Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

With increasing globalisation, quite a few businesses have forayed into newer territory to capture newer market audiences. This has led to the need for better understanding of the new consumers gained by the company so as to optimise business practices and profit. Most organisations have turned to hiring locals in order to facilitate business in newer markets as locals understand the market better in cultural perspectives and are thus more easily able to relate to consumer demands.

Research has also suggested that companies that are using diversity as a tool are experiencing improved employee satisfaction, productivity and retention potential. This enhances the overall inclusion of the company and aids the business case of creating and managing diversity. Businesses that are utilising these benefits can be seen expanding into newer markets with ease. Cultural diversity can be seen to encompass the division of gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and the like.

Benefits Associated with Cultural Diversity

Traditionally cultural diversity can be seen to benefit organisations and its members alike. Decision making skills improve as boosts in creativity and innovation are realised. Often product development is enhanced as is the marketing which is aided by the presence of locals who understand marketing better as they can relate to the market more than outsiders. Moreover, the recognition of diversity in itself within organisations aids in linking up various forms of talent. Another positive effect of recognising diversity is that employees feel a greater sense of belonging which aids in enhancing their commitment as well as productive efforts to drive the organisation.

As outlined before, cultural diversity enables organisations to be able to compete within global markets. The real reason behind the success of multi cultural organisations is the precept of effective communication. So as long as communication is impeccable, the business impact will always be positive. However, as people from various cultural backgrounds tend to perceive messages a little differently from each other so effective two way communication is often essential to ensuring that organisational functions are efficiently executed. It must be realised that managing diversity is not merely about preventing discrimination and enhancing equality across the board. Instead cultural diversity is also composed of valuing differences in cultures and inclusion which encompasses the issues of ethnicity, race, culture, age, physical condition, religion and other similar precepts.

Another significant development is highlighted by Scott Page’s research on team diversity based on mathematical modelling. The models developed and evaluated during research proved that heterogeneous teams consistently performed better than homogenous teams on a number of varied tasks. However, the researcher has also pointed out that the management of diversity is not a simple proposition.

The leaders are employing the workforce for conventional roles alone while the workforce could be used to perform more creative roles based on differences in their backgrounds. The workforce’s true potential is not being fully realised. The sales and marketing staff has not been deployed according to their nationalities or cultural backgrounds. Some employees from the Middle East have been placed in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to handle marketing which is not producing results. The organisation needs to place people from the same cultural backgrounds to reap better results.

Challenges Associated with Cultural Diversity

While cultural diversity serves important benefits to an organisation, it presents some unique challenges too. Generally the management of companies relying on cultural diversity must utilise diversity as an effective tool to enhance worker productivity. There remain chances that differences due to diversity might provoke practices that would hurt business interest.

It must be kept in mind that challenging diverse workforces is not merely about acknowledging and resolving differences amongst people. Much research has been employed into investigating why it is hard to manage diverse workforces. One of the largest challenges presented in managing a diverse workforce is the issue of miscommunication within the organisation. One thing remains highly clear that no two people are capable of interpreting a message in the exact way because no two people have been fashioned through a combination of the exact same experiences. This is all the more manifest when native and non-native speakers are exposed to the same message. Often there are slight differences in the meaning associated.

Based on these understandings, all culturally diverse organisations can be better understood if viewed as low context cultures.

Another major issue of contention within diverse work environments is the problem of cultural bias. Often the precepts of prejudice and discrimination encompass cultural bias. Prejudice espouses all the negative attitudes that are displayed towards a member of the organisation based on his identity as a distinct cultural manifestation. On the other hand, discrimination espouses all kinds of behaviour that adversely affects a member of a distinct cultural group for the same reasons as behind prejudice.

Culturally diverse work environments often represent a major challenge to workers in the form of assimilation into the dominant culture present within the organisation. Often workers lose their self cultivated images in an effort to fit into the organisation. This leads to diversion of energy to fitting in which hampers productivity in other sectors. Overall the assimilation phenomenon forces organisational productivity to go down as individual productivity suffers .

In terms of the major challenges faced by the leaders, how effective are the leaders in dealing with them? What approach are the leaders using to deal with the problems?

The leaders are effective in dealing with interpersonal problems to a great extent. The work environment has been figured out to avoid problems altogether. This is being achieved largely by associating people with common cultural backgrounds together in teams. However, this results in managing conflict alone and the positive effects of diversity and inclusion are not really appreciated. If employees could be encouraged to work together, then the positive aspects of cultural diversity can be assimilated.

By:Ammarah Khan


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