"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster." - Geert Hofstede
And so it is on the jobsite. Construction management is a daily exercise in identifying solutions to an unending series of nuisances and disasters.
The drywallers don't install a second layer of 5/8 on the shaftwall.
This is a nuisance.
A roofer doesn't tie off correctly and falls to his death.
This is a disaster.
Sadly, both these examples occur far too frequently. Sometimes, a lack of communication or understanding - possibly due to cultural barriers - can be the cause. An improved understanding of the cultural differences on the job can help remedy these situations.
Understand Cultural Differences - Increase Safety
OSHA statistics report Hispanics are disproportionately more likely to be injured or killed on the job. This is largely due to cultural and communication differences.
The English-Spanish language barrier is the most obvious manifestation of our cultural differences. If you've stepped on a jobsite recently, the Spanish language would be hard to miss. But communication is a derivative of one's culture; understand culture and you'll be better prepared to improve communication.
2000 Mile Border - Worlds Apart
The 2010 US Census revealed Mexicans (via family ancestry or place of birth) account for 66 percent of all Hispanics living in the US (Puerto Ricans constituted the second largest Hispanic group at roughly 9 percent). By narrowing our cultural IQ improvement to Mexico, what can we learn? We're not all that different are we?
Despite the explosive growth of the Hispanic population in the US and the 2,000-mile border we share, culturally speaking, US and Mexico are worlds apart.
But what does "worlds apart" mean exactly? Can you quantify the cultural worlds apart-ness? Culture is a common set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and behaviors among a certain group of people. It's not a live load calculation.
Can You Measure Culture?
Yes, culture can be measured. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist and anthropologist, analyzed massive amounts of cultural data from around the globe. The results established his Cultural Dimensions Theory.
Why should you care about Geert? His theory can be used on the jobsite to minimize both nuisances and disasters. Hofstede measured culture along four dimensions and then compared the scores of one country against those of another. The four dimensions are:
- Power Distance Index
- Uncertainty Avoidance
It is along these four dimensions that quantify how far apart the Mexican and American cultures are. Let's dig a bit deeper into each one.
Logical Disclaimer: As with any analysis regarding large groups of people, statements about cultures are general and relative. Nations are very complex and the goal here is to create a general awareness on the jobsite.
Power Distance Index (PDI)
As the name implies, this dimension examines how readily members accept their distance from power. A high PDI indicates that individuals understand where they stand in the pecking order and don't necessarily demand justification for the way things are. A low PDI indicates those in power better be prepared to explain how they got there.
US = 40
Mexico = 81
The American Revolution and the Occupy Wall Street Movement are two examples of how Americans aren't shy when it comes to questioning power. Per the PDI, Mexico is twice as comfortable with inequality. There is an acceptance of the distinct layers of society. They keep their heads down and respect the powers that be.
Of the 66 countries in Hofstede's study, Mexico ranked #5 on the PDI while the US ranked #52.