It becomes more and more fashionable to talk about diversity in the workplace. They say that organisations that do not consider the opportunity to hire people of different genders, ages and ethical groups miss valuable human resources and lose their chance to appeal to a wider range of customers. Indeed, it is true. However, a diverse workforce is fraught with many challenges and problems, which, if not addressed by managers, can have an adverse effect on the company, decrease the productivity, cause the losses in personnel and so on.
Advantages of a Diverse Workforce
Before we discuss the challenges of the workplace diversity and the ways to get over them, it would be useful to examine advantages of this diversity and find out if the efforts are worth trying at all. So, from the very beginning, let us consider the benefits, which a diverse workforce brings.
Firstly, if an organisation does not limit itself to only one ethical or age group, it has a wider range of human resources and can choose the best employees in every one of them (Nataatmadia & Dyson 2005, p. 580). Thus, it will have more qualified and skilled professionals and a stronger team.
Secondly, an organisation can take advantage of a variety of cultures and increase the clientele since people usually tend to trust those of the same nationality or a cultural group. As Nataatmadia and Dyson (2005, p. 581) claim, ‘just as ethnic minorities may prefer to work for employers who value diversity, they may also prefer to buy from such organisations’. As the proof, they stated that the Avon Company became much more popular among African-Americans and Hispanics, after the representatives of this population groups took the positions of managers (Nataatmadia & Dyson 2005, p. 581).
Thirdly, a variety of cultures means a variety of languages, which is a priceless advantage. Due to it, a company can be competitive on a global level, save money on hiring interpreters and make its employees more involved in the company’s life.
Fourthly, hiring people of different age groups (even the old-aged) and individuals with disabilities is good for the company’s reputation since such social programs always attract much of people’s attention.
Finally, a diverse team (if all challenges that can negatively affect it are overcome) makes its members more tolerant, understanding and attentive to each other, which significantly improves the teamwork and increases the productivity.
Considering all mentioned above, the organisations with a diverse workforce have a priceless competitive advantage over the companies, which have more classical teams.
Different Sides of the Workplace Diversity
One of the reasons for the presence of diversity and its challenges is an increasing number of women in the workforce. Presently, fewer and fewer women consider themselves as housewives and are willing to spend their lives cooking, cleaning the house, upbringing children and waiting for their husbands to return from work. Many of them strive to be self-sufficient, independent and earn a living on their own. As a prime example, the study conducted by Houkamau and Boxall (2011) in New Zealand confirms that the number of women in business has vastly increased. In December 2010, women made up nearly the half of the workforce in that region, and the majority of them (57.4%) were working full-time jobs (Houkamau & Boxall 2011, p. 441). An increasing number of women in the workforce brings many challenges and problems, where gender discrimination and sexual harassment go first on the list.
Another reason the workforce diversity exists is the presence of ethnic minorities. The same team can unite people of several ethnic groups, who obviously have different cultures, religions, traditions and views. It is extremely difficult to build a well-knit and friendly team, if talking about various nationalities, since many of them in the same group can cause the cultural challenge, probably, the most difficult one.
Finally, besides the differences between groups of people, there are also many diversities within those groups. Among those are different ages, various levels of knowledge and skills, the presence of individuals with disabilities and so forth.
Challenges of a Diverse Workforce and Ways to Overcome Them
From my point of view, the most significant challenge is cultural since a diversity of nationalities and ethical groups can cause such problems as ethnocentrism and prejudice (Northous 2012). Those inevitably interfere with the regular work and communication within the team and hinder any success and goal achievement. Even when managers are able to step back from their own culture and are free from any prejudice, most frequently, they still have to deal with those feelings in their employees. That is why the first thing a manager should do to overcome the cultural challenge is teaching the employees to respect and understand each other regardless of a diversity of nationalities.
Managers should start with psychology and introduce to their subordinates the standards and principles of ethical leadership. In her book, Thornton (2013) defines seven lenses, which ethical leaders should be guided by in their day-to-day practice. Those are profit, law, character, people, communities, the planet, and the greater good (Thornton 2013). The third one will encourage employees to take into account the needs and interests of others even if they do not agree with them.
To teach their employees with those and other principles, managers should arrange the team building, interventions, workshops, etc. They can provide the subordinates (and especially the newcomers) with the lists of do’s and don’ts, which will address the cultural challenge. They can regularly give the employees some kind of social tasks. For example, employees can be asked to connect with people of other cultures through social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, interview those and present the results to the group (Smith & Victorson 2012, p. 50). The same or similar methods can be used to avoid other types of discrimination in the workplace, including those based on gender, age or physical abilities (if a company hires people with disabilities).
Finally, every organisation that employs people of different ethical groups/genders/ages should set particular diversity management policies, which will ensure that managers are aware of all nuances associated with a diverse workforce. If those policies are absent, managers can abuse their positions, discriminating ethical minorities, women, old-aged people and so forth. As a prime example of that, Nataatmadia and Dyson (2005, p. 581) describe the concept of ‘the glass ceiling’, when discriminated people are never promoted. The term ‘the glass ceiling’ quite accurately describes this situation: people can see everything through the glass and watch their co-workers moving up the career ladder, but they are not able to get there by themselves (Nataatmadia & Dyson 2005, p. 581).
Presently, the statistics show that not all companies that have diverse teams set their diversity management policies. According to Kramar (2012, p. 253), a survey of 1,500 Australian organisations revealed that only 49% of them had formal written diversity management policies, and only 20% had informal ones. That means that the remaining 30% are at risk in this regard. Additionally, similar policies should be established for the employees as well. That will guarantee that neither ethnocentrism within the team nor any type of discrimination will go unpunished.
One more significant challenge to be overcome while creating and managing a diverse team is linguistic. A variety of languages is not only an advantage on a global scale but also a barrier. When hiring people, whose first language differs from English and who do not speak English well enough, managers will face difficulties associated with the communication within the group. To overcome this challenge, an organisation should hire more bilingual employees and provide particular training courses to improve employees’ language skills.
While working with diverse teams, organisations also face such challenge as a broad range of lifestyles, habits, traditions, religions, etc. That means that employees are used to different time zones and schedules, want to live and work in different environments, have different holidays, on the occasion of which they want to take days off, and so on. Therefore, an organisation should adapt to all of them, providing flexible schedules and working conditions, allowing employees to wear clothes that they like and arrange their workplaces in their own fashion.
Admittedly, it is hard to consider all mentioned above. It is even more difficult to address all of these challenges and get over them to finally build a strong and friendly team. However, the result and all benefits that a diverse workforce can bring are definitely worth every effort.
Houkamau, C & Boxall, P 2011, ‘The incidence and impacts of diversity management: A survey of New Zealand employees’, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 440-460. Web.
Kramar, R 2012, ‘Diversity management in Australia: a mosaic of concepts, practice and rhetoric’, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 245–261. Web.
Nataatmadia, I & Dyson, LE 2005, ‘Managing the Modern Workforce: Cultural Diversity and Its Implications’, Managing Modern Organizations Through Information Technology, pp. 580-583. Web.
Northous, PG 2012, Leadership: Theory and Practice, 6th edn, SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA. Web.
Smith, MC & Victorson, J 2012, ‘Developing a global mindset: Cross-Cultural Challenges and Best Practices for Assessing and Grooming High Potentials for Global Leadership’, People and Strategy, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 42-51. Web.
Thornton, LF 2013, 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, Leading in Context, Richmond. Web.