Are We Ready Now?

Robert Hayles, Ph.D.

SIETAR was founded in 1974 by intercultural professionals from several disciplines to exchange ideas, learn from and strengthen bonds with one other. The founders also intended to fortify the theory and practice of intercultural communication through interdisciplinary approaches. We currently describe ourselves ( as an “educational membership organization for those professionals who are concerned with the challenges and rewards of intercultural relations.” We present SIETAR as “a point of connection for people from many cultural and professional backgrounds” who “work to expand worldviews and build skills for successful interactions in intercultural arenas”. We “work to model what we say we believe”, and “believe that we must all work toward effective and peaceful relations among the peoples of the world - not despite differences but because of them”. We are “caring and concerned individuals who support each other in moving purposefully toward this common goal”. Membership “is open to all individuals and institutions who support the organization’s mission and purpose” (described above). To date we have little more than the words above regarding a shared expression of personal and/or professional conduct ethics.

Are we ready now to highlight ethical behaviors and standards for the intercultural arena/field? Working backwards, I argue that we are now a field. SIETAR has been around for almost four decades and SIETAR-USA for over a decade. Other networks, associations, and groups (i.e., on LinkedIn, Facebook, independent) have been formed for professionals who do work that could be described as intercultural. We are supported by and affiliated with a professional journal (International Journal of Intercultural Relations) which has been publishing articles for three and a half decades. Intercultural Press Inc., a publisher primarily of intercultural books and other materials has been in business since 1980. Thousands of books and even more articles have been written on topics described as relevant to intercultural communication/relations. A Google search on “intercultural communication” produces more than 3 million results. An Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is currently being edited by Dr. Janet Bennett of the Intercultural Communication Institute and published by Sage. Based on this and more evidence, I conclude that we are now a field. We have yet to set professional practice or preparation standards/certifications (other than graduate degrees and certificates of program completion). Agreement on this matter will likely take another decade. However, the lack of formal “certification” is not a barrier to establishing a benchmark of ethical standards necessary for the field.

Continuing to work backwards, examples of appropriate behaviors for interculturalists have been implied, suggested or recommended by other Eye on Ethics’ authors in this series. Collectively they encourage us to build on the global code of ethical conduct established by the United Nations as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), not get frozen by cultural relativity, consider accepting responsibility for the psychological health of our clients, foster mutual understanding, overcome fear and distrust, build inner/self-awareness, and sell with integrity. We have also discussed ethics at conferences and leadership meetings. Many formal ethical codes of conduct already exist. Professional organizations in long-standing fields have both standards for practice and ethical conduct. Even ones in existence for shorter periods of time have at least ethical standards of conduct. Many other entities such as businesses, colleges and universities, religious institutions, fraternal and sororal organizations, communities, and clubs have such standards. There are more than enough samples with enough history to guide SIETAR-USA

When any of our members engage in unethical behavior, harm is done to the field and to individuals. We all suffer. When such inappropriate behavior occurs, even by a broad generally accepted standard, little happens…except karma and perhaps informal feedback or action outside of the professional societal context. We have the tools (knowledge, facilitation and research skills, abilities, organizational structure, will, desire, examples to build upon) to codify the behaviors that support our mission and purpose into a general code of conduct, even if initially only aspirational. We also have the caring and compassion to act wisely when violations of that code occur.

Just as our founders intentionally acted to strengthen bonds between the theory and practice of intercultural communication, it is time for us to stand on that foundation and act now to fortify the future of our field.

We are ready now.

Robert Hayles, Ph.D. (Manzanita, Oregon, U.S.A.) is an independent consultant serving clients with intercultural, inclusion and diversity skills. He has been practicing since 1974 and has served as an internal professional in government, education, not-for-profit and private sectors and as an independent consultant for more than 100 clients. He has held the Ethics Portfolio for SIETAR-USA and served on the organization’s Advisory Council.

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