Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Global Workforce Planning - Trends from China

A few weeks back I was bombarded from multiple media outlets with articles about how the Chinese workforce and the way it is trending may impact our domestic American workforce planning policies and procedures?

One article in the Washington Post, by Vivek Wadwa discusses the move by Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to open their doors to recruit international talent. The other article, "Foreign firms less attractive: Professionals opt to join State companies," from the 11/7/2011 Capital Business Report (Authors Wu Wencong and Li Jing) details how many high performing indivudals who work for foreign companies in China, are leaving the lucrative private enviroments to work for their own SOEs. Both of these articles demonstrate an increasing focus of China on attracting, and hopefully retaining the world's best talent.

The challenges outlined in both articles mimic much of what we see in the United States: bright young minds abandoning public service in the sake of working for a 'name brand,' private company are now re-thinking their decisions given the current economic uncertainty. However, with both governments recognizing the new need for bright talent to address the issues facing the entire world (economic uncertainty, technology, advanced manufacturing techniques, the 'war for knowledge'), are we starting to see a trend away from private companies back to government or service-oriented jobs?

Or - is this purely a reflection that during the 2008 global economic crisis, private companies were the first to shed their jobs and tighten their belts? OR, are younger employees recognizing that the idea of company loyalty no longer exists in the way it did for our parents' generations, just leaving to follow the highest paycheck and benefits packages? Regardless of the answers to the above, having a clear understanding of the demographic trends of workforce states and future projections would better be able to shed light on workforce planning trends for the next 5-10 years. Accurately predicting wher ethe employees will tend to look for work could help organizations and governments hone their recruitment practices, and internal operating procedures to best suit the needs of the ever-changing workforce.

Expanding this to a global audience will be the next great challenge, requiring Human Resource officers to have a very nuanced understanding of the needs of each cohort of employees from countries throughout the world. What attracts a Chinese ex-pat, say, may not be the same as what attracts a British ex-pat, an Indian ex-pant, an American ex-pat, or a Brazilian ex-pat. While money does seem to be the overwhelming driving force - I think that deeper seated cultural tendencies will have a larger long-term impact on the decisions persons make to stay at their current place of employment, or to leave altogether.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Whose Version of Culture?

Last month I had the unique and quite pleasant experience of seeing multiple performances at the Kennedy Center. They were hosting a month long series entitled "China: The Art of a Nation." For most of September and October the Kennedy center invited performers from throughout the People's Republic of China to come and show their art. Music, theater, opera, dance, comedy - you name it and they had a show for you.

I was quite pleased to see two shows: Romance of the West Chamber by Wang Shipu, and Two Dogs' Opinions on Life, by Meng Jinghui. Even despite my cultured backgrounds, I never imagined quite how enjoyable both performances were - and how uniquely different they were and still Chinese!

Before I go any further, I must confess that I came to love all things China through a course I took in undergrad, called "Chinese Transnationalism in Theater and Film." The course was taught by Professor Claire Conceison of Duke University, who studies Chinese Theater and also has published an amazing book about Chinese actor Ying RuoCheng (American audiences know him as the prison guard in 'The Last Emperor.'). Anyways Professor Conceison's class taught me much about how my perceptions of what is 'authentic' Chinese culture sways how I then perceive Chinese art - be it theater, film, etc. In the class we studied many of the types of Chinese art and how it is portrayed in American society. Take, for instance, the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That film was seen as so amazing in the United States but was somewhat perceived as old hat among Chinese audiences worldwide. The special effects used were nothing new to enthusiasts of Kungfu Genre movies. Yet, there was something so distinctly other about the movie that entranced Western audiences (myself included). In this class, we learned how to examine representations of China in art forms and how our own perceptions of 'What is Chinese' sway how we view art from that country. The same can be applied to really any culture that is not our own.

So back at the Kennedy Center - here I saw this unique dialogue play out right in front of my eyes. Romance of the West Chamber was a kunqu style opera performance, complete with costumes and music that I argue, are what a typical American would expect. Different, other, unique, beautiful, old. And Two Dogs' Opinion on Life was anything but. It was set in modern day Beijing, it was as a play form very modern in how the actors interacted and joked with the audience (often breaking the fourth wall and using the audience to help make the play move along). The actors were young and edgy - using minimal props and costuming to tell their story about life in the city - inconsistencies and all. The jokes and poking fun even bordered on quiet pokes at the CCP - never quite crossing the line yet venturing ever so close.

I found myself amazed at how just these two performances of many shown that month showed such different views of one country. Young, old, edgy, traditional, respectful, crude, funny, sad! In my own mind the idea of what I 'expected' to see of Chinese theater was completely blown away by the variety of all I saw. The whole experience just proved to me that we are constantly in a state of retrospection, in which we have to be aware of how our perceptions color what we observe around us.

The whole production on the part of the Kennedy Center and the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China also demonstrates a high level of cultural maturity. In highlighting what types of performances to bring, the Ministry of Culture did not bring just what Western audiences wanted to see. They also brought things that were very popular among Chinese diaspora populations (the audiences in both shows were majority of Chinese-speakers). And the shows also illustrated the great variety of thought and art that is present in a culture as varied as that found in China. On the Kennedy Center's Part, I believe that this allowed Western audiences a rare glimpse into the complexity of another culture without leaving the confines of their own home-town. Definitely a smart business move in terms of exposing people to new ways of thinking and opportunities for connection and cross-cultural learning.

All in all a delightful experience - and one that left me thinking.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In Persuit of What?

I must start by adding a disclaimer: I am not anthropologist. I am also not a business person.

Why am I not an anthropologist? Well, at least from the perspective of doctoral programs, I have no PhD (but I do have plenty of spirit!). I received an undergraduate degree from a well known Anthropology program in the mid-west. Why am I not a business person? Well, for one, I never set out to work 'in business.' Nor do I really feel drawn to the idea of 'making money' or 'climbing the corporate ladder.' But life has led me to pursue a career in business consulting.

However, I have never truly left behind those things I learned while exploring cultures throughout the world. Though I spend my days in the luxurious confines of a cubicle or a conference room - my mind is constantly drawn back to the world outside.

After about five years of trying to compartmentalize these seemingly different parts of my life, I decided to take a step toward combining these two areas of my life. Ok, so one doesn't expect someone wearing a business suit to step into a cultural anthropology lecture (somehow a more 'hippie' look comes to mind). But, why not? Anthropology has always been about discovering the 'other' or the unknown cultures. Yet very few anthropologists dare to enter the realm of the business world. Yet - as recent economic events have shown, business impacts us all.

Therefore, I say, it is indeed the last undiscovered culture. I invite you all to join me as I set out to discover what happens when a business person unleashes her inner ethnogragpher - and observes what happens in the business world.

Over the course of the blog I hope to examine many popular trends in business, through the lens of an ever-globalizing world. I will use ethnographic methodology to discover new trends in how to understand what happens when business culture and local/state/national culture collide.

Are you with me? Onward, upward, and forward we go!