Embracing cultural diversity in the workplace is an important step for businesses looking to become competitive at a global level. There can be various reasons for companies to promote diverse workplaces. A mix of genders, colors, skin and sexual orientations definitely looks good in marketing photo shoots. It also presents the corporate brand image of the company in the form of America’s rainbow coalition. But, diversity in the workplace is important for another big reason.
According to Richard Warr, a professor of finance at North Carolina State University and coauthor of the research, “There is a business case for diversity. It’s not just about trying to be nice. It’s good for business. It not only helps in terms of perception. It actually produces better outcomes.”
Benefits of Workplace Diversity
Given below are 3 such benefits.
1. Inspires creativity and fosters innovation
The workplace culture of an organization can have a major impact on the way employees see the business world. Different viewpoints along with different types of personal and professional experiences of an international team can provide a new perspective that can inspire employees to see the workplace and the corporate world differently.
Diversity of thought inspires creativity and fosters innovation, helping to solve the problem and meet the expectations of the customers in new and exciting ways. For example; cosmetic giant L’Oréal gives the credit for its impressive success in emerging markets to its multicultural product development teams.
One way to inculcate out-of-the-box thinking in your organization is by having the ideologies of different personalities, perspectives and voices being accepted. To do that you need to provide a platform to the diverse group of employees to share great ideas which can go a long way in benefiting the organization as a whole. According to a study by Forbes, “The best way to ensure the development of new ideas is through a diverse and inclusive workforce.”
2. Attract and retain the best talent
According to a Glassdoor Survey, two thirds of job seekers indicated that diversity was an important criteria for them to evaluate companies and job offers. In a competitive job market, demonstrating that your business is invested in fostering a multicultural and inclusive environment can help you make the right impression in the minds of talented candidates. When you inculcate the culture of workplace diversity, it can have a positive impact on your recruiting process that can broaden your talent pool of prospective employees. It can also improve the retention ratio and reduce the costs affiliated with employee turnover.
In a diverse workforce, it is important to make the employees feel respected and valued for their unique contribution to gain their loyalty in the long run. When this is done, it will foster mutual respect amongst colleagues who value diverse culture, perspectives and experiences of their team members. An inclusive atmosphere of cross-cultural co-operation can go a long way in ensuring a long-term bond between colleagues and teams across the organization.
3. Great opportunity for personal and professional growth
A culturally diverse workplace will attract talented, ambitious and global professionals who will appreciate the opportunity for personal and professional growth. Working across different cultures can be a truly enriching experience that allows employees to learn about different perspectives and traditions across the globe. When they bond on similarities and differences it can assist them to become global citizens that can go a long way in reducing prejudice or an ethnocentric global perspective. It can be professional enriching too, as a diverse set of colleagues are exposed to new skills and work approaches.
Challenges Faced by Organizations Due to Workplace Diversity
In spite of all the benefits, the implementation of workplace diversity can sometimes cause serious problems to any organization. Workplace diversity has far more positive outcomes than negative. But sometimes, it can cause the following challenges to an organization. However, these challenges can be easily controlled by the top management using strategic measures.
1. Employees from some cultures may be less likely to let their voices be heard
It is extremely crucial to create an open and inclusive work environment so that all team members feel the need to contribute. This can be particularly challenging for employees from polite or deferential cultures. For example; professionals from Asian countries like Japan or Vietnam may feel less comfortable when sharing ideas or speaking up. This is particularly true when they are in a new team or have a junior role. On the contrary, assertive colleagues from the US or Western Europe or Scandinavian countries who have a flat organizational hierarchy, may be more inclined to speak up in meetings or negotiations.
2. Integration across multicultural teams can be difficult in the face of prejudice or negative cultural stereotypes
Sometimes, it is important to foster integration amongst teams so that colleagues from different countries do not work in isolation and limit knowledge transfer. This can be a major challenge to overcome, especially when there are underlying prejudices between cultures, making them less inclined to work with each other. Negative cultural stereotypes set a very bad example on employees which can have a long term effect on their productivity. For example; century old feud between the British and French, or the Polish and Germans. But all types of stereotypes are not necessarily negative like the notion that Americans are confident or Asians are intelligent. While outright prejudice and stereotyping is a bad example for workplace diversity, ingrained and unconscious cultural biases can be an even more difficult challenge of workplace diversity to overcome.
3. Different understandings of professional etiquettes
Workplace diversity can result in colleagues from different cultures bringing in different workplace values, etiquette and attitudes. While this can be a rewarding and enriching preposition, it can also result in misunderstandings or ill feelings between team members. For example; the expectation of organizational hierarchy, formality and even working hours can cause conflict across cultures. A Japanese colleague may find it appropriate to leave work before their manager while a Swedish professional may be used to a 6-hour working day. On top of this, there are different approaches to confrontation, punctuality or dealing with conflict in different cultures that can prove to an issue.
A diverse workforce is the need of the hour in this fast changing world and marketplace. Diverse work teams bring high value to organizations. Only by respecting individual differences can organizations have a truly competitive edge and increase work productivity. But, before practicing workplace diversity in your organization, it is important to conduct comprehensive background screening of the candidates selected, so that you hire only the genuine employees as a part of your global taskforce.
Lourdes Fernandes is the Business Head at cFIRST and takes care of Business Planning, Business Development, Operations and HR. She is an industry veteran with almost 20 years of experience in service industries and a demonstrated history of driving business and operations in the BGV industry.