Top 5 tips for CQ: Ranjna Patel from an Indian perspective

Diversity and Inclusion require smart cross-cultural communication skills. New Zealand – particularly Auckland – has one of the most diverse workforces in the world. The leaders that excel here today are those that understand various cultures, including communication patterns, norms, expectations, and taboos.

In the lead-up to the panel discussion September 8 this blog series focuses on cultural intelligence (CQ) in the workforce, from the viewpoint of selected Global Women members who represent New Zealand’s diverse ethnic makeup.


Today Global Women member Ranjna Patel, director of Nirvana Health Group, provides five tips for leaders from an Indian perspective that you can effectively build into your teams.

1. Respect

Firstly, age. As in all cultures, in Indian culture it’s very important to respect seniority in age when using salutations, even if that older person is on the first step of the career ladder. For example, when we first started our business, we had an elderly nurse from Wales that had not registered in New Zealand and was the receptionist. My husband as a young doctor could not call her ‘Gwen”, he would call her Sister or Mrs Muncey. She felt this was odd since he was the boss. My migrant staff, who are younger than me, do not call me by my first name – instead it is “Mam”.

Secondly, gender: If you are a young woman leading a team, be prepared, so you do not falter. As in all cultures, it’s a man’s world. But Indian men (just as in Pasifika and Maori culture) tend to talk to male counterparts, even if you are the leader of that team. Don’t get intimidated.

2. Religion dos and don’ts

In a country where there are a billion people, religion rules more than law. Understand there are many different religions which rule many actions. Taking this into account helps enormously with understanding dietary restrictions, actions, and behaviour. To illustrate the diversity, you’re bound to encounter, remember every state in India is like a country. There are many different religious festivals and norms for each religion. Some are a priority, like Ramadan, where the Muslims will fast all day – no food or water – for a month. Hindus all have different deities they believe in and hence have different days of the week they will respect (and fast over). To add to the mix, in New Zealand we have third-generation Indians (like me), we have first generation and we have new migrants – all require very different understanding. Find out where they sit in their thinking.

3. Family and education

This is the number one priority. Most migrate here for their children’s future, giving up many luxuries. Everyone will argue family is most important no matter the culture, but for Indians the family context is more inter-generational rather than about relationships. That is, in Western culture it is more about being close in proximity and time, but in Eastern it is more about being close in values and with the extended family context. Hence, education always becomes a priority since it is long term and empowers (values also empower). We also need to understand that for Indians to get into medicine, for example, you need to have an average of 95-98 percent in all subjects and competition is fierce. Their degree may not get recognised here, but these people have had to jump a lot of hoops to get there.

4. Karma

Good actions will come back as good deeds.

5. Hierarchy

When working in India, the senior people are generally not approachable. You need to convince people to break through these hierarchy barriers in order to allow great thinking. For example, in a hospital setting, it would be very hard to approach a senior doctor, to voice an opinion. Companies here sometimes do not understand this concept and silence from younger employees is sometimes seen as not knowing. Creating an environment in which you can share easily is important. Young and new team members have some great ideas, but sometimes respect will stop people speaking up. It could also be the language, though – as Kiwis, we speak very fast. This brings to mind, I remember in the late 70s a young educated bride came out from India, and she very politely asked the customs officer to “Speak in English” when he was questioning her about her luggage. She thought he was speaking Maori!