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How to Manage Cultural Diversity in a Workplace

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“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. Develop a strong corporate culture first and foremost”— David Cummings

Properly managing cultural diversity in the workplace is synonymous to success. If you want to find out the truth in this statement, just take a look at the success registered by Facebook. The workforce diversification combined with work/life balance of this company has propelled it to become the 6th largest company in the world as of 2019. Clearly, this goes to show that combining a workforce from different social and cultural backgrounds can help turn things around.

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In this article, we are going to discuss the benefits of cultural diversity in an organization and how best to manage this matrix. In the course of doing so, we are also going to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of this concept, and how you can overcome them.

But before we jump to that, it’s important to mention that building a culturally diverse workforce has different cost implications. In this article, you will find out how hiring an Android developer from Eastern Europe can save you at the same time contribute to workforce diversification. 

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What Is Cultural Diversity?

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In an organization setting, cultural diversity simply means that individual differences are recognized and appreciated irrespective of gender, age, sex, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientations. 

We live in a globalized village where many organizations have resulted in hiring teams that span different continents, time zones, and offices. This increasing popularity of remote work is largely fuelled by limited skills and cost reduction, whereby overseas labor tends to be cheaper. However, managing such a multicultural workforce and harmonizing it to the overall benefit of an organization can be hard.

How then do you strike the delicate balance between managing a culturally diverse workplace without spending a fortune or appearing to sideline a particular group in your workforce?

Below are several advantages of cultural diversity in the workplace;

Increased Productivity and Creativity

As earlier indicated, cultural diversity in a workplace entails hiring people from different backgrounds. As such, productivity increases when organizations focus on recruiting individuals with different skill sets, as opposed to hiring a group of people who can do the same thing. For instance, you could have an employee who is good at coding but terrible in web design. Getting two individuals with specialized skills to respectively handle the tasks not only increases productivity but also results in quality work.

Companies will also appreciate cross-knowledge transfer that comes with cultural diversity. Employees get the opportunity to learn from each other and deploy the newly acquired skills in executing their assigned tasks. This reduces the costs that could have otherwise gone into training the workforce to acquire these particular skills, eventually improving the bottom line of the company.

Better yet, different learning experiences from different people also compel the workers to think out of the box, spawning innovation, and fresh ideas into the company.

Can Increase the Profits

According to a 2018 report by LinkedIn 78% of companies in the US indicated that cultural diversity is a key component of their short-run and long-run strategy. On top of promoting innovativeness and attracting a large pool of talents, the surveyed companies did indicate that cultural diversity broadens the customer base and increases the market share.

Going forward, companies that continue to retain a static workforce that only resonates with small market segments will continue facing challenges in gaining broader market insights and share. On the other hand, organizations with a diversified workforce will continue reaping the benefits of a wider market reach and even tap into business opportunities that embrace multiculturalism. 

Enhances Brand Reputation

Workplace diversity demonstrates the open-mindedness and flexible nature of a company. This is particularly important in boosting employees’ morale as it shows that their differences are appreciated. As a result, these employees become the biggest brand ambassadors for the organization, resulting in a great brand reputation.

Externally, workplace diversity is a clear indication that the organization’s outreach and recruiting efforts are governed by ethics and fair employment practices. Moreover, the current market environment demands that organizations be socially responsible. Hiring from diverse backgrounds makes a company appealing to such customers translating to customer loyalty.

Reduces Employee Turnover

Nothing costs an organization like a shortlived employment tenure. Be it the recruitment cost, training cost, or even time spent, recruiting a new employee is a costly affair. However, companies that embrace cultural diversity means that any vacant position attracts an equally large talent pool. 

In a world where getting the right candidate to fill a position is a pain, a large talent pool means 2 things:

  1. The company is spoilt of choices to choose from.
  2. More skilled and experienced candidates.

At the end of it all, the company is able to choose the best candidate hence reducing the chances of skills mismatch and job abdications.

Eliminates Prejudice and Racism in Organizations

No matter where you go, you will always find some form of racism or negative stereotyping. Unfortunately, these vices in a workplace not only affect individual productivity but also hurts the overall reputation of a company.

Multiculturalism is a great antidote to such vices as employees get to interact on a personal level and share experiences. This essentially means they get to develop respect and a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures hence eliminating racism.

As you can see, there are multiple benefits and advantages of workplace cultural diversity. Albeit, it also does have some few downsides.

Disadvantages of Cultural Diversity in a Workplace

Communication Hurdles

One of the key pillars of business success is effective communication. Unfortunately, ineffective communication means incoherence and disorganization, which could have a grave impact on productivity.

Managing cultural diversity in an environment where there are language barriers is almost impossible. This explains why some organizations choose not to embrace diversity unless the candidates can speak more than one language just to be on the safer side. 

So, unless the aspect of effective communication is carefully looked at, the concept of workplace diversity can be hard to implement.

Onboarding and Integration Issues

This may seem like a no-brainer, but onboarding and integration of new employees in a multicultural work environment can be a pain in the butt. For instance, you hire a foreigner, fly him/her in, and drop them amidst strangers. Chances are, this individual/s will be left feeling isolated and lonely, which flies in the face of integration.

To avoid this, you can choose to take new employees in a group. As a result,  they will come in knowing they face the same dilemma as a group, hence create a coping and support system within themselves.

How to Manage Cultural Diversity in a Workplace

Before a company is declared culturally competent, there are some things that need to be done. They include:

Conducting a Culture Inventory

The first step in creating an effective diversity management blueprint should begin by mapping out the employees’ demographics. While the primary goal of creating a diversified and accommodating workplace is paramount, it’s equally important to know what you are up to.

Start by listing the number of nationalities represented in your organization, their cultures, and even their ethnic groups. This helps you in regularising your code of conduct without sideling or leaving anyone out.  

Craft and Communicate the Organizational Policies

One way of countering issues that stem from workplace diversity is overhauling existing company policies to match the current environment.

Once the policy is reviewed and updated, the changes should be internally communicated to the employees for them to adjust accordingly. 

Needless to say, the policies may not satisfy everyone. However, they give everyone a sense of direction and establish standards within the organization, which eventually mutates into a culture. 

Conduct Diversity Training

Conducting diversity training helps organizations rally employees to participate in cultural awareness, promote team efficiency, increase productivity,  and reduce the turnover rate. They also help in creating, promoting, and improving the workplace environment. 

With diversity training, employees are also encouraged to embrace differences among themselves and work in harmony with the sole aim of bettering the company.

Establish Accountability Systems

Whether it’s sexual harassment, racism, or prejudice, ensure the diversity policies are followed to the letter by everyone irrespective of their position. For this, you need to install channels through which victims can file their complaints without fear of retribution.

Additionally, ensure that the accountability system has a pre-determined redline that shouldn’t be crossed. For instance, it should provide for severe punishment in cases where multiple transgressions against the policy have been committed.

Lastly, don’t forget to regularly review and update the policies.

Tips To Make Most Out of Cultural Diversity

Acknowledging and Respecting Cultural Differences

The first step in making most out of a multicultural workplace is acknowledging and respecting the fact that everyone in your team is different. This helps you navigate these creatively navigate differences, avert conflicts, and increase team productivity. Additionally, you also get to learn how to interact with your team members without trampling on their freedom.

Encourage Team Work

After establishing the cultural differences, set standard operating procedures, encourage teamwork, and insist on constant communication. This helps develop a sense of commitment and in the course of executing the tasks,  build trust within the team members. While communicating, encourage teams to use team communication tools within the organization to allow for centralized communication where everything can be traced in case of any miscommunications.

Demarcate Roles and Responsibilities 

Lack of clear roles and responsibilities in a static workplace can be disastrous. And it’s even worse when working with a cross-cultural team where overlapping roles could cause confusion and eventual delays.

To avoid this, start by breaking down the overall goal into small manageable tasks, assign responsibilities, and keep monitoring the progress using workflow analysis tools.

Moving Forward

Clearly, the benefits of diversity in any organization are many. It sets your brand apart, especially in the international markets where having a multifaceted and multiskilled workforce could mean breaking into new frontiers.  However, it isn’t without its own fair share of challenges. Not having the right basics such as coherent mentorship and integration programs could mean losing the benefits of working with an international workforce.

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Susan Mwenesi
Susan Mwenesi
Interested in business, technology and all things startups in Africa!

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