Cultural differences

Written by: Lynne Edwards 

In today’s Superyacht sector, approximately 5000 superyachts worldwide employ around 165,000 crew with a huge diversity in nationalities, cultures and customs. This diversity, which encompasses background, experience, race, gender, orientation and socio economic background.  has therefore to be of paramount importance to all Management companies, Captains and Heads of Department.  As does the accompanying issue of inclusion, which represents how individuals feel within the team and therefore how they engage within it.

At LH, we recognise both the benefits and challenges of operating in the complex diversity of a multi-cultural industry such as that of superyachts. Both our clients and students originate from a variety of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities with many differing individual wants and needs. This can, on one hand create perspectives to drive creativity and innovation but on the other hand, without proper awareness, understanding and appreciation, allow prejudices and stereotyping to create difficulties in integrating teams or meeting clients’ expectations.

We believe that cultural awareness provides valuable insights to help increase the chances of inclusion and making balanced decisions. Without proper recognition of this, communication and collaboration can be compromised and lead to misunderstandings.

Taking this into consideration, wouldn’t it be advisable for any Management company, Captain or Head of Department to consider the challenges that are likely to arise in a culturally-diverse crew? We hear many stories of division, where some ethnic groups within the crew feel unable to express their points of view and so feel unheard, whilst others feel unjustly stereotyped, “the Eastern Europeans…., the Aussies and SAFAS, you Brits are all the same……. and so on. This can lead to separation and division not only through language barriers but also because of cultural differences in upbringing and conditioning. This isn’t ideal in an industry that relies on teams integrating and communicating effectively to ensure everything is running like clockwork.

The richness and diversity of cultures within our workforce and the guests we serve is to be celebrated. And we have an opportunity to continually invest our time and effort into enhancing our knowledge and understanding of this diversity. Because it would  be unwise to assume that just because it exists, we can bypass this important process. Indeed, as many of us know in this industry, there are obvious reasons why it’s important to properly understand the customs and nuances of your guests – a failure to do so will result in a mediocre, disappointing experience for them and the likely termination of a crew’s contract.

We believe passionately that people function more effectively when they’re allowed to be themselves and are in an environment where their strengths and talents are allowed to flourish. We have an opportunity to change our industry and do things differently, to be proud of its diversity and truly celebrate it through inclusive practises. After all, in what working sector outside of Luxury Hospitality might you gain an insight into such a diverse variety of customs and cultural nuances – from the correct way to address an Arab Prince, a Russian oligarch or a country’s President, to the most appropriate way to serve Shisha, Middle Eastern Meze, Beluga caviar or a Japanese banquet.

How can our industry influence and lead this change? How can we ensure that our teams – who remain our greatest resource – are supported to work effectively and become the best that they can be?


It all starts with effective leadership

An effective leader will embrace diversity and inclusion. But what does embracing diversity and inclusion really mean? LH believes there are three key steps –  understanding, accepting and celebrating others.

A good leader will be curious about other cultures and how best to connect and communicate with them. If this is demonstrated constructively – for example, working with the chef to provide specific recipes for religious festivals – team members will feel more encouraged to bring who they are to the fore. Equally, if attempts to understand different ethnic backgrounds and cultures are founded on words only and aren’t followed up with action, they’ll potentially further isolate groups who already don’t feel comfortable mixing.

For example, an effective leader will never tolerate or turn a blind eye to any divisive or discriminatory language or behaviour. They will also ensure their team is trained to recognise their own and others’ unconscious bias – the human tendency to perceive threat in difference or something we don’t understand.

People need to feel seen, heard and understood. When we seek to understand first, accepting and celebrating will naturally follow. We should already be speaking up for global audiences, but we also have a duty to recognise and stand up for those who may have been historically side-lined or marginalised in the industry. This is important, not only in a moral sense but for the survival of any team and organisation. When people feel really seen and heard, they feel safe to be who they truly are. But they’ll also feel empowered to share their knowledge and ideas. This will lead to significantly better and more varied solutions when your team faces challenges.


Creating high-performing teams

An organisation’s culture is defined by its values, beliefs and attitudes. If a leader wants to create a fully functioning, successfully integrated team that works in harmony and flow, it is imperative they understand these different cultures and customs that help form the different personalities in their teams.

If people don’t feel valued or seen it will impact their ability to communicate effectively within the team. This will inevitably impact negatively on guest experience, especially as they’re likely to pick up any tension within the team.  

A happy and content crew, who are well-trained and have a deep understanding of self and others are far more likely to deliver a high level of service that owners, clients and guests expect and appreciate. Sustainable change is only possible when a leader shines a lens on every individual team member with respect and sincerity.

How can you enhance your knowledge and understanding of your team? Effective leadership starts with understanding self and others. Invest in your self-development with one of our online or shore-based courses.


27 January 2022 our blog , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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