By Kizzy M. Dominguez, Ph.D.
Cultural diversity in the workplace encompasses the variety of experiences and perspectives that arise from employee’s differences in an organization. These differences are based on race, gender, ethnic group, age, sexual orientation, personality, cognitive style, religion, tenure, organizational function, education, heritage, and more. Also known as multiculturalism, cultural diversity is born from the values, norms, and traditions of an employee that affect the way she typically perceives, thinks, interacts, behaves, and makes judgements. So it’s not just about an individual’s characteristics, but also about the way others perceive those characteristics.
How does it manifest in the workplace?
When starting the process of managing cultural diversity in the workplace, you’ll want to assess the cultural competence of your employees. Cultural competence is the ability to be agile to collaborate effectively with people from various cultures. There are multiple factors that affect each employees’ cultural competence, including awareness of one’s own cultural worldview, knowledge of other cultural practices and worldviews, and attitudes towards cultural differences. Creating an environment where cultural competence is welcomed and rewarded is the overarching goal of managing cultural diversity at work.
What ways can I support cultural diversity?
Supporting cultural diversity within your workplace means going beyond legal and policy requirements and promoting community and comfort with difference — it means following the Platinum Rule: “treat others as they want to be treated.” The biggest hurdle is simply warding off change resistance. Do this through including as many employees as possible and executing the below guidelines:
- Assess cultural competence and diversity
Like mentioned above, start by doing a quick audit of your company’s culture. Ask yourself: What prompted me to search about cultural diversity in the workplace? What are my goals for creating a culturally diverse environment? Does my company (and upper management) value and practice cultural diversity? What is hindering cultural diversity in my place of business? Also, look inward to understand your own culture, identity, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes. Then make a plan to address your concerns, based on the suggestions below.
- Offer an Employee Resource Group (ERG)
Employee Resource Groups (ERG) also known as affinity groups or business resource groups are voluntary, employee-led initiatives that serve as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. They bring employees together based on common interests, characteristics, or shared backgrounds. These company sponsored groups have moved away from simply being a place for social gatherings to serving as think-tanks for companies to gain insight into products, services, or the marketplace. Try offering an ERG or add a multicultural, or culture specific, ERG to your current list of affinity groups.
- Consider adding diversity training
Diversity and inclusion training is a great addition to the steps above, especially if you assess low levels of cultural competence among your employees in step one. Most training starts with an understanding of your own cultural diversity and then moves to expanding your knowledge and tools for working with others to drive team success and impact the bottom line. The K Learning course From Inclusion to High Performance allows your employees to discover new approaches to doing things and helps you develop a plan to create an inclusive workplace. Another tip: always follow your efforts at managing cultural diversity in the workplace with analysis. Send employee short surveys to reassess and make adjustments where necessary.
So you have some tips on managing cultural diversity in the workplace, but why is doing so even necessary? Will your team really benefit from diversity and inclusion? Absolutely! Take a look at two biggest benefits that occur when you lead the way for high levels of cultural competence at your workplace:
- Better People: Higher variety of viewpoints and teamwork
The more different people’s experiences and backgrounds are, the more diverse their viewpoints and voices. Including all voices in your brainstorming sessions creates spaces where outside-the-box thinking can thrive. This means your team is better able to develop fresh ideas that will meet the needs of the diverse marketplace that we work in. You can also broaden your service range as cultural diversity includes inviting a variety of on-the-job skills that drive innovation in your company and reflect the world around you. As one source puts it, “If members of your team look like and understand the people in diverse target markets, they are perhaps better able to design and deliver products and services that meet the needs of these potential customers.” Along those same lines, creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect creates a firm foundation for building effective teamwork.
- Better Company: Improve operations, reputation, and marketing
When your employees feel valued and happy on the job, you are more likely to have low turnover and absenteeism. These two factors contribute to unnecessary expenditures in your company because you have to take time to find new employees and train them. Plus, more engaged employees means higher productivity and better attitudes toward coworkers, managers, and clients. Once your internal operations are optimized, your reputation as an employer of choice will allow you to attract the best talent from our ever shrinking labor pool. People want to work for employers who care about and value their unique characteristics. Thus, by managing cultural diversity in the workplace you can make recruitment easier and more effective. Lastly, when you have a diverse workforce, diverse customers in your target market are more likely to trust your brand and feel comfortable doing business with your company. All of these factors contribute to your current marketing efforts, allowing you to capture more of the market.
Ignoring the mounting costs of mismanaging cultural diversity in the workplace will have long-term effects on your company’s future. Mismanaging cultural diversity at work causes unhealthy tensions between employees and employers and a loss of team productivity. Your company’s reputation as an employer of choice is dependant on it’s atmosphere of acceptance. If you can’t recruit or retain talented people of all kinds, your company has lost its most valuable asset: employees. Remember, as our economy becomes increasingly global, our workforce will also become increasingly diverse. Your competitiveness and success will depend on your ability to manage the cultural diversity in your workplace. Take the first step in securing your company’s future today by requesting a discovery session with KPC to discuss your unique goals and learn how our customized curriculum will transform your organization.