“Diversity” has arrived as a descriptive word for the American lifestyle in the modern world. With increasing immigration of people from many countries, many races, and many cultural backgrounds to the United States, the country has become a nest of diversity.
Several factors shape the fact that the workforce is becoming increasingly culturally diverse: women represent an increasing percentage in organizations; the difference in age is becoming more evident on all levels; due to continuously changing demands organizations are employing more and more people with diverse professional and specialist backgrounds; there is a growing number of immigrants having different customs, religions and cultures and finally, the ongoing globalization is causing an influx of a large number of expatriates, who comes from various countries in the world, also contributing with different values and cultures.
This increasing cultural diversity is both an opportunity and a challenge. Diversity brings with it a wide range of creativity and fresh thinking into the system. Diversity is here, in the population, in the workforce and in the marketplace. Racism, discrimination in the workplace, social stratification, and conflicts in social lifestyles are all negative byproducts of diversity. Thus cultural diversity in America is a highly debated issue because of the numerous problems arising due to it.
One of the most serious and explosive issues in the United States today is meeting the business goals within an environment of multicultural diversity. When companies fail to create a culture of diversity and inclusion effectively, the costs can be high – costs arising due to ‘diversity training” and settlement of discrimination lawsuits. Many well-known companies have spent millions of dollars on “diversity training,” after settling discrimination lawsuits totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, diversity also raises issues of interpersonal relations and communications among employees.
This fact is underlined by increasing discrimination and class action lawsuits. Diversity impacts every person, every project, and every transaction in today’s business world. Some companies approach it in terms of the noticeable differences among people. What many fail to realize is that diversity is really about personal interaction and emotions, and creating a corporate culture that welcomes all kinds of differences. Managing Diversity: Managing diversity is all about approaching the issue proactively as a business opportunity.
There needs to be a culture of diversity within the organization. One of the major obstacles in managing diversity is that many companies view diversity as a problem that needs to be solved. They just take a reactive approach. Supposing there is a lawsuit brought under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, they just take an initiative that would solve the problem in the short run. Though this approach seems to be successful, in the long run, there is likely to be no impact on the corporate culture in a positive way.
Such reactive approaches can negatively impact the workforce morale as they don’t appear to be a genuine commitment to diversity. The path to diversity is not always an easy one. One of the most common obstacles is resentment from white male managers who see diversity as threatening to them. “Since diversity is typically framed to be about white women and people of color, the focus is rarely on examining what it means to be white and male,” say Bill Proudman and Michael Welp, Partners at White Men as Full Diversity Partners LLC, a consulting firm based in Portland, Oregon.
“White men, and sometimes others, thus conclude that diversity is not about them” (Goffney, 2005) Another obstacle that can arise in a multicultural business environment is resistance to change. When new diversity programs are introduced, it is essential that the employees view it as a genuine effort. Hence, these diversity programs should be tailored to meet the needs of the company’s workforce and integrated into the daily environment. Any diversity initiative should be tied to the company’s bottom line.
Even though top management may make the commitment to diversity, if the initiative is not tied explicitly to the company’s bottom line, it does not become a priority for middle managers. The diversity initiative should be integrated into the tools and processes they use to manage employees, including orientation, training and education, and interpersonal communication. If not, existing employees will not accept the diversity initiative and new employees are likely to get disillusioned with a taste of it.
Top management must ensure that the commitment to diversity has buy-in at all levels of the organization by making diversity an integral part of company success. Yet another obstacle to managing diversity is that the diversity initiatives might be restricted to training alone and is left as an ‘HR issue”. This narrow focus results relegation of diversity to a single department and companies thus miss out on opportunities to improve and integrate the diversity initiative into other areas of the company. Any corporate initiative should be feedback based, dynamic and flexible.
Else, there is the danger that the initiative will remain static. Too often diversity initiatives begin and end with the first efforts undertaken. Diversity and inclusion are part of company culture, and like the culture, diversity must continue to evolve (Adams and Ruch, 2006). Managing all these obstacles require the ability to value a diverse world. This means there should be individual assessment of beliefs about work values. People from differing backgrounds having different experiences bring to work the biases and “veils” as well as the strengths that arise out of cultural differences.
To work effectively with persons from diverse backgrounds, it is necessary to understand others– people from other racial, ethnic and cultural heritages, and people whose values, beliefs and experience are different. This involves learning to recognize when new competencies are needed, knowing how to develop the requisite new competencies, and implementing the competencies effectively. Companies need to assess their state of diversity: What is the state of diversity in our company? Are we making the most of diversity? Do we speak with one voice with respect to diversity?
Companies that ask these questions on a continual basis, set strategic goals, measure their progress and evolve their programs in sync with their overall organizational change will be the ones to leverage the full potential of diversity (Adams and Ruch, 2006). Individual Reactions to Diversity: Diversity may be viewed positively or negatively depending on the individual reaction to diversity. In a culturally diverse workplace, there is likely to be prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. This is because of self-fulfilling prophecies.
The perceiver develops false belief about a person from a different cultural background. He then treats the person in a manner consistent with that false belief. Ultimately, the person responds to the treatment in such a way to confirm the originally false belief. Other negative reactions of individuals to diversity may include: tension among staff, distrust of anything new, gossip and rumor, open hostility or bullying, absenteeism, tarnishing of the agency’s reputation, low staff retention rates, lack of response to customers and falling standards of service quality (NSW, 2006).
In the positive sense, diversity that brings with it community language skills and cultural competencies can be seen as valuable assets to an agency (MSASS, 2006). Customer service improves when employees are able to tackle customers from a range of backgrounds. When employees are encouraged to learn from one another, their skills and knowledge are also enhanced. Diversity can reduce skill shortages at specific times. In a business, diversity gives the advantage of utilizing the language, international expertise and cultural knowledge of staff to identify successful export opportunities.
When employees are encouraged to work in their areas of strength and capability, they are happier, more productive and more likely to stay with the agency. Productive diversity is based on the concept that there are potential economic benefits to be gained from valuing different experience, perspectives, skills and the cross-transfer and integration of these into the agency and local economy. Productive diversity makes good business sense in an environment where local diversity and global interconnectedness play a critical economic role (Muhr, 2006). Diversity effects on groups and teams:
In the context of working in groups or teams, diversity seems to cause contrasting goals, miscommunication or inter-group anxiety, thereby prohibiting teamwork creativity. Miscommunication and the lack of a common language make it difficult for team members to engage in an exchange of ideas and questions, an exchange, which is essential for effective teamwork (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). If individuals carry out negative stereotyping of outgroups it can prevent them from trusting and engaging with others and can threaten communication patterns within organizations. This is mainly due to a lack of common context and language usage.
Anxiety in the team occurs when people identify themselves as placed among people belonging to different diversity categories. Thus, diversity will in this situation make it difficult for the individuals to identify with the team, since there is no unified perception of what values the team represents (Muhr, 2006). In a diverse work team, the values and perceptions of different diversity categories may be contrasting or even mutually exclusive, which is likely to bring about incongruence in goals. Incongruence in goals can limit communication, which is fundamental to the creation of interpersonal relationships and trust.
Furthermore, goal incongruence may also prevent individuals from sharing and combining knowledge all together, if they are not able to reach agreement on common goals for pursuing such knowledge processes (Muhr, 2006). On the positive side, it has been shown that diversity in fact improves creativity by promoting variations, thinking out of the box and avoiding ‘groupthink’. Several analyses have shown that teams made up of people with different cultural and educational backgrounds, different personalities, different professional backgrounds and different skills are potentially more creative and innovative than relatively homogeneous teams.
This is because diversity creates variations – variations in perceptions, values, ideas, opinions, and methods, which are highly essential for developing a stimulating creative environment (Mohr, 2006). Conclusion: In the global economy today, most companies operate globally. Diversity of thought, culture, geography, race, and gender enables companies to deliver the best solutions to their customers and markets. Diversity pays off both internally and externally.
A company that embraces diversity can offer a challenging and creative work environment, and as a result, can attract and retain top talent with diverse backgrounds. There is also a connection between diversity and increased productivity. Diversity also fosters organizational creativity. But despite these benefits of diversity, work teams will not truly benefit from diversity unless sufficient communication, trust and openness are nurtured in the organizational climate.
The powerful advantage of embracing diversity in organizations is best brought out by the words of Ted Childs, IBM’s vice president of global workforce diversity. In a recent issue of Fast Company magazine, in a feature article was entitled: “Difference is Power”, Ted Childs suggests that, “No matter who you are, you’re going to have to work with people who are different from you. You’re going to have to sell to people who are different from you, and buy from people who are different from you, and manage people who are different from you.
This is how [companies] do business. If it’s (diversity) not your destination, you should get off the plane now” (Meisner, 2006). Bibliography: Adams, Brandon and Ruch, Will (2006). Diversity as a core business strategy. http://www. versantsolutions. com/knowledgecenter/EB_DiversityAsACoreBusinessStrategy2. pdf NSW (2006). What is Diversity? http://www. eeo. nsw. gov. au/diversity/whatis. htm Muhr, Louise Sara (2006). Openness to Diversity –Turning conflict into teamwork creativity. Paper submitted for the 10th International Workshop on Teamworking. http://www. mau.
se/upload/IMER/Forskning/Diverse/Muhr%5B1%5D. pdf Nahapiet, J. , & Ghoshal, S. 1998. Social Capital, Intellectual Capital and the Organizational Advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23(2). MSASS (2006). Valuing a diverse World. http://msass. case. edu/downloads/academic/diverse. pdf Goffney, Phyllia (2005). Champions of Diversity. Essence. May 2005. http://www. findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_1_36/ai_n13660850 Meisner, Lora (2006). The American Quilt – Workplace Diversity. http://career. thingamajob. com/general-career. aspx/The-American-Quilt-Workplace-Diversity. aspx