The main purpose of this study is to evaluate various factors that play an important role in influencing diversity at workplace. Is it important for an organisation to spend its valuable time and resources in improving its diversity and motivating its employees to work together happily? The answer to this would be a “yes”. This article studies the factors that give rise to diversity, the importance of having a diverse workforce and its merits. This article also throws light on the significance of effectively managing workplace diversity. It tries to analyse how an organisation can achieve long term success and employee satisfaction by the application of diversity training in a cross cultural environment.
Keywords: Workplace Diversity, Management, Training, Employees, Culture, Strategy.
In today’s globalised economy, people from all across the world have come closer to each other. The scope of diversity has expanded beyond the traditional idea that included race, gender and ethnicity. The organisations that operate on a global level have no option but to vouch for more diversity at workplace. In simple words, diversity refers to the variety of demographic elements that constitutes a company’s workforce, in terms of sex, culture, religion, nationality, age and race (Institute of Interdisciplinary Business Research, 2013).
Today, the diversity model is much more focused towards the inclusion of globalised economy and a multicultural workforce where importance is given to the diversity of thoughts, ideas and perspectives from various employees. With reference to the workplace, diversity aims at generating a workplace scenario that values and accepts the differences that exists between its employees, realises the amount of unique contributions that different individuals can make, and which maximizes the potential of all the workers. An organisation can be called diverse if it has individuals who differ from each other on several dimensions that include values, cultures, gender, age and marital status (Church, 1995).
In order to establish its name and brand in the global markets, multinational organisations have no option but to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. This diverse workforce is a unique asset that needs to be effectively handled, managed, groomed, and trained on the necessary technical and interpersonal skill sets. Diversity training is designed to increase the overall productivity of the organisation, as employees learn how to succeed in their assignments, work under teams and excel in diverse work cultures. This is extremely important to achieve the right quality of employee output. It also improves the brand identity and value of the multinational organisation and its goodwill in international markets. It is a fact that only those organisations that are truly committed to attract and retain a diverse workforce will succeed in difficult and turbulent business environments.
The importance of having diversity at workplace
Most of the big organisations have their business interests in foreign countries. In today’s competitive scenario, even small organisations are deriving value by marketing and managing overseas. Countries differ from each other in their culture, basic values of their citizen, politics, language and way of doing business. For example, Japanese people consider their employers as their extended family. On the other hand, employees in Europe and America are much more ‘practical’ and have a different way of thinking. In any case, cultures do influence the organisation’s HR policies and practices. This is the reason why managing diversity at workplace is so important for global organisations.
If we look at the key reasons for having a diverse workforce, we find the following:
- Workplace diversity also enhances the economic performance and the global competitiveness of the organisation in the long run (Cox, 2004 & Hultsman, 2005).
- Workplace diversity improves the overall organizational responsiveness, productivity and effectiveness (Cox, 2004).
- It improves the quality of employee output.
- It ensures that the corporate identity of the concerned organisation improves and it receives a tremendous good will from all of its internal and external stake holders.
- The management of diversity has important ethical, economical and legal ramifications for the concerned organisation (Institute of Interdisciplinary Business Research, 2013).
- It shows that the organisation is committed towards the welfare and development of its employees and is conscious of their self actualization needs.
How to build diversity at workplace?
It really pays when organisations invest their time and resources in expanding its diversity, and in getting its employees from different cultures and backgrounds to co-exist and work together peacefully. In order to build diversity at workplace, organisations need to formulate the right talent management strategies that promote diversity and can be used to an organisation’s strategic advantage.
The global organisations, while forming their talent management strategy, must place its emphasis on the following important aspects:
- Analysis of the current situation existing in the industry and the organisation. The organisation must first analyse its current diversity. What are the issues relating to diversity that needs to be addressed on priority? What are the changes that are needed to be proposed, so as to improve the current situation?
- Providing necessary education and training to all its workers, junior management and senior management on building self esteem, value differences and teaching them the benefits of adapting diversity in their work culture and their ways of functioning.
- Hiring and enabling the trainers and recruiters to suggest and apply different talent management strategies with a primary focus on improving the organisation diversity. There must be several discussions and brainstorming sessions before any of these strategies be implemented.
- Implement, evaluate, analyse and enforce necessary changes that are brought by the application of the new strategy. The management needs to analyse the benefits of the applied strategies on the organisation’s overall productivity and environment. Has the workplace diversity improved? Are its employees happier than before? Are there any internal workplace conflicts? How can the strategy be improved further? The management needs to seek answers to these questions.
- Organise employee and customer surveys to measure and evaluate any changes and improvements in the attitudes of its workforce towards diversity and retain the best strategy that has resulted in improvement of workforce diversity.
Once, the organisation identifies the right strategy and hires a diverse workforce, its next goal is to provide its workforce with proper diversity training. Diversity training is a module that is designed to improve the general and managerial awareness of the workers who come from different cultures and backgrounds, thereby promoting better team work and productivity. It encourages the company employees to approach its customers and colleagues with dignity, integrity and respect.
Diversity Training and its importance in today’s organisations
It often happens that managers who occupy powerful positions try and control their subordinates which often lead to clashes and tensions (Alvesson & Willmott, 2008) .Workplace diversity plays an important role as it raises such issues of inequities that exist in several organisations today. Diversity training addresses such issues along with improving the long term productivity of the organisation, as its employees learn how to cope up and survive in diverse work environments.
Diversity is a double-edged sword. Managing it means making the most of its benefits (cultural awareness, language and interpersonal skills) and eliminating the potential barriers (conflicts, bias, bullying, hatred, prejudice and racism). Therefore, it is very important to impart diversity training to workforce. Some of the features of the diversity training process are:
- Cross cultural communication training (Mullich, 2004). It includes improving the communication process between different cultures. The organisation teaches its employees on how to cope up with ‘culture shocks’ and how to build and maintain great business relationships with international customers and suppliers. It also includes training on how to negotiate and handle different clients.
- Training on different languages: English is the preferred language of the world. In the majority of workshops, English is being taught as a global language. However, in some cases, even the local languages such as Chinese and Spanish are taught. It depends on the kind of customers that the organisation is targeting. These language workshops focus on removing the language barrier that might exist among the employees or between the employees and their global customers.
- Cultural training: The module of this training depends upon the kind of organisation and the kind of products or services they are offering. For example, some Indian IT companies might train their local employees on American culture and its differences with the Indian culture.
- Overseas diversity training: The individual strategy of this training requires adapting to the customs of the host country and getting to know the work culture, learning the cultural differences and the way in which the business is done locally.
- Evaluation of performance: Once the diversity training is completed, there must be an assessment of the employee performance. It can be in the form of a written test, group discussions, role plays or a short interview. This would bring out the effectiveness of diversity training on the overall attitudes and skills of the employees.
Some of the difficulties faced by diverse workforce
Sometimes, there are certain situations that may pose some difficulties to the organisations in managing their workforce diversity. Let us have a look at these situations:
- Resistance to change and adapting to new norms: There might be a section of employees who may not accept the proposed changes. Even if it is highly beneficial to the organisation in the long run, some employees completely refuse to accept the idea of introducing diversity at work. They exhibit biased behaviour towards employees of other race, religion, ethnicities and make the work environment extremely difficult and hostile. During such testing times, organisations need to constantly vouch for diversity and highlight the benefits it would bring to the employees in the long run.
- Communication gap is another issue that arises in diverse work places. When a company based in U.S. hires an employee whose first language is Chinese, the manager and the employee will have some difficulties in communicating with each other, which can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings and might give rise to potential conflicts.
- In spite of so many initiatives in improving workplace diversity, the fact remains that there are still limited opportunities available for women and the minorities. It is not unusual that managers like to hire people who resemble them in their style of functioning. Such behaviour defeats the purpose of fostering diversity and must be avoided at all costs.
Advantages of workplace diversity
Recruiting a diverse workforce isn’t just a socially responsible activity; it is a necessity in today’s globalized workplace, where there is a rapid increase in the number of minorities and female candidates (Dessler, 2011). Workplace diversity has its shares of advantages;
- It provides an equal opportunity to its current and prospective employees.
- It makes sure that a person belonging to any race, gender, religion, ethnicity and nationality receives an equal opportunity based on his or her talent.
- It also gives importance to affirmative action, by which the employer takes necessary steps to eliminate the effects of past discrimination at workplace.
- The long term benefits of workplace diversity would be higher productivity, improved corporate image and a high level of trust along with job satisfaction.
- It reiterates the age old saying: treat others as you want to be treated.
- Promoting ethical decision making in the organisation: The essence of an ethical decision making process is to do what is right and establish trust, respect and credibility in front of all the external and internal stakeholders. Diversity paves way to ethical decision making in any organisation and helps in promoting business ethics.
- Saving the expenses of recruiting expatriates: Most multinational organisations hire expatriates, whose salaries are almost three times the salary of the local employees. Organisation can save these costs by improving their workplace diversity and by creating its own competitive advantage in the market.
Managing workplace diversity means accepting people’s differences and considering these differences as valuable. It encourages good management practices that prevents workplace discrimination and promotes inclusiveness. The initiatives that are taken to improve workplace diversity depend upon the working philosophy of the organisation’s management. The management needs to constantly vouch for workplace diversity and look for subtle cues that can improve it in the longer run!
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