There are many different countries in the world, each with its own specific culture, or way of doing things. While most people have a sense of what culture is, it is difficult to measure, compare and analyse such a diverse and all-pervasive subject. In an attempt to define some measurable and quantifiable aspects of culture, Geert Hofstede developed the idea of cultural dimensions. These dimensions originated from a study of IBM employees conducted between 1967 and 1978 which initially covered 40 different countries. The large amount of information that the study provided enabled Hofstede to identify four key areas that affected all cultures: social inequality, relationships between individuals and groups, concepts of masculinity and femininity, and uncertainty and ambiguity. These key areas are the four dimensions of culture which eventuated from the IBM study. They were named:
Power distance (PDI) (from small to large)
Collectivism versus individualism (IDV)
Femininity versus masculinity (MAS)
Uncertainty avoidance (UAI) (from weak to strong)
These four dimensions form a model which can be used to compare different cultures.
Power Distance Index (PDI)
Power distance can be defined as the degree to which less powerful people accept and even expect that power is distributed unequally. It is important to note the PDI does not measure the actual difference in power between to individuals, but rather how that power is perceived. For example, in a worker-manager example, the actual authority and power of the manager will be similar or even identical across cultures with differing PDI scores, but the way that this power is perceived by both members is considerably different.
PDI is indicative of the dependence between people. In a culture with low PDI, there will be limited dependence between workers and managers, and consultation between both members is commonplace; there is interdependence between workers and managers. There is a very small emotional distance between members, with subordinates freely communicating with their bosses, and even contradicting them. Both members act more as equals, although subordinates still lack the power of their bosses.
At the other end of the PDI scale, in a culture with high PDI, there is high dependence of workers on managers. Subordinates can either accept the dependence and embrace the resulting autocratic or parental relations, or reject it and display counterdependence. The emotional distance between members in a high PDI culture is very large and subordinates will rarely approach their bosses with critiques or criticism.
Individualism (high IDV score) is the extent to which people prefer to live with a strong sense of personal identity, while collectivism (low IDV score) refers to the preference of a group identity. The majority of the world's cultures exhibit a low IDV score, and IDV and PDI tend to be negatively correlated.
In a culture with low IDV, members form a part of strong groups. Low individualism societies tend to work as a group and think for the group, even to the point of experiencing 'groupthink', where individuals downplay their own theories and suggestions in order to conform more readily to the group. A given individual will more likely to be willing to sacrifice personal gains for the benefit of the greater group.
In a culture with high IDV, members have loose ties with each other and operate as individuals, looking after themselves and their immediate family and friends, making their own decisions, and developing their own identity. Members will tend to avoid developing close ties and loyalties to others; they will express personal opinions and ideas, and are not afraid to speak out against the majority.
Masculinity (high MAS score) is the preference for an aggressive and dominant attitude, while a culture with a low MAS score, femininity, tends towards modest behaviour. MAS also is an indication of the emotional gender roles in a culture, a high MAS score indicates distinct gender roles, while a low MAS score indicates overlapping roles.
A culture with a low MAS score will promote emotional relationships between members, and open displays of emotion. Harmony and cooperation are also preferred over conflict and competition. People are more likely to be modest, honest, and not over-exaggerate. Both men and women in such a feminine culture will display these traits. In the work environment, people prefer to develop working relationships with their colleagues and superiors, good working conditions, and job security. Feminine cultures will generally have a large political "left" movement, be more conservative, sacrifice economic growth for environmental preservation, and prefer negotiation and compromise in international relations.
In a culture that scores highly on the MAS index, there are clear gender roles for men and women. Men tend to be tough, aggressive, competitive, and assertive, while women display low MAS traits as outlined above. In a work environment, men place importance on high earnings, job recognition, career advancement, power, and work that provides a challenge. From a political perspective, countries with high MAS scores tend to place the importance of the economy over the environment, have large defence budgets, and spend less on international aid.
Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)
Uncertainty avoidance is the amount that people prefer to be governed by rules, laws, and standard operating procedures, and accept uncertainty or ambiguity.
A low UAI score suggests a society that is more flexible and relaxed, and does not worry when things go wrong. In the working environment, there are less restrictive rules, and less order. Meetings may start and run late, people may not turn up simply because they have something more important to do. People feel more comfortable in new and ambiguous situations.
Culture with a high UAI index prefer things to be well ordered, planned ahead, and run to time. Work, and also life in general, should be governed by rules and laws. By doing this, members seek to decrease or even remove any uncertainty, which they see as a threat to a good life. As a result, there are usually high stress and anxiety levels if (when) anything happens to create any uncertainty.