We are Citizen Diplomats!

I’m Moroccan, raised and grew up in Casablanca. I studied in a French school and have choose to move to Paris for my studies. After university and internships, I moved back to Casablanca for my 1st job in Sanofi. It was clear in my mind that I wanted working in an international environment, not limited to Morocco, North Africa or Middle East; that’s why I always worked in multinational companies and never moved to local ones. I speak 3 languages fluently (English, French, Arabic) and understand Spanish. Early 2016, I had the tremendous opportunity to move to GSK HQ in London being selected in a talent program. This rotation was supposed to be 9 months, and with hard work, passion and resilience, it turned to almost 4 years in Global positions interacting with sales team from all over the world. Living in London did not only expose me to the British culture but to a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and religions that I did not know back home. Working for years in Morocco for 3 multinational companies, I interacted/managed mainly Moroccans and had mainly Moroccan managers. In my current GSK team, we are 18 team members from various backgrounds and parts of the world – 14 nationalities, located in 7 countries. In the last 3 years I had managers and manager’s managers from Norway, US, Portugal, Brazil, Spain and Singapore. Which is the beauty working in a multinational company like GSK. Same observation at UNICEF – In local office in Côte d’Ivoire, people are from UK, Belgium, France, Russia, Mauritania, Senegal, Cameroun, Burkina Fasso, Ghana, Mali and much more! And I am really enjoying cross cultural experiences and exchanges. These have given me different perspectives on ways of working and management styles and brought me more openness, curiosity and acceptance for others. It increases my cultural awareness as well which is crucial with globalization nowadays.

It brings me to what is cultural intelligence?

“It’s the ability to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and then blend in.” Cultural intelligence (CQ) can be understood as the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures. CQ is measured on a scale, like the one used to measure an individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ). People with higher CQs are regarded as better able to successfully blend into any environment, using more effective business practices, than those with a lower CQ. Whether cultivated or innate, they can understand and master tricky situations, persevere and do the right thing when needed. Cultural Intelligence is related to Emotional Intelligence (EQ) but picks up where EQ leaves off. One critical element that CQ and EQ share is, according to Daniel Goldman (1), “a propensity to suspend judgement – to think before acting”. Culture is so powerful, it can affect how an insect/animal is perceived. With Globalization – Foreign cultures is everywhere. Companies too have cultures, often very distinctive. Anyone who joins a new company spends the 1st weeks deciphering and understanding its cultural codes. And this is exactly what I did during my first days/weeks at UNICEF: understanding what it means working for United Nations organization – familiarizing myself with UN Core Values and Competencies, code of conduct, safety and security policies, ways of working, UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire and Children Protection section priorities, etc. In a world where crossing boundaries is a routine, CQ becomes a vitally important aptitude and skill. And not just for international bankers and borrowers! It requires Perceptiveness and Adaptability. So, what is it being culturally competent? Multiculturalism is the practice of giving equal attention to many different backgrounds in a particular setting. Being multicultural means you are not afraid to be different. You may come from many backgrounds. You may have accepted many different cultures. All these are put together and they make you. In this age and time, many of us can say we are multicultural because we have been raised with several cultural backgrounds. What is being culturally competent? A person is said to be cultural competent when he/she brings efficiency in terms of dealing with people of different ethnicity or backgrounds. We are Citizen Diplomats and we have to be Global Fluent rather than being Culturally Competent, which is technically impossible in all countries in the world!

And what are the Advantages of Multiculturals?

Multiculturals are uniquely qualified to play several crucial roles:

  • Recognizing / Spotting new-product opportunities: Multiculturals are better placed than others to draw analogies among cultural groups. “They think as if they were French, American, or Chinese, and all of these together at once.”
  • Preventing losses in translation and facilitating communication across cultural boundaries: Even when there’s a common language, cross-cultural semantic differences can cause confusion. What the person initiating a communication means is not necessarily what the person receiving the communication hears.
  • Integrating outsiders/newcomers: Teams staffed with people who are not multicultural find it hard to assimilate newcomers with different behaviors and modes of communication, particularly when the team has developed its own norms or its members belong predominantly to one culture.
  • Serving as a cultural buffer between executives and their direct reports and between subsidiaries and headquarters.


And How navigating the Cultural Map?

Let me share with you what we’ve learned as a team in an amazing Cultural Awareness Workshop in Singapore last year. As we increasingly work with colleagues and clients who come from all parts of the world, it is vital to understand how cultural differences affect business. Yet too often we rely on clichés and stereotypes that lead us to false assumptions.

The Culture Map plots the positions of numerous nationalities along eight behavior scales: Communicating, Evaluating, Persuading, Leading, Deciding, Trusting, Disagreeing, and Scheduling (2)

Comparing the relative positions of different nationalities along these scales can help us decode how culture influences workplace dynamics.

4 important rules to keep in mind:

  • Don’t Underestimate the Challenge: Management styles stem from habits developed over a lifetime, which makes them hard to change-
  • Apply Multiple Perspectives: If you are leading a global team with, say, Brazilian, Korean, and Indian members, it isn’t enough to recognize how your culture perceives each of the others. You need to understand how the Koreans perceive the Indians, how the Indians perceive the Brazilians, and so on, and manage across the map. As you learn to look through multiple lenses, you may see that on some scales the Brazilians, for example, view the Indians in a very different way than the Koreans do.
  • Find the Positive in Other Approaches: When looking at how other cultures work, people tend to see the negative
  • Adjust, and Readjust, Your Position: More and more teams are made up of diverse and globally dispersed members. So as a leader, you’ll frequently have to tweak or adapt your own style to better mesh with your working partners.

And you cannot talk globalization without talking language. My final words will be around global language!

Ready or not, like it or not, English is now the global language of business. Today 1.75 billion people speak English! More and more multinational companies have mandated English as the common corporate language. Why? To facilitate communication and performance across geographically diverse functions and business efforts.

The question is “Will Mandarin be a realistic option of a one-language policy?”

Possible but unlikely, for 2 main reasons:

– English has a giant head start. China can’t replicate Britain’s colonial history.

– For much of the world Mandarin is extremely difficult to learn.


What’s your thoughts? Do you qualify as Citizen Diplomat? Do you feel Global Competent?


(1) Goleman is a science journalist who brought “emotional intelligence” on the bestseller list and has authored a number of books on the subject, including “Emotional Intelligence,” “Working With Emotional Intelligence,” and, lately, of “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

(2) https://www.erinmeyer.com/mapping-out-cultural-differences-on-teams/


Disclaimer – Hi! Thanks for reading my blog. My name is Zina BARRADA and I work for GSK. I am currently serving as PULSE volunteer with UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire as Communication for Child Protection Associate (GSK PULSE Volunteer Partnership), however the opinions you read here are totally my own.


    1. Thanks Margaret, I’m doing my best
      And I’m sure you and we are all doing too 🙂
      At the end of the day, the most important is not the destination, but the journey!

  1. I loved reading about the experiences that have shaped your cultural awareness. As a result, I imagine your CQ is off the charts :). I’d like to think I have a high CQ because I feel like I have been able to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and blend in (e.g. PULSE alum Rwanda ’14) but I have so much more room to grow. I’ve since shared with Matt and Renay at Pyxera Global – I think your post will bring a smile to their faces :).

    1. That’s true, I did the CQ test couple of months ago and it’s quite high I agree 🙂
      Important to maintain and always improve !
      Thanks for sharing With Matt and Renay – Great initiative

  2. I agree, Matt & Renay would be thrilled to read this post 🙂 Good to hear from you Zina, looks like you are embracing the PULSE opportunity in a true global citizen spirit & keeping your mind open to differing perspectives ! All the best, Manu.

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