Conversations about gender and ethnicity and their roles in boosting the diversity of big businesses are now commonplace. But one dimension of inclusion that seems to have been forgotten is language.
English is widely accepted as the lingua franca of multinationals for everything from everyday emails to client meetings and presentations, and despite the increasingly globalised world, that doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.
To highlight the extent of the problem, of the 1.35 billion English speakers around the world, only a little over a third of those (37.5%) are native speakers. The rest are asked to perform at their best in a language they do not naturally think or communicate in. They are asked to adapt all day, every day, and their struggles to understand nuance and local idioms can make the workplace a difficult and frustrating place.
‘Just the way it is’
As a native English speaker, it’s easy to dismiss this situation as ‘just the way it is’. However, if native English speakers were forced to make a phone call or write their next email in a non-native language, they’d very quickly discover just how stifling it can be. Understandably, the impact it can have on the employee experience and the business can be dramatic.
The business impact
Businesses that adopt this single language mandate can expect to experience several detrimental effects. Firstly, organisations that do not engage with employees in their native languages could see levels of staff engagement and retention rates fall. In turn, this could lead to a loss of key talent and an increase in retention costs. It could also damage the business’s reputation as a good and inclusive place to work, and that could make it more difficult to hire the best people in the future.
There’s also the risk that businesses that overlook the importance of language skills are more likely to hire native-speaking candidates over non-natives in the future. That could come at the cost of creative thinking and problem-solving skills that are an important asset for any team.
If language skills continue to be ignored, then potential foreign business partners may start to look elsewhere and overseas opportunities could be missed. If these issues relating to workplace culture and the loss of key talent continue to go unchecked, then ultimately, the success of the business could be at risk.
How can businesses better support their non-native workforce?
The first step is for businesses to create an understanding workplace environment that welcomes, values and encourages discussions and education around different languages and cultures. Introducing internal initiatives such as workplace language and cultural training to upskill English native employees could be a great place to start.
Offering secondments and placements to branches and departments in other countries is another way to enhance the education around languages and encourage teams to embrace new cultures. This type of experience can be extremely rewarding for employees in terms of morale and engagement and hugely beneficial for the business, with skills swaps helping to build more complete teams.
Simply displaying more empathy for non-native English speakers could also improve the employee experience dramatically. Asking employees whether they’d prefer to complete tasks in their native languages and using subtitles for presentations and video calls could immediately enhance accessibility and help employees to overcome the challenges they face.
Take a more inclusive approach to language
Is your business ready to take a more inclusive approach to language? Then contact Linguistica Recruitment today. We have a pool of talented multilingual candidates who are ready to broaden your horizons and take their next career step in the UK.