Cultural diversity can improve businesses through new ideas, strengthening understanding and relationships of different client groups, and by boosting innovation through multicultural networks.
Workplaces sometimes see diversity as a problem that needs to be managed through strict managerial processes – or worse, some businesses may not invest much time thinking about how to improve diversity management.
This post provides a quick overview of mainstream approaches to diversity, and I offer advice to overcome some of the trappings of this conventional wisdom. I show that diversity is an important resource that employers can draw upon in order to boost productivity and team work.
Undoing management control
Chandana Rathnasiri Hewege is a researcher with Swinburne University. Hewege argues that management theory would be revitalised with social science input. In particular, Hewege focuses on changing the idea of management control.
This term describes how organisations monitor the behaviour of employees. The aim is to improve efficiency and make better use of resources. This can be done through formal processes like enforcing rules and account keeping. It can also be achieved through informal ways, such as promoting a unified organisational culture and promoting shared values.
The main theory of management control is limited because it presumes all managers will agree with and enforce organisational objectives. It also presumes that workers will be passive in following the rules. Social science focuses on alternative views that incorporate different perspectives on culture. Social science also helps managers better understand relationships of power that go on unspoken beneath the surface, such as when employees are quietly unhappy, and the issues that bubble in the background, eventually leading to interpersonal problems at work. Hewege shows that in multicultural organisations, workers may actively be in conflict with managers because their ideas are culturally at odds.
Drawing on social science, Hewege argues that managers should take cultural differences into consideration in order to improve workplace relationships.
Improving Your Business Through Diversity Management
Having a multicultural team helps you see old problems in a new light; it provides networking opportunities to new communities; and it boosts productivity through novel cultural understanding of social relationships and marketing relations. Having a management plan in place to address diversity using social science is an ideal way to improve relationships within your team before problems arise. It also helps managers and all employees better appreciate and draw on diversity in ways that will make their work more meaningful.
How can you improve the way your business addresses cultural issues? Here’s a list to help you get stared!
- Provide regular intercultural training for all employees: good management means having everyone on the same page about how culture works. Expert training provides a common language for employees to discuss cultural differences, as well as practical steps to help everyone work through problems proactively. This training would also incorporate a range of exercises that you can use with your team to help you collaborate in ways that make the most of different cultural perspectives in your everyday work .
- Don’t single out migrants or minorities for special discussions: whether you perceive a problem with manners, hygiene, or other insensitive topics – if it’s important to your business, then everyone should participate in all workplace discussions.
- Create an environment of respect: jokes about other cultures are never okay; letting employees “dress up” like minority groups for parties is damaging, even if that minority group does not seem to be represented in your workplace
- Get professional consultation: There are a range of “unintentionally” offensive practices that need to be addressed by workplaces. Employers don’t always see these issues because they’re not aware of the complex ways in which diversity impacts on management. Reach out to an expert to see how you can improve your policies and management style.
- Be mindful of exclusion: It may be useful to bring in a facilitator to work out what special considerations you could take to improve your employee’s full participation. For example, ensure that your social activities do not leave out people due to cultural or religious difference. Vary activities so that you’re not always serving alcohol at special functions – this leaves out people who don’t drink due to their beliefs. Consider family days that are inclusive of different traditions. Sexual harrassment laws state that people should be free to work in an environment that does not sexualise individuals, but it’s also general good practice to understand how images and certain topics of conversation that seem innocuous to you may alienate other minorities.
- Understand how diversity improves your business: cultural issues aren’t simply a problem – they’re an opportunity to improve innovation in your business and strengthen your team. Work with an expert to work out a strategy for managing diversity in an ethical and positive way. This plan should identify how to better include and draw on knowledge from an intercultural perspective (bringing together many different cultures together). The plan should also be clearly communicated to staff, highlighting their rights, responsibilities, your commitment to diversity, and identifying how and why diversity is pivotal to your strategic plan and future success.