It is proven that cultural diversity adds to the bottom line.

The benefits of cultural diversity are many: improved decision-making, increased collaboration, better problem-solving, enhanced well-being and knowledge sharing, to name a few. ‘ In fact, researchers have identified that culturally diverse workplaces perform up to 35% better than their counterparts.

But what does it look like in a real workplace?

Recently I was privileged to meet Rua Hashlamoun, Project Leader, and Yaara Plaves, Architect, of Hames Sharley Adelaide.

Working closely together would never have happened if they hadn’t migrated across the world. You see, Yaara is from Israel, and Rua is from Palestine. Between their homes is a very big wall built on decades of conflict.

Yaara, the most recent employee of the two, tells the story of starting at Hames Sharley. On meeting her new workmate from Palestine, Yaara recalls, “I looked at Rua, and I thought she just looked like one of my cousins! So, I took a gamble and went with my gut. Pointing to the partition between our desks, I said, “Did you see that? They put a wall between us already!” When Rua laughed, I knew this was the beginning of our friendship. As time has passed, I have come to realise that I am happy to be friends with Yaara simply because she is a nice person and where she happens to have been born is less significant.”

From Rua’s perspective, she is aware that a friendship with Yaara would be considered unheard of back home, but in her words, “I’m working with a really nice colleague who just happens to be Israeli with the political sensibility to understand the delicate circumstances between our countries, which is not common.” Culture, background and history don’t hinder their workplace friendship at all. In fact, they find they have more in common than many would think.

The ability to create relationships across cultural barriers is a highly-valued skill in the Hames Sharley world, and their team comprises of individuals from all over Australia and every corner of the globe.

Where so many companies struggle with the challenges of cultural diversity, Hames Sharley has embraced it, and stories such as Yaara and Rua’s are common.

Adelaide Studio Leader, Darren Bilsborough, explains how this has happened.

“We hire people who fit the ‘Hames Sharley’ culture, not necessarily the ‘Australian’ culture. We work on projects of great importance to us and our clients, and we know that teamwork is a key to our success. Every person we hire needs to slot quickly and effectively into our team in order for us to keep up our high standard of work. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, it matters who they are.”

“Throughout the interview process, the Hames Sharley team focuses on the whole person, not just their skill set. Personality and shared values matter. Therefore, they know that if they hire people with shared values, the potential for conflict based on culture is minimised.”

And how do the staff build relationships across cultures?

“It’s pretty easy,” says Rua, “First people ask you where you’re from and then what food you eat!”

In addition, the team works very hard to promote the language of ‘people’. What is this? Darren describes it as the ability to relate to each team member on their own terms,

Your ability to speak ‘John’ with John, and ‘Ravindar’ with Ravindar increases your value as a team member. If you can speak everyone else’s unique language, then you can contribute positively to the overall team.”

This ability to relate on a one-to-one basis, he says, goes beyond operational scope. It requires understanding the individual, what makes them tick, and their career and personal aspirations. It requires communication that goes deeper than words.

“You can write as many policies as you want in regard to promoting cultural diversity,” says Darren, “but unless you have people on your team who genuinely care about others, policies don’t affect the organisation’s culture at its deepest level – the individual’s responsibility towards the whole team.”

The Hames Sharley team doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but they know that as they continue to create the right culture, they will build great projects while at the same time destroying old walls.

And do the staff agree? In Yaara’s words, “It’s the best place I’ve ever worked. It’s demanding, hard work, but it’s a great environment and I love it.”

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