The word “culture” stems from a Latin root that means the tilling of the soil, like in agriculture. In many modern languages the word is used in a figurative sense, with two meaning. The first meaning which is more commonly used is “civilization”, including education, manners, and arts and crafts and their products. It is the domain of a “ministry of culture”. The second meaning is derived from social anthropology, but in the past decades it has entered common parlance. It refers to the way people think, feel and act (Hofstede, G. Et al. 2011).
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According to Geert Hofstede, “Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values” (Geert Hofstede). Categories can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders. He also spoke about culture as the “software of the mind” that guides us in our daily interactions.
Another definition of culture according to Edgar Schein is, “Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and benefits that are shared by members of an organisation that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organisation’s view of its self and its environment” (Edgar H. Schein. 2004).
*According to Peterson (2004), “Culture is the relatively steady set of inner values and beliefs commonly held by groups of persons in countries or regions and the visible impact those values and beliefs have on the populations’ outward behaviour and environment”. Hence, culture includes many elements which include behaviour, knowledge, motives, ideas, and customs that differentiate the members of one group from another (Neelankavil and Rai, 2009).
The aim of this essay is to discuss and evaluate the key dimensions of national culture of Australia using the cultural dimensions model developed by Hofstede which is based on an extensive study of how values in workplace are influenced by culture. A particular culture will be rated against five distinct categories. These dimensions are Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism versus Collectivism, Masculinity versus Femininity and Long Term Orientation (Hofsted, 2001). I will also discuss some limitations and criticism of the Hofstede Model of Culture Dimensions, concluding my discussion with a brief summary at the end.
National Culture of Australia:
*Australia is a well developed country making marks in the world economy. Australian Culture echoes the nation’s exceptional unification of different cultures. Australia’s diverse culture and lifestyle reflect its liberal democratic traditions and values, geographic closeness to the Asia-Pacific region and the social and cultural influences of the millions of migrants who have settled in Australia since World War II.
Australia is a product of a unique blend of established traditions and new influences. The country’s original inhabitants, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are the custodians of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultural traditions (Australiacountrybook. 2011). Australia culture has grown to be one of the most diverse cultures of the world. Heavily influenced by Anglo-Celtic origins the culture of Australia has also been shaped by multi-ethnic migration which has influenced all aspects of Australian life, including business, the arts, cooking, sense of humour and sporting tastes. Australian culture is based on the following principles: Productive diversity- All the people should uplift the cultural, social and economic values. And Cultural respect- All the people of Australia can practice their own religion and culture. Today Australia has a population of more than 21 million people (World News Network. 2011).
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions framework of Australia
“Power distance is the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.” (Hofstede, 2001).
This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders (Geert Hofstede. (2009).
In high power distance cultures the following things are observed. Those in authority openly demonstrate their rank. Subordinates are not given important work and expect clear guidance from above. Subordinates are expected to take the blame for things going wrong. The relationship between boss and subordinate is rarely close/personal. Politics is prone to totalitarianism. Class divisions within society are accepted and parents are more highly respected and corporal punishment is more common (Hofstede on Cultural Awareness. 2011).
In comparison in low power distance cultures the following things are observed. Superiors treat subordinates with respect regardless of their rank. Subordinates are entrusted with important assignments and tasks. If things go wrong, the blame is generally shared or very often accepted by the superior due to it being their responsibility to manage. Managers may often socialise with their subordinates. Liberal democracies are the norm and societies lean more towards egalitarianism.
Power Distance in Australia:
Power Distance (PDI) in Australia is relatively low, with an index of 36, compared to the world average of 55. This is indicative of a greater equality between societal levels, including government, organizations, and even within families. This orientation reinforces a cooperative interaction across power levels and creates a more stable cultural environment (Australian Business Culture. 2011).
A low power distance implies that power in Australia is spread out to everyone instead of being reserved to a few groups. This relatively low score implies that Australians believe that they are close to power, that they should have access to that power, that the powerful and the powerless should try to live in concert with each other, and that a hierarchy is an inequality of roles established for convenience (Samovar and Porter, 1991).
Uncertainty Avoidance deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute truth; ‘there can only be one truth and we have it’. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions (Geert Hofstede. 2009).
Some of the common traits found in countries that score highly on the uncertainty avoidance scale are as follows. They are usually countries/cultures with a long history, where the population is not multicultural, i.e. homogenous. Where risks, even calculated, are avoided in business and where new ideas and concepts are more difficult to introduce (EuroAfricaCentral Network – Multicultural Communication & Training. 2009).
In comparison, some of the common traits found in countries that score low on the uncertainty avoidance scale are as follows. They are usually countries with a young history and where the population is much more diverse due to waves of immigration. Where risks are embraced as part of businesses and innovation and pushing boundaries is encouraged (Hofstede on Cultural Awareness 2011).
Uncertainty Avoidance in Australia:
The Geert Hofstede analysis shows the high level of individuality Australian’s hold dear. This is reinforced in their daily lives and must be considered when travelling and doing business in the Country. Privacy is considered the norm and attempts at personal ingratiation may meet with rebuff. Uncertainty avoidance is relatively low with a family centred culture and a stable society (Geert Hofstede. (2009).
Australia received a score of 27 on the scale of Uncertainty Avoidance. This score implies that Australians do not like uncertainty, that they want stability for members, they strive for consensus, follow many rules, and tend to have more stress and anxiety (Samovar and Porter, 1991).
According to Hofstede (2001), individualism/ collectivism refer to the extent to which individuals are integrated groups.
*Individualism is “the opposite of collectivism; together they form one of the dimensions of national cultures. Individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family only.”
People in individualistic cultures emphasize their success/achievements in job or private wealth and aiming up to reach more and/or a better job position (International Business Cultures. 2010).
Collectivism “stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong cohesive in groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” Alexandra Giroux. (2011).
Highly individualist cultures believe that an individual is the most important unit. In this kind of culture people only take care of themselves and their immediate family. People are self orientated. Identity is based on individual. It is also a kind of a guilt culture. People make decisions on their individual needs. Emphasis is on individual initiative and achievement and everyone has a right to a private life (Ann P. Copeland. (2011).
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*In comparison, highly collective cultures believe that an individual is the most important unit. In this kind of culture people expect absolute loyalty to a group i.e. extended family. It is group oriented and decisions are based on what is best for the group. Identity is based on a social system and it is also a kind of shame culture. Dependence on organisation and institutions i.e. expects organisations/institutions/groups to take care of an individual. There is an emphasis on belonging and private life is “invaded” by institution and organisations to which one belongs to.
Individualism in Australia:
The Geert Hofstede analysis for Australia reflects the high level of individuality Australian’s hold dear. The Individualism (IDV) index for Australia is 90, the second highest score of any country in Hofstede’s survey, behind the United States’ ranking of 91. This individuality is reinforced in Australian’s daily lives and must be considered when travelling and doing business in their Country. Privacy is considered the cultural norm and attempts at personal ingratiating may meet with rebuff (International Business Centre. (2008).
This dimension indicates the extent to which dominant values in a society tend to be assertive and look more interested in things than in concerning for people and the quality of life. “Masculinity is the opposite of femininity; together, they form one of the dimensions of national cultures (International Business Cultures. (2010).
According to Hofstede, “Masculinity stands for a society in which social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.”
“Femininity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap: Both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.” (Hofstede (2001).
Masculine cultures tend to be ambitious and need to excel. Members of these cultures have a tendency to polarize and consider big and fast to be beautiful. In workplaces employees emphasize their work to a great extent (live in order to work) and they admire achievers who accomplished their tasks. Feminine cultures consider quality of life and helping others to be very important (Hideyuki SUGAWARA. (2009).
A High Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation. In these cultures, males dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure, with females being controlled by male domination. A Low Masculinity ranking indicates the country has a low level of differentiation and discrimination between genders. In these cultures, females are treated equally to males in all aspects of the society.
Masculinity/Femininity in Australia:
*The Geert Hofstede analysis for Australia in relation to masculinity reflects almost 58% population is male dominated which is just below half level at 48% compared to the rest of the world. This shows that females still are not considered equal to men in different fields of life; however, femininity equality & rights are increasing rapidly in Australia according to some online statistics and reports.
Long Term Orientation:
Long-Term Orientation (LTO) focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values. High Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition. This is thought to support a strong work ethic where long-term rewards are expected as a result of today’s hard work. However, business may take longer to develop in this society, particularly for an “outsider”. A Low Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country does not reinforce the concept of long-term, traditional orientation. In this culture, change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do not become impediments to change (International Business Centre. 2008).
A long term orientation is characterized by persistence and perseverance, a respect for a hierarchy of the status of relationships, thrift, and a sense of shame. Countries include China; Hong Kong; Taiwan, Japan and India.
A short-term orientation is marked by a sense of security and stability, a protection of one’s reputation, a respect for tradition, and a reciprocation of greetings; favours and gifts. Countries include: Britain, Canada, the Philippines; Germany and Australia (Robert Paterson. (2003).
High long term orientation cultures will show respect to traditions and longer work commitments, this is because one believe rewards will come following work even if it is not immediate. Long term rewards are expected for work done today. Low long term orientation societies do not confirm to traditions and long term rewards. Traditions and commitments in cultures with low long term orientation are likely to change with time (Confucius Institute. (2008).
Long Term Orientation in Australia:
Long term orientation in Australia is at 30% which is just below half level at 44% compared to the rest of the world. This shows that long term orientation is at a low level in Australia. This might also means that Australia leans more towards short term orientation than long term.
Limitations of the Hofstede Model of Culture Dimensions:
Even though Hofstede’s model is generally accepted as the most comprehensive framework of national cultures values, its validity and its limitations have been extensively criticized. Certain criticism has been raised such as the following.
Firstly, the averages of a country do not relate to individuals of that country. Even though this model has proven to be quite often correct when applied to the general population, one must be aware that not all individuals or even regions with subcultures fit into the mould. It is to be used as a guide to understanding the difference in culture between countries, not as law set in stone. As always, there are exceptions to the rule. Secondly, there is no certainty concerning the accuracy of the data. The data has been collected through questionnaires, which have their own limitations. In some cultures the context of the questions asked are as important as their content. Especially in group orientated cultures, individuals might tend to answer questions as if they were addressed to the group he/she belongs to. Lastly, the question is as to how up to date is the data considering factors such as how much does a country change over time, either by internal or external influences.
After discussing in detail, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions framework for Australia, it can be seen that the power distance situation in Australia is relatively low. A low power distance implies that power in Australia is spread out to everyone instead of being reserved to a few groups. This also indicates that there is good equality between social level, including government, and organisations. This orientation reinforces a cooperative interaction across power levels and creates a more stable cultural environment. In relation to uncertainty avoidance, it is also relatively low with a family centred culture and a steady society. It can also be seen that Australians do not like uncertainty, that they want stability for members, they strive for consensus, follow many rules, and tend to have more stress and anxiety. It can also be witnessed that there has been a high level of individuality. The masculinity / femininity level seems to be balanced as well with both genders sharing equality in business and ethics. As for orientation, you can see both long and short term as Australia is a product of a unique blend of established traditions and new influences. Overall this portrays that Australia has come a long way from where it once stood & has improved on many issues and fields heading towards a strong, solid and promising future in terms of culture.
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