The Need to Embrace Cultural Differences in Recruitment Processes

The Need to Embrace Cultural Differences in Recruitment Processes

Prof. Attahiru Jega, the former INEC chairman, revealed on Thursday, 12th December, 2019 that a survey conducted by a committee set up by Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has shown that Nigeria has low percentage of foreign students and foreign academic staff. According to him, out of 1,132,795 students involved in the survey, only 1,856 of them were foreign students. This also applied to academic staff, where only 437 out of 5,604 academic staff were foreigners.

This report truly showed that Nigerian policies on admission into Nigerian higher institutions and other related factors discourage foreign students from finding Nigerian higher institutions attractive.

I believe a lot of people will say that the Nigerian standard of education and the poor state of educational facilities are enough to discourage Nigerian and non-Nigerian students from considering Nigerian higher institutions. That is true, but there may be more to it than meets the eye. But even if Nigerian education system is nothing to write home about, how come we have a paltry number of foreign lecturers in our schools?

When I threw this question open to some of my friends, the answers I got ranged from foreign lecturers being too expensive to maintain to Nigerian jobs being for Nigerians first. This last opinion was what prompted this write-up. According to the people that said this, “Nigerians need to settle their people first before settling others”.

As much as it is necessary for Nigerians to be given priority in recruitment processes within the country, there is a need to understand the benefits of bringing in people from different cultures, backgrounds, religions and beliefs. You might also wish to know that even within Nigeria, employers are more comfortable recruiting and working with people they share the same cultural background with. A lot of people may term this nepotism but I see it herds-mentality. I’ll explain that soon.

Be it in the corporate or the business world, you would have realised that people that are not from the same religion, tribe or language as yours are more suspicious while dealing with you. Even you may be sceptical about someone that is “different” from you culturally – you prefer dealing with your kind because it is just easier that way. There are so many reasons for this, though a lot of them are quite unexplainable. But I’ll try my best to mention some of them here.

Communication Difficulty: I as a person have experienced this a lot. Different cultures have different means of communication, especially when it comes to signs and gestures. For example, it took me a long time to learn how to greet people “properly” when I was in Ibadan. I had fallouts with elders because I stand straight while sending out passive “good morning”. While in Zamfara, my challenges were looking elderly men straight in the eyes while addressing them. Now all these “rudeness” would have been enough for these people not to recruit that “Igbo girl that has no respect” because I failed to pick up their cultures on time.

Communication difficulties could also be found in manner of speech. For instance, someone told me that he was once arrested by men of the Nigerian Army because he unknowingly “insulted” their boss when he was anchoring an event in an officers’ mess (he cracked a joke they found offensive). This can apply to people from cultures that do not find jokes funny, or those that could not have female bosses, and things like that. As a result, it will be safer for some employers to work with those they won’t find communicating with difficult.

Fear of Conflict: If a team that is made up of culturally different members isn’t well managed, conflict is bound to arise. Most of the time, someone will feel that he is being relegated to the background. Another may believe the other members are being favoured. You will also find those that prejudice their team members because of their tribe and religion. In most cases, factions and break-ups come as a result of this.

Fear of Changes: Funny as it sounds, a lot of people fear changes because they don’t want what they can’t control. To these set of people, changes are challenges they can’t handle. So they prefer that things move the way they have planned it without someone from somewhere else coming to jeopardise it.

Herd-Mentality: This term was coined by Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo in her book Children of the Eagle when trying to explain why women love asoebi. According to her, women feel more comfortable when they move in groups because they believe that’s when they can command respect.

But her theory can also apply to the reason most employers go for workers that are like them. If you look at the situation critically, you will agree with me that these employers have this herd-mentality because they feel more comfortable, in control and in power when they are with their own kind. Bringing in “outsiders” could dis-organise and shatter their well-planned dynasty, which they would rather not have.

Understanding the benefits of having staff from different cultural backgrounds could be better fathomed if we see the disadvantages of having only those of the same kind. Here, I will just mention two out of the many.

  1. Uniform Idea: Since these people have the same background, thoughts, opinions, values and belief system, they will continue to project the same idea over and over again; nothing new is ever going to come through them.

This may sound beneficial for short-sighted bosses because no one will see anything odd with their methods of running their organisations. But they will realise in the long run that they have been running around in circles. They will find out that they have been applying the same methods in solving problems and have been making the same mistakes. They will not have creative and diverse ideas that will bring in new products and services. Worst is, their growth rate will not be encouraging.

  1. Market Penetration: Having a particular type of workers means that you will only be able to penetrate a particular type of market. For an employer that is okay with that, there is no need looking for people from the other side. But if an employer wishes to penetrate as many markets as possible, he needs to bring in as many culturally different persons as he could lay his hands on.

A good example is when a private school that is owned by a Christian, but has no Muslim staff, tries to penetrate a Muslim neighbourhood. I don’t see that school succeeding in getting any Muslim student. The major reason behind this is that a Muslim staff will be in a better position to understand how to win over these people. Besides, the parents will want to be sure that the school is “safe” for their children; and the only way they can do that is by seeing one of their kinds.

As we kick against favouritism, nepotism and tribalism in our system, let us ensure that we don’t allow the differences in culture, religion, gender, tribe, language and so on to affect the recruitment processes in our different organisations. Let the basis for recruitment be “what the person can deliver” and not “where the person comes from”.

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