September 8, 2009
Some are More Equal than Others
On August 5, 1997, Korean Airlines management received news that no airline wants to hear- one of their planes had crashed. Korean Airlines flight 801 crash-landed three miles away from Guam airport.
Plane crashes are an unfortunate and rare occurrence in the airline industry, but Korean Airlines had a problem. Their planes were crashing at a rate many times higher than other airlines. In comparison, Korean Airlines’s crash rate was seventeen times higher than the crash rate of U.S.-based carrier United Airlines. Seven of their planes were completely destroyed in crashes between 1991 and 1999. However, their safety record instantaneously turned spotless post-1999.
Researchers of flight safety revealed that many of Korean Airlines’s crashes could have been prevented had the flight crew been more assertive in correcting the captain. The first officer of Korean Airlines flight 801 failed to effectively advise the captain of a better landing procedure which had the potential to prevent the crash. One former Korean Airline pilot said in an interview, “The captain is in charge and does what he wants, when he likes, and everyone sits quietly and does nothing.” In one flight, a captain hit his first officer with the back of his hand for committing a navigation error. After hiring an outside consultant to train flight crews to equalize the power and responsibilities within the flight cabin, Korean Airlines attained a clean safety record (Gladwell 180-219). The tendency to create such an unequal balance of power is not limited to Koreans or their pilots. It is a characteristic deeply rooted in many cultures across the globe, including the Filipino culture. And while Korean Airlines’s plane crashes may be an extreme consequence of this characteristic, they demonstrate how such a mindset can produce disastrous results. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede interviewed employees from across the globe and analyzed the ways in which they interacted among themselves. Since its first publishing, Hofstede’s research has been one of the most commonly used models in cross-cultural psychology (Gladwell 202). He observed the tendency to distribute power unequally, a trait he termed as “power distance” which he formally defined as the extent to which members within an organized culture accept and respect authority and the fact that power is not distributed equally (Hofstede, Cultures Consequences 71). So therefore, members of a high power distance culture, such as Korean Airline pilots, expect leaders and those with power to make decisions and have special privileges; while members of a low power distance culture expect to be treated equally by leaders and authority. In Hofstede’s initial study, the Philippines is rated with the highest power distance among 39 countries with an index score of 94, 13 points higher than second place (Cultures Consequences 77). The high power distance mentality of Filipinos creates ineffective organizational dynamics which produces problems in the business, educational, and political sectors of the Philippines.
Since people’s actions and decisions are heavily influenced by their cultures, it is important to analyze and understand Filipino cultural values that create such a high power distance mentality. A major motive behind Filipino behavior is social acceptance, to be taken in by one’s peers (Bacani 25). In order to achieve this, Filipinos must learn to harmoniously interact with those around them, avoiding conflict and confrontation whenever possible. An important requisite in achieving smooth relationships with others is knowing and understanding the group’s hierarchy and one’s place in it (Ballete 18). A byproduct of this awareness is the fact that people of lower rank or class place extra emphasis on showing respect to superiors, a pattern easily seen in the Tagalog speech particle po. This causes Filipinos to follow...
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