Understanding Cultural Differences in the Workplace

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Diversity – what comes to mind when you read this word? We tend to think diversity only applies to race and ethnicity, but in reality, it encompasses so much more. As business leaders, it is essential to understand what the word “diversity” actually means and how it affects our organizations.

The Chancellor’s Committee on Diversity defines Diversity as: “The variety of experiences and perspectives which arise from differences in race, culture, religion, mental or physical abilities, heritage, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics.”

To simplify this rather overwhelming definition, diversity is our differences. These differences come from our backgrounds and our unique worldviews. It is tempting to be taken aback by the breadth of diversity, but ignoring it can cause serious consequences throughout your organization. The unhealthy tension that results from not understanding cultural differences in the workplace can lead to:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Inability to attract talented people from different backgrounds
  • Incapacity to retain employees from different backgrounds
  • Complaints (and in extreme cases, lawsuits!)

Creating a corporate environment that appreciates diversity can have lasting benefits on your organization. For example, diversity in the workplace can:

  • Increase innovation
  • Enhance the effectiveness of marketing campaigns
  • Develop a unique corporate culture
  • Improve problem solving

Managing Diversity

It would be nice if there were a clear-cut approach to managing diversity, but unfortunately there isn’t. It has so many dimensions, that a strategy that effectively deals with one situation may not be effective in a different context.

At the core, managing diversity means acknowledging people’s differences and recognizing the value in these differences. By appreciating the unique qualities that each employee brings to the table, you can prevent discrimination and promote inclusivity. Here are 3 tips that will help you foster a corporate environment that cultivates diversity.

  1. Create a Diversity Initiative
    According to a Global Diversity and Inclusion Study administrated by Forbes, 69% of U.S. companies have an internal board or committee in place to oversee diversity/inclusivity strategies and initiatives. If your company is not creating a diversity initiative, you are in the minority!The first step to creating this initiative is to develop a vision. Make sure employees from top management to entry-level have the opportunity to contribute. Involving employees early on in the process will reduce resistance when you implement the initiative.

    The next step to promoting inclusivity is to develop a formal diversity plan. Your plan should outline the goals and objectives your company will achieve in regards to diversity. This sounds a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Researching the inclusiveness of your current corporate culture is a great place to start. From here, you can determine where issues lie and create a formal plan to solve them.

  2. Develop a Conflict Resolution Process
    Inevitably, there will be times when issues revolving around diversity arise. You can prepare your company for these situations by developing a conflict resolution process. This process needs to fairly evaluate the problem, and then propose a reasonable solution.Take some time to discuss how your company will resolve conflicts and keep in mind that many conflicts arise simply due to miscommunications.
  3. Keep an Open Door Policy
    Encourage employees to come to you or another leader in your organization if they feel like they are experiencing discrimination. Keeping an open door policy will help you manage any issues that arise before they become overly problematic. Also, this will demonstrate to your employees that you genuinely care about them and their future in your company.

I hope this has sparked your interest in understanding diversity and how it affects our organizations. To deepen your knowledge of the benefits of diversity, take a look at the article Diversity as a Competitive Strategy in the Workplace from the Journal of Practical Consulting.

What are your thoughts on diversity in the workplace? How has it impacted your organization?

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