Diversity Key Driver in Global Marketplace
By Lindsay Macintosh, CHRP
A strong culture that supports diversity is vital to any organization’s ability to compete effectively in today’s global economy.
The logic is straightforward. Shortages of highly qualified and skilled workers is one of the major challenges organizations face today. This will become a bigger challenge in the years ahead. A large pool of highly qualified people—immigrants, visible minorities, people with disabilities, and Aboriginals—are under-represented in the workforce. Utilizing their skills can have a positive effect on the bottom line.
Diversity is a Customer-centric Advantage
That reality is being recognized with more organizations incorporating diversity into their culture due to the ongoing changes in demographics and the workforce. The past 20 years have seen a lot of change in people’s awareness of cultural differences. Two decades ago, what came to mind when considering cultural differences were visible differences such as religion, food and language. Today, people see cultural differences within the varied means of communicating and working with one another.
Meeting strategic and customer needs effectively depends on an organization’s ability to not only recognized, but truly appreciate the differences of individuals and see them as drivers of change. Diversity brings a wider service range to customers. It provides larger pools of knowledge, ideas, and experiences from which to draw upon which has a positive effect on creative problem solving and driving innovation. This ultimately helps organizations to understand and serve customers better in today’s diversified communities and global economy.
History Speaks to Diversity’s Future
Lionel Laroche, founder and president of Toronto-based MultiCultural Business Solutions, and Winston McLean, president of Iron Wolf Consulting in Saskatchewan, addressed the topic of “Bridging Cultural Diversity for Competitive Advantage” at the recent HRMA Conference + Tradeshow 2016.
“Diversity brings a lot of creativity and innovation to organizations in the long run. Historically, part of the success that cities like Venice, Florence, New York City, London and Hong Kong have experiences at various points in history came from their abilities to attract people from all over the world and create a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts,” Laroche and McLean explained. “Regimes that did not welcome diversity of opinions often ran into significant issues in the long run.”
Diversity Not Without Contention
Incorporating diversity brings both challenges and opportunities. Working with employees of different backgrounds initially takes time. Employees facing language barriers experience confusion and are frustrated at first. This can lead to ineffective communication, difficult working relationships, lower productivity, and dissatisfied customers.
Moreover, when hearing people speak a different language, we often react negatively by thinking they speak the language because they don’t want to integrate, want us to understand, or are talking about us. According to Laroche and McLean, “The reality is that, most of the time, they are blowing off steam because operating in a second language all the time takes a tremendous amount of mental energy.”
There are always some employees who resist change or are slow to accept that the social and cultural makeup of the workplace is changing. It is important to understand why people resist change. A primary reason why employees resist change is lack of information and understanding. Common fears include reverse discrimination, limited opportunities, and changes in the way they work which can result in low morale.
Wide-Ranging Cohesion Key
Organizations need to have some level of cohesion to effectively implement diversity into their culture. Laroche and McLean see the general challenge as being “to widen the range of possible behaviours, thoughts, styles and approaches without losing sight of what makes them successful in the first place.”
To effectively implement diversity as a culture driver, the following must be taken.
- Involve every employee in formulating diversity initiatives, allow them to express their ideas, and create a sense of equal values—inclusion is essential;
- Create a positive environment that tolerates and recognizes differences;
- Develop a diversity strategy, and policies that reflect improving diversity and cultural acceptance. Include diversity in the mission, values, and overall strategic plan;
- Identify and assess demographics of the workforce and regions the organization serves;
- Utilize diversity training and educate employees on cultural awareness, proper etiquette, appropriate terminology, knowledge, and communication;
- Focus on the strengths employees bring by seeing differences a potential drivers of change;
- Match the diversity of your customer base. This brings insider viewpoints and helps organizations to adapt to changing demographics of the regions it serves, reach new markets, and bring in new talents and perspectives; and
- Motivate and support employees to act inclusively by providing opportunities for employees to interact with one another and developing a mentorship program.
Diversity in Mind From the Start
Recruiting diverse candidates is essential to a strong culture. Instead of relying on traditional methods of advertising, consider community boards, cultural community groups, and local ethnic publications, and build relationships with diverse community groups. To better engage the selection process, create an interview team that includes diverse staff.
Once diversity is implemented, organizations may face the challenge of taking the wrong approach in managing diversity issues. Managers must ensure employees are aware of the reasons and benefits diversity brings to the organization. Evaluations to measure effects of diversity programs and policies by feedback from employees can alleviate this challenge.
Across ages, genders, continents and cultures, diversity is already a core component of today’s workplace. Reaching further to bring further diversity into play not only makes sense, but has become essential to acquiring the skills and mindsets critical to creating ongoing success a globally competitive marketplace.
Lindsay Macintosh, CHRP has over 20 years experience in payroll and benefits in the retail, foodservice and logging industries.
(PeopleTalk Summer 2016)