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Introduction to Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions

In the 1960s Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, surveyed over 100,000 IBM employees from 50 different countries in order to gain insights into differences related to national culture whereby he defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.” His analysis yielded systematic differences across initially four dimensions:

  • Power Distance,
  • Uncertainty Avoidance,
  • Individualism/Collectivism
  • Masculinity/Femininity

 

Two further dimensions were added in 1991 and 2010 respectively:

  • Long Term / Short Term Orientation
  • Indulgence / Restraint

All six dimensions are briefly introduced below.  You can watch short videos introducing the tool and dimensions here.

You can compare your personal preferences to the scores of a country of your choice, with Culture Compass™.

 

 

POWER DISTANCE INDEX (PDI)

This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people.

People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

INDIVIDUALISM VERSUS COLLECTIVISM (IDV)

The high side of this dimension, called Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families.

Its opposite, Collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular ingroup to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.”

MASCULINITY VERSUS FEMININITY (MAS)

The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, Femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.

In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as “tough versus tender” cultures.

UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE INDEX (UAI)

The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen?

Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour, and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.

LONG TERM ORIENTATION VERSUS SHORT TERM NORMATIVE ORIENTATION (LTO)

Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently.

Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion.

Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.

In the business context, this dimension is referred to as “(short-term) normative versus (long-term) pragmatic” (PRA). In the academic environment, the terminology Monumentalism versus Flexhumility is sometimes also used.

INDULGENCE VERSUS RESTRAINT (IVR)

Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

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