The culture we belong to shapes our identity in a way that no other aspect of diversity does. Culture includes the shared language, beliefs, norms, values and aspects of regional and religion diversity that is passed down from one generation to another. The term cultural diversity is often used as a synonym to “multiculturalism”. Famous sociologist, Dr Caleb Rosado defines multiculturalism basis the following seven actions:
- Recognizing the variety of cultures
- Respecting the differences identified
- Acknowledging different cultural expressions and contributions
- Valuing the contributions of all the cultures and what they have to offer
- Encouraging more contribution from the diverse groups
- Empowering people to reach their inner potential by critically analyzing their biases
- Celebrating differences instead of tolerating them
Therefore, cultural diversity is a system of beliefs that recognizes, respects, values and celebrates all diverse groups in an organization. Organizations today are extensively promoting multiculturalism and one of the reasons is the millennial mindset taking over the organizations to rethink and re-plan their business efforts. This explains the cultural diversity importance that holds true today.
Cultural diversity has more pros than cons. Organizations have faced issues in implementing a policy where people from different cultural backgrounds can work cohesively together as a team. Unintentionally, cliques and groups are formed where like-minded people attract and want to be together.
Some of the major challenges faced are:
- Stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination and racism have given rise to conflicts at the workplace while making integration a big challenge. Team members and peers are often observed indulging in personal attacks rather than productive conflict around ideas.
- Often Harassment is quoted as a bigger issue in multicultural organization set ups. But harassment is not an issue resulting from cultural diversity but that of an individual’s social learning. Multicultural or no, harassment can still prevail in organizations if proper policies are not implemented to prevent the same.
- Organizations become too ambitious to create a culturally diverse workforce but fail to meet the needs and demands of the same. Diversity brings with it a set of different needs which needs to be recognized and catered to. Often employees that form the minority in the group, claim that their voices are less heard
- Communication sometimes may not be effective due to difference in understanding and misinterpretation across languages and cultures. Along with communication, the definition and nuances of professional etiquette also differs from one culture to another. A poor understanding of the same can further lead to more conflicts.
These issues although can be a potential threat to the organization, are not unavoidable. With proper policies and integration plan, these issues can be resolved, and more focus can be given to the importance of cultural diversity at the workplace, as listed below.
- Cultural diversity allows different minds to come together to brainstorm and plan hence, fostering creativity and innovation that helps organizations to quickly innovate, have a competitive advantage and meet the growing demands of the customers
- Cultural diversity helps to break the monotony and “groupthink” conformity in the organization because everyone thinking alike can pose a bigger issue. Studies have also shown that people tend to consider conflicting views and opinions if it is coming from someone they regard as different from themselves.
- Cultural diversity also includes regional diversity which means team members with knowledge of local market that can make business competitive and profitable
- Aiming for a culturally diverse workforce means no filtering in the recruitment process organizations can focus on attracting and hiring the best talent and not just relying on referrals for their recruitment process
- Cultural diversity also gives a scope to create teams with diverse skill set that further helps in creativity and innovation for various products and services
- Diverse teams can play on each other’s strengths, outperform homogenous groups in problem solving abilities and increase the team’s overall productivity
- Cultural diversity also gives a scope to learn from one another, thus giving greater opportunity for personal and professional growth
- All of the above factors help to improve the financial performance of the organization
The number of cultural diversity importance definitely outperforms its challenges and issues. As mentioned earlier, issues can be resolved, and the benefits can be leveraged if the plan for multiculturalism is implemented well.
Here are some tips on how one can manage cultural diversity at the workplace.
- Policies related to diversity must be written and documented and made a part of the employee handbook; it must include the expectations, code of conduct, rituals and benefits derived from the same
- Establish a zero-tolerance policy and document not just the policies but also how violation of those policies will be dealt with
- In order to sustain a diverse workplace culture, employee sensitivity and awareness is very important. Efforts should be made to help employees understand each other’s cultural differences in terms of gender roles, spirituality, emotional well-being, family and social learning. Appropriate employee sensitivity training must be provided.
- Create a common culture and list of professional etiquette that should be followed by all in the organization
- Advocating and promoting the use of local raw materials that signifies the importance and value of one’s culture also helps to dilute the issues of multiculturalism
- Creating team cultures of active listening, empathy and acceptance must be promoted through well-established rituals
Cultural diversity brings with its various benefits that must be considered and taken up as an initiative by all organizations and proper implementation efforts in terms of culture, policies and systems must be established to help sustain that initiative.