Society & Culture

The Effects of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

cultural-diversityCultural diversity has increased in workplaces as companies have expanded globally. Leadership success in the 21st century involves the ability to have intercultural competence. According to the book Managing Diversity by Gardenswartz and Rowe (1998), using affirmative action alone in today's economic situation is no longer an acceptable management style. A three part approach involving components of affirmative action, managing the diversity, and valuing the differences gives the framework to develop diversity as a positive aspect and a tool for competing well in the global economy.

Effects of Cultural Diversity

Intentional cultivation of communication among the workforce for intercultural relationships fosters productive work environments and creates opportunities for business. Ignoring it according to Witherspoon & and Wohlert in a study 1996 has negative consequences. In addition, a study by Miller in 1994 showed the purchasing power of ethnic groups in United States had reached the 25 % mark and was expected to increase. For business, it means clients or consumers that purchase products and employees who bring fresh insight and ideas. Training organizations in intercultural communication has the added benefit of increasing motivation. Diversity can become a business enhancement tool. Studies such as Richard 2000, or Goncalo and Staw 2006 prove diversity pays handsomely.

University of Illinois in Chicago also gathered information on how diversity training directly transferred into productivity. A multivariate analysis for statistical control on this study which used a variety of measurement tools to assess the effects of diversity found companies that had considerable diversity training programs were 68% more likely to have higher productivity rates than competitors who did not. Business organizations reported 41% better business performance than competitors. Work environments were determined to be more positive and fair for promotions.

No Turning Back

The United States Office of Employment stated that 29% of the labor force were minorities in 2008 and was predicted to grow. Diversity now becomes an essential part of a business plan. Managing diversity intentionally has become a given. What does a good diversity training program look like? Here are some items to consider.

  1. Programs should define diversity broadly. All differences need addressing, not just race and gender.
  2. Programs should directly challenge participant ideas and biases and lead to introspection and discussion.
  3. Programs that make a business case. It has to prove to the participants with data and report why it is a beneficial tool for making money.
  4. Programs that use humor to make many points so that people accept some of the harsh reality of what has been done in the past. At the same time, the program should avoid blaming the white guys. All cultures and people have biases and prejudices. The root cause must become addressed, not the symptoms.
  5. Programs that allow for continuing dialogue internally in the business itself. Once instituted, the program must become part of the annual business plan.
  6. Programs that tackle reality head on. Most board of directors in the U.S. are white males. Many organizations upper tier levels are all male. It has to be a discussion, and it has to have a portion that addresses ways to balance it in the future.
  7. Programs must engage the audience and be interactive. It is not enough to sit and listen. The program must include questions and activities for dissent and debate. When it is all said and done people coming in should leave with a different attitude and some tools,

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An article by Jared Norman, a professional blogger. Jared offers business consulting, diversity training news and advice.

One Comment

  1. I really appreciated you article. I too agree that in order for companies to be productive in today’s diverse, colorful world they need to embrace diversity within their respective organizations as a point of strength rather than a burden with which to deal. I wanted to make special mention of you 4th point (using humor) in developing an effective training program. I believe that while this is absolutely an effective approach, it is also subject to a substantial amount of risk. I personally believe that adding a little levity to oftentimes heavy topics can be beneficial to all involved. It helps free up thinking and initiates more collaboration. But doing it well is also an art form and I worry that used incorrectly the risk can far outweigh the reward. Have you (or anyone else out there) ever had a situation where humor centered around diversity related issues in the workplace actually backfired?

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