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Why diversity matters in a global organization

Sep 4, 2019

by Maxim El Masri, Senior Regional Commercial Director

Diversity is something I think about a lot. I am French, with a German mother and a Lebanese father. I am fortunate and thankful to have worked in many countries and to have been exposed to plenty of different cultures and work ethics, from starting my career in the US to working in multiple countries in Europe where I performed all the different jobs you can find in a hotel.

My experience with Expedia Group has since taken me to Singapore where I led an account management team of 20 people of 9 different nationalities spread across 6 locations. And now I am in Dubai where my team of 13 (based in Munich and Dubai) interact with our B2B partners who are located across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Russia. Thanks to Expedia Group and after so many years around the world I now realize that diversity is THE key for a successful global organization.


What is diversity?

The starting point for ensuring you have a truly diverse team is having a clear definition of diversity. Country of origin and gender are often the two criteria people would consider when talking about diversity. In my opinion, diversity should not be limited to just those two; we need to also include less obvious characteristics such as educational background, professional experience, language, and other interests in life.

The travel partners that my team communicate with are all over the world and come from different walks of life, so it's essential that my team members mirror that diversity. For example, if you recruit an entire team from the same MBA program, you're more likely to end up with a homogenous group with similar skill sets and the same cultural values. I believe that in a global organization, that's not good for business.

The way I approach diversity is to look at the current strengths of the team and find out if we are missing an experience, a language, or an educational background that would help us to be more relevant to our travel partners. For example, we are currently looking for a Senior Manager speaking German and if possible Turkish with German tour operator experience. I am a strong believer that having these skills would significantly help and accelerate our understanding of that specific sector. That means you need to accept that there is no single job description that you can just submit again and again for all the different people in a team who might share a common job title, like ‘senior manager'. It also means that you need to be patient in finding the right person. Too often the mistake is made to hire someone strong, who may be bringing the exact same strengths and background that other team members already possess.


Being culturally curious

One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She said : “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”.

When I think about how we can be successful as a team, I constantly think about how we can best connect with our travel partners, for example by speaking their language or understanding their experience. The goal is to earn trust and become a strategic B2B partner over time. That means hiring people who understand diversity because they will look after our travel partners who come from many countries, each with their own unique set of requirements. When interviewing, I try to understand if the candidate has genuine interest to connect with other human beings and enjoys the beauty of learning from others. For example, do they have a multicultural background themselves e.g. an experience of living as an expat, the willingness to speak local languages, or are they curious about another country’s food, or literature?

I believe this is a key requirement to being successful as a global sales organization because if you don’t have the right mindset it will be a challenge when you're doing business in a foreign territory. Operating in other cultures can mean doing business different to your own norm but for the travel partner, they're not doing anything 'differently' - it’s just how business is done in their country or culture. It's an obvious point, but the relativity of difference is often overlooked in this context. Only once you have that mindset, can you truly start to understand the needs of your travel partner and start to bring value and build a long-lasting relationship together.

There is another important benefit to being culturally curious. We all agree that the ability to read a room is a vital skill in sales. And that ability doesn't always transcend culture. Take silence for example. When your pitch is received with silence, in some countries that’s an indicator that you can pack your bags and leave. In others, it's a sign of respect and a definite sign that you have been well-received. You need to accept that what you see or hear is not always the way you should interpret it.


Embrace diversity at all levels of the organization

Finally, diversity is key to take the right decisions in a global company but for that you need to facilitate a way to surface the idea from everyone. Not being an English native speaker may make you feel less valued or inhibited (I speak from experience). Without a culture of openness, where you have a forum to articulate your ideas and be truly listened to and understood, an organization can miss great ideas simply because your employees are confused by a colleague's accent. You will always end up valuing or listening to the person that it is closer to you which limits the opportunity for you to truly understand the world and be relevant globally.

If that happens, you won’t truly be a global company; you will be a local company with a local mindset, trying to do business globally. Local relevance is essential – but that goes for everywhere; not just the territory your organization is based in.

At Expedia Group, one of our guiding principles is to be locally relevant on a global scale. The only way you can achieve that is to be a truly global organization and embrace diversity and difference at every level and in every facet of your business.


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