This blog was written with the help of Sam Ross, a member of Allshore’s sales team.
Managing employees from different cultures is a big challenge for multi-national companies. To mitigate this problem, IBM undertook a very ambitious cross-cultural business study in the 1960’s and 70’s. This study was headed by Geert Hofstede, the head of IBM Europe’s personnel research department at the time. Hofstede and his team surveyed over 100,000 IBM employees and used their responses to construct “Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory.” This theory divides each culture in to six “cultural dimensions” and rates each dimension on a scale of zero to 100, based on the traits, values, habits and mores held and exhibited by the members of these cultures. Understanding the numerical values for these cultural dimensions can give people insight into foreign cultures and help cross-cultural organizations function better.
One important cultural dimension is acceptance of rivalry and the value placed on monetary wealth and publicized achievement. In Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, this dimension is titled “masculinity.” A culture with a high masculinity rating is rife with competition and its members strive for recognition and financial success. In more feminine cultures, cultures with a low masculinity ranking, harmony, caring for others, and quality of life take precedence.
With a rating of 62, the culture of the United States has a strongly masculine understanding of success and a high tolerance for competition. This disposition is taught and enforced to Americans throughout their lives through competitive sports, a democratic electoral system, a frequently used legal structure, and a merit-based work environment, all of which result in a clear winner and loser. American culture encourages people to be the best and to broadcast their success widely, even if it comes at the expense of harmony or the wellbeing of other members of society.
One American idiom that outlines the supremacy of masculine values over feminine ones is “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Though no one knows the origin of this phrase, its earliest use can be traced back to the United States in the mid-19th century. This idiom means that those who are the most noticeable get the attention and the reward. Other phrases that are commonly heard and used in American discourses and urge members to act in a masculine way are “man up”, “brave it” and “be your own advocate.”
In the United States, a person’s most publicized aspect is their professional status and achievement. A living testament to this is that the question “what do you do?” is universally understood to mean “tell me about your job.” On American social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, people are identified by the academic institution they are affiliated with or by their place of employment. Moreover, talking about hobbies, family and passions is viewed as deep conversation and questions about those subjects can be viewed as intrusive.
To seek achievement and realize the masculine understanding of success, young Americans migrate for college or for employment. According to a 2012 report by the United States Census Bureau, 48 percent of Americans relocate between the ages of 18 and 24 and over 65 percent of Americans move to a different city between the ages of 25 and 29 (compared with 31 percent for those not in the 18-29 range). The high rate of geographic mobility among young Americans leads them away from their friends and family, but allows them to reach their goals: success and recognition.
When comparing the level of masculinity in the United States and Pakistan, it is important to understand that there is a shifting and varied perspective among the people of Pakistan. Initially, Pakistani culture was significantly more feminine than western culture. With the passage of time, Pakistani culture has made a masculine shift owing to the increase in education, the emergence of a middle-class, the development of centralized civil-society, greater national identity, and more global awareness.
According to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, Pakistan has a rating of 50 on the masculinity index—an equal mix of masculinity and femininity. According to this rating, Pakistani culture values harmony and family more than American culture. Still, there is an importance to money, success and education in Pakistan; it is just not as high as in the United States.
In the past, Pakistani people preferred living close to their family, joining the family business and staying connected to their hometown network. Leaving town to seek opportunities in a far away area was not a viable option because what they would leave behind was viewed as more valuable than any opportunity. The ideal scenario for Pakistani men was to get married at a very young age, and to become a “family man” rather than seek education, fortune, and recognition.
Even today, more than 60 percent of the total population of Pakistan live in rural areas and adhere to the more feminine values that were dominant in the past. In these rural communities, young people have little opportunity for higher education and no access to a booming job market. They can either choose to learn their father’s trade and work in the family business or join the Pakistani military. Still, a small but growing fraction of young rural Pakistanis choose to relocate to the cities for education and employment.
One famous Urdu proverb that exposes Pakistan’s attitude towards masculine values is: “Tail dekh-tail ki dhaar dekh,” literally translated as “Watch the oil and watch it pour.“ This proverb urges people to sit back and see what happens rather than take action. This is a very common behavior of Pakistanis. They do not really like to express their feelings and views about things happening around them. A Pakistani would say they agree with you about a certain matter even if they actually disagree because they see it as the ideal.
Engaging in arguments and being confrontational is not in a Pakistani’s nature. Mostly people are in “sit back and see how things turn out” mode, rather than “get up and make things turn out the way you want” mode. A Pakistani subordinate will seldom stand up and correct his boss if the boss makes a mistake or an offensive comment. People see it as in their best interest to get close to those in power, rather than trying to become the power.
This feeds into another one of Hofstede’s dimensions of culture, power distance. Power distance is the degree to which members of culture accept their status as subordinates. Pakistan has a score of 55 in power distance (compared to 40 for the United States). This means that Pakistanis are at peace with things being out of their hands, and content with their superiors making choices for them. A very good example is the lack of public discourse about the inflation in Pakistan. People are aware and many are upset by the artificial inflation pushed by the Pakistani government to boost exports. Even though it drives the Pakistani worker’s purchasing power down, and reduces their wealth, very rarely does anyone voice opposition to this policy.
By understanding the different values placed on achievement and harmony in American and Pakistani society, a person can learn how to effectively motivate and genuinely relate to members of these two distinct cultures. For an American, public praise and professional promotion, even if it leads to conflict, is desirable. For Pakistanis, a more harmonious environment or more time to spend with loved ones might carry more weight.
Miller, Patricia H. (2001). Theories of Developmental Psychology. Macmillan. ISBN 071672846X.
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