Cultural Diversity In The Workplace
With rapid globalization and technological advancement throughout the world, organizations are constantly seeking to understand and implement new strategies that will provide them the competitive advantage to stand out from the rest.
However, research has shown that managers in the twenty-first century are constantly having to face various challenges in the workplace. Managers now are encouraged to look into the basic assumptions, or paradigms, of reality. In the current generation, it is critical for managers to be aware of everything that has an impact on the performance of their organization, whether within the control or not (Drucker, 2018).
Cultural Diversity in the Workforce
In today’s global society, modern workplaces consist of various genders, ages, ethnicities, and cultures. There is an increasing need for managers to understand how such cultural differences play a part in an organization.
According to Geertz, culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns – customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters, but instead as a set of control mechanisms – plans, recipes, rules, instructions for the governing of behavior (1973, p.44).
Workplace diversity refers to the “composition of work units in terms of the cultural or demographic characteristics that are salient and symbolically meaningful in the relationships among group members” (DiTomaso, Post and Parks-Yancy, 2007, p. 1). It stands from social considerations. These include changing demographics such as the aging population or even gender issues that arise from the increase in women in the workforce.
Implicit assumptions about ourselves often govern how we see the world, preventing common understanding between all people. This difference is further enlarged when someone else has a vastly different experience in terms of demographics.
Challenges Faced by Management
Managers today have to adhere to the various cultural differences in the workforce in order to make decisions that will benefit the organization in the long run.
Bateman and Snell identified five challenges of workforce diversity – Unexamined Assumptions: the difficulty people have in seeing someone else’s point of view; Lower Cohesiveness: lack of similarity in language, culture or experience; Communication Problems: the result of unstated assumptions, language barriers, and cultural conflicts; Mistrust and Tension: misunderstanding and mistrust that may lead to fear and negative emotions; Stereotyping: assumed behavior of another based on little or no personal experience but grouped expectations (Tessema, et al., 2017).
When diversity is not celebrated, familiarity among the employees is not encouraged. As a result, these challenges may cause misunderstandings within the workplace as they fail to account for the unique experiences of each individual. This can eventually lead to potential errors and as a consequence, require corrective actions from the management.
Since the workforce is typically not homogenous, it is important to be able to recognize and put in place methods that respect cultural diversity in the workplace. Recognizing characteristics that are common to specific groups of employees while dealing with such employees as individuals, supports, nurtures, and utilizes the differences for the organization’s advantage.
Diversity specialists and business leaders believe that in order for businesses and organizations to succeed in the twenty-first century, they should take competitive advantage of diverse workforces (Kreitz, 2007). Differences arising from a culturally diverse and demographic background allow room for more perspectives that can aid in problem-solving and idea generation. When utilized and managed properly, these differences can strengthen an organization’s competitive advantage.
Decision-making can be affected by culture through its influence on individual values (Chen & Li, 2005). Different cultures also vary in their knowledge and cognitive processes, where each cultural group tends to categorize things differently according to their varying needs (Odongo, 2016).
As a result, managers are required to overcome cultural diversity in the workplace in order to ensure a good working environment for the employees and provide efficient decision-making for the organization.
Recommendations and Solutions
In overcoming cultural diversity, it is important to be able to adopt different viewpoints.
Building a diverse workplace starts from diverse management. Promoting diversity in top management itself can help to overcome these cultural differences. When managers are proactive in making an attempt to understand these differences, they are able to not only expand their horizons but learn new approaches to things as well. Having a diverse management team allows room for different perspectives, especially in board meetings. These unique points of view can aid the organization in finding solutions to problems and generating new ideas. Ultimately, this will lead to effective decision-making as managers are able to personally relate to the employees. Furthermore, employees will be able to look up to them as their mentors and therefore, envision a path for themselves.
Another recommendation to overcoming cultural diversity would be to make communication lines accessible across different generations. Allowing more open and honest communication between employees and managers encourages constructive feedback from the ground. Employees will be able to voice out their opinions and concerns to managers when needed, allowing managers to gather insights directly from their employees. Employee surveys, one-one interviews, and regular employee communication enable managers to identify how employees really feel about working in the organization. Through these methods, management is able to provide a healthy working environment and come up with fruitful decisions that will cater to their employees.
Additionally, it is also important to promote cultural diversity among employees. Conducting trainings such as building awareness and skills with regards to handling cultural differences will benefit employees, allowing them to understand and communicate with one another better. Managers should also partake in these trainings alongside their employees.
A culturally diverse workforce is a reflection of the current ever-changing world and marketplace. Tolerance and respect for cultural differences is an ongoing challenge, yet it brings high value to organizations. It also benefits the organization by creating a competitive advantage against others, which may further increase work productivity. When managed properly, cultural diversity can bring about a fair and safe environment for all. Managers have should constantly be on the lookout to ensure these differences bring about positive reinforcements while trying their best to avoid cultural conflicts.