The benefits of a diverse workforce
Today’s workplaces are highly diverse. People of different generations, cultures, genders and faiths are thrown together and expected to function as a team. Managers need to be extremely culturally sensitive to get all these people to work in harmony. Simply acknowledging differences is not enough to promote diversity; these differences need to be celebrated, not just tolerated.
The rewards are great; a diverse workforce has a greater breadth of experience, perspective and approaches to problem-solving. A diverse workforce may well be an asset, too, in that it is an accurate reflection of your customer base. But how do you achieve a truly inclusive environment in the workplace? Here are 10 suggestions.
How to manage a diverse workforce
- Hire people with an open-minded, respectful and tolerant attitude as well as the right skills. Prejudices are hard to change, while skills can always be taught.
- Don’t allow yourself to have favorites. Divide your time equally between all team members. Everybody deserves the same respect and attention.
- Try to understand every team member as an individual and be careful not to stereotype. Do not assume that just because you have visited a place that you understand its culture; individuals from a country may not conform in the way you expect. As a manager, examine your own prejudices and put them aside, whether they are based on faith, ethnicity or sexuality.
- Be aware of any taboos that may crop up across your diverse workforce – anything from needing to take religious holidays to acceptable dress codes in the office, or the provision of gender-neutral bathrooms in the workplace. If discrimination should rear its head, deal with it swiftly and according to your company policy – and to the law.
- Create an environment in which people feel comfortable sharing ideas. If some team members are from cultures where speaking up in meetings or contradicting the boss is considered rude, find a way to encourage them to voice an opinion. For example, going round the table at a brainstorming session so everybody has an equal say, or starting a social media group to which all team members are invited to contribute.
- Be careful giving feedback. By all means be positive, but if negative feedback is necessary, try to make it constructive and deliver it in private. Many cultures, including several from Asia, for example, have a strong sense of ‘face’ and will feel humiliated if they are criticized in front of colleagues. A good manager should have an open-door policy so individuals can voice concerns in private. Not everybody is comfortable with the confrontational nature of an open forum.
- Anything from promotion to discipline should be related to performance. Do not make excuses for poor performance or inappropriate behavior based on a person’s culture, or set different rules for different groups. Although there needs to be tolerance and understanding of the various cultures within a group, everybody in a diverse workforce should have the same professional opportunities and face the same disciplinary procedures.
- Lay down ground rules to avoid conflict. A happy team needs structure and individuals need to know what they are accountable for. A leader should set the tone of how the team interacts, and set an example. A manager who is rude, or sloppy, or lazy can only blame themselves if their team is ineffective, or in constant conflict. Ground rules apply to the respect team members should show for one another, too, whatever their culture. Many companies find that diversity training for all employees, senior management included, is very helpful.
- Think about how you communicate. Firing off an email in the heat of the moment can be a mistake; it can be construed as aggressive, or simply misunderstood, especially if the recipient is from a culture where the boss-subordinate dynamic is different. Communication should be clear and uncluttered – and if your team includes speakers of different languages, make sure that everybody has understood your message.
- Share information so that team members feel empowered and equipped to do their jobs. This includes sharing information about one another in order that differences can be celebrated. Ignorance feeds discrimination. Try to create an informal, comfortable environment, for example, a team lunch, in which you encourage individuals to talk about themselves. Break down barriers in team-building sessions.
Are your people equipped with the right tools to manage a diverse workforce?
Country Navigator is a training tool that will help your people work more effectively across cultures. The cultural comparison feature allows managers to review their team as a whole to analyze cultural differences and gain advise on how to improve working relationships – leading to greater collaboration and increased productivity.
Country Navigator is accessible online, as a Smartphone app or integrated in your workplace learning management system.
For support and guidance on developing new global diversity training programs contact us, click here to get in touch.