities. It’s a great way to bring people together in a fun environment, in a fun way.

Now, speaking of festivities, Brazil is known of course, as a very festive country, and I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about Brazilian culture and some Brazilian cultural issues that either help or hinder communication with Americans.



You know, first I want you to know, when you think of Brazil, you have to remember that Brazil is a huge country. You know Brazil counts for half of the territory in Latin America and about one third of the population. So, expect that there will be great variation within regions. 

Second, as far as cultural differences. Whenever I’m teaching about cultural differences, I want my audience to think about them. It never applies to all individuals in all situations. At all times, there will always be exceptions, so treat these cultural differences as hypotheses that you have to test. I would say the first one, what actually got me into trouble, was the difference in time orientation. 

When I first started my Graduate School here in the United States, in the first week of class I kept missing the bus. And my friends at the university, whom I considered my cultural informants … and by the way, we should all have one; a cultural informant is someone who will share an insider’s perspective of the new culture. 

So, this friend of mine said Louise, here’s the catch. All you have to do is find your bus stop and show up. It’s that simple. The problem was that this schedule had listings such as 9:02, 10:18, 11:09 for example, and I could not wrap my mind around such precision. This was not how I conceptualized it. Researchers have found that there are two ways individuals view and use time. There is the monochronic orientation and polychronic orientation. US Americans have a monochronic time orientation. They view time in a more linear way, one event happening at a time. If I’m meeting with a client, it would be rude to stop to answer the phone. 

I was reading something in a recount of US American businesspeople during a Zoom type of meeting with a partner in Mexico while he was sitting at the Barbershop. And he stopped the meeting to answer his son’s phone call. So there is a very big difference. 

So for us Americans to be late or kept waiting is rude and work time is distinguished from social time. Brazilians, on the other hand, are more polychronic. They have a more flexible view of time, with no rigid starting and ending time. Work time is easily integrated into social time. They can co-exist by socializing during staff meetings as expected, actually schedules, appointments, and deadlines are easily changed. 

So, sticking to a schedule is secondary to building a solid relationship. You reach a satisfactory agreement only after you build a solid relationship, so keep that in mind. Plans are fluid. There is no such thing as an interruption in a meeting. You know my husband calls, and I answer because of the relationship; it’s more important. And to be late or kept waiting is OK. 

For those thinking and doing business with Brazilians, you have to recognize that Brazilians have a different time orientation than US Americans.  Knowing this difference can help you understand their behaviors. For example, why punctuality is less of a priority than focusing on workplace relationships. With that in mind, understand those actions that you will likely see as less professional in the United States. For example, not starting or finishing the meetings on time may be perfectly acceptable for Brazilians. And for Brazilians, building relationships is more important than sticking to a schedule.

I’m going to add this emphasis on relationships really applies in most of the world. Less so in the United States and less so certainly in Europe, but in Europe far less than in the Arab world. For example, in India and Africa, in traditional societies, it’s far more important to build relationships than we have in this culture, which is what’s called an informal business culture. Here, you can pick up the phone or send an email and do business with a total stranger and someone you met at a networking group or whatever, and without building a relationship.

I would say another big communication cultural difference has to do with the communication style. US Americans tend to be direct communicators. They say what they mean and mean what they say. There’s no need to read between the lines. It’s best to tell it like it is. Individuals are less likely to imply and more likely to say what they are thinking; yes means yes. 

Brazilians are indirect communicators. They do not always say what they mean or mean exactly what they say. Listeners are the ones who must read between the lines. They’re more likely to suggest or imply than to come out and say what they think. Because it is not always appropriate to tell it like it is because what if it’s going to upset the person? So, you really have to think of your words. And yes, maybe, maybe or even no. 

So, when working or doing business with Brazilians, you know, keep the following in mind: If you have a conversation about something like an unmet deadline or conduct a poor performance appraisal or point out the disappointing results of a project, avoid communicating the bad news directly. It’s better to use innuendos or suggestions than to be direct. Remember, Brazilians are trained in reading between the lines. 

And this means you have to practice switching your style. You know, in one of my training courses I have my US clients practice just finding ways to communicate a point in an indirect way. And the reason for that is that you as Americans may be perceived as blunt, rude, impolite, or even confrontational by being direct. And on the other hand, US Americans will perceive and are often perceived by Brazilians as vague and clear, and even deceptive. You know, they may find it frustrating to have to decide on the intended meaning behind the indirect messages. So, knowing where the other is coming from is key to successful communication.

It’s all very true. I noticed two issues… two comments… One is that you say that Americans tell it like it is in a very direct way, which is funny because the Germans think that the Americans are very indirect, and the Germans believe they are far more direct, so if I’m an American, a US American needs to convey something like you’re doing a really good job and this is one way in which you need improvement, for example. Sugar-coat it in some way.

Yes, it’s the old sandwich method.

And the other very interesting comment, an interesting issue I notice is when you’re saying US Americans. I have not heard that for literally 30 years. I used to have a newsletter about cultural differences, and we put that in from the beginning, but since most people don’t say it, I have dropped it and it’s a very interesting reminder and a good lesson. 

And for our listeners, Brazilians are Americans too. They’re just South Americans, and Hondurans and Nicaraguans and Panamanians and others are Central Americans, and Canadians are equally American. They’re just North American. So what Louisa is doing is to distinguish between US Americans versus, say, Argentine Americans.

When I was teaching diversity management, I would tell my students if there is only one thing that they walk away from this class. You will stop referring to the United States as America. America is a continent. It is north/south/central. So yeah, they thought it was a great lesson. So as an interculturalist, also straining to see that, it’s there on an entire continent.

In Spanish one can say “Estadounidense,” a “UnitedStatesian.” Which in English doesn’t work so well.

The English language does not contribute, and there’s also the aggravating factor that there is ” America” in the name of the United States of America, right? So, I can see why individuals would just shorten that, but we, you know as I said, an interculturalist, we have to consider other possibilities and think that America is an entire continent with many countries.

Please tell us a short summary of your programs, Managing Cultural Differences and the Global Academy.

Well, I think the best thing would be for individuals to go to my website Mastering Cultural Differences, and take a look. For example, I have my DEI Leadership Academy where I work with senior leaders interested in implementing effective and long-lasting DEI initiatives. In this Academy, we work on what I call the three C’s of DUI effectiveness: culture, climate, and change

So we establish a culture that values differences. We work on creating a climate of respect and understanding in the organization. And lastly, we create a pathway to change. In the area of Global diversity, I offer a series of workshops to help individuals in global organizations understand cultural differences so they can work well across those differences. 

And I’m happy to say that the global economy, as I call it, is also a digital course and it has five modules that can be completed 100% online. And those interested in enrolling through this podcast could do so with a discount. I have created a special coupon for your listeners.

Yes, and I should add that both of these programs Managing Cultural Differences and the Global Academy are listed on our podcast episodes under the Bio and Contact section of each guest where we have Louise’s programs as well as other partner programs that will enhance global business and global communication. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

I would encourage new listeners to connect with me on LinkedIn and in fact, on my profile, they will find a free DEI assessment which will tell them how well-developed their DEI initiatives are and then they can take the short assessment and schedule a call with me so that we can go over the results and I’m sure I’ll be able to provide some insights.

Thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation with Louisa Drescher, and I hope all of you will join us next week for another episode of Global Gurus and Stories of international business. Thank you so much for your wonderful insights, Luiza.

You’re welcome.

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