One of the things that make human life intriguing and to some extent captivating is the diversity and variation exhibited by various people as a result of their differing cultures, personalities and physical appearance. Through the years, different groups of people have come up with cultures which help them develop spiritually, morally and mentally. As such, these cultures have become building blocks in their lives and work places. Unfortunately, the cultural differences bring with them negative results. however, if well managed, they can serve as a great tool for competitive advantage of an organization. To individual organizations, the aspect of cultural diversity is integral to their success. Considering the fact that the markets are multi-cultured thus needing a multi-cultured solution to assist the organizations meet the ever increasing and ever changing needs and demands, a profound understanding is imperative for their success. This paper shall focus on cultural diversity in work places. A detailed discussion shall be presented on how this diversity may affect an organization either positively or negatively. Solutions and recommendations shall also be made as to how best this diversity can be balanced.
Brief summary on cultural diversity
Workplace diversity is a term that aims to define variety and differences within people at the workplace. It is evident that in pursuit for excellence, organizations hire workers from diverse backgrounds. Consequently, these people tend to have great differences in their values, orientations, beliefs, gender, wealth and health, et cetera. These differences give a clear picture of what a diversified organization is all about. Greenberg (2009) points out other factors that are encompassed in definition of diversity at the workplace. He identifies factors like age, the gender of the workers, variety in the level of education of the workers, variety in the perception of the environment and peers, personality of each individual worker, et cetera. Greenberg argues that these dispositions greatly affects the way one perceives himself in relation to other workers and hence the way they interact.
Immigration has acquired a new dimension as many developed countries try to attract skilled workers and potential investors. Furthermore, skilled people from less developed countries also try move from their countries into the developed countries citing the better payment terms in the countries. In addition, non skilled workers have also developed illegal means that enable them escape their poverty stricken countries into developed countries with the hope of getting informal jobs that are comparatively better paying. With such reasons, the world has witnessed increased movement of people from one region to the other. As the people from different countries and hence diverse cultural backgrounds meet, multiculturalism becomes imminent. More and more, multicultural workforce characterizes organizations within these countries.
A strong example of a multi-cultured society that has seen increased multiculturalism as a result of immigrations is Australia. Collins (2002, p 2) points out that Sydney was a town originally inhabited by more than 200 aboriginal languages which accounted for over 400 aboriginal dialects. However, the City of Sydney is currently populated by several other ethnicities, thanks to immigrations. The white settlers who form a big part of the city were products of immigrations as the authorities tried to fill up the job gaps that existed and also assist the colony to get populated. This led to development of the policy of immigration that was given the slogan populate or perish by the Minister of immigration in Australia. All these policies have enabled diversity in all aspects of life in Australia. This includes the workforce and other organizational characteristics.
Globalization has led to a status quo where organizations are constantly being forced to interact and in some instances merger with each other so as to fully utilize scarce resources so as to ensure their profitability and hence future continuity. To best achieve their goals, organizations at times find themselves forging alliances with individuals from different nations around the globe in order to tap into the best talents for the various jobs. Hankin (2008) asserts that cultural diversity is about respecting and acknowledging differences among people in relation to their age, sex, ethnicity, abilities and beliefs. If employees do not oversee such differences and work as a unit, then the working environment and the output would end up in turmoil.
Challenges facing cultural diversity at work places
Communication is one of the challenges faced by implementation of diversity within an organization. The various cultures have some verbal and non verbal ways of communication that could be misunderstood by fellow workers or customers. Furthermore, the different languages may pose a challenge on the communication of the workforce. With these differences, organizations are likely to experience a breakdown in communication. Sadly, this is the life blood of any institution. Its failure could have extremely drastic repercussions. Among those cited by Greenberg are low morale by the workforce, confusion within the work and lack of team-work (Cohen, 2002, p. 23).
Implementation of a culture of diversity and cultural tolerance can pose a great challenge. The policy makers have to ensure that all workers are subjected to a vigorous training that imparts into them an ability to handle the diversity. The strategy necessary for the implementation of the strategy that aims at incorporating all departments and levels of management can be a very tricky affair. Consequently, implementing a strategy that will assist the implementers to have a successful diverse workforce could be a great challenge that must be properly addressed.
Formation of barriers towards cultural diversity is the major challenge in the effort to promote multiculturalism. Collins (2002, p. 4) purports that most people have failed to appreciate and agree with the fact that the world is made up of diverse cultures and that if well used, these diversity can be a positive contribution to the organizations. Instead, they have formed opinions that stereotype certain races, gender, physical characteristics like accents and physical disability, religions et cetera. The difficulty of changing these perceptions makes it difficult to make the best out of cultural diversity. However, if approached negatively, this would lead to discrimination.
Discrimination is the core factor hindering cultural diversity in work places. This comes in different cloaks such as sex, age social class and ethnicity. Many companies have over the years been known to reject job applications from women, aged people and worse of all individuals with accents despite their qualification levels for the particular job (Collins,2002). These differences should be seen as opportunities rather than a threat. For example, an accent indicates multilingual capabilities which may come in handy while marketing in the global scene, women are known for their persuasive nature and older individuals are rich in experience which they can pass down to the younger and less experienced employees.
The above mentioned have drastic effects not just to the organization but also the individual who is subjected to the vice. For instance, through discrimination, very potential workers who happen to be from minority groups tend to be sidelined thus destroying their career ambitions. According to Glatthorn (1987, p. 3), stereotyping of a minority group or using the majority definitions to identify the characteristics of the minority groups can lead to denying opportunities to the minority groups. A good example is using of accents to define the capacity of an individual to hold a certain office. In most cases, minority individuals who tend to have an accent are denied a chance to attend to an interview or the selection panel might decide to deny them jobs because of their accent. To the panelists, the accent is an evidence of incompetence in communication. In addition, stereotypically believing that a given ethnic minority has no competent people; hence cannot afford to produce a manager could make an individual miss his chance of becoming a manager just because the panelists believe that people from that race are incompetent. This may jeopardize his career despite his competence and potential.
An increase in diversity within a workforce could lead to increase in cultural tension and frictions. Whereas the principle objective of the organization is ensuring maximum performance, the output of individuals or groups involved in an intercultural wrangle may be less productive. This is a result of much energy being channeled to competing and complaining instead of working. These form part but not all the disadvantages and challenges of multiculturalism within a business organization.
Benefits of cultural diversity in work places
Despite the challenges there are benefits that can be accrued from cultural diversity. For starters, it presents employees with adequate avenues through which they can learn key aspects of different cultures from each other (Reisinger, 2009). The knowledge acquired from this can then be applied while dealing with both international and local clients. In addition to this, it eases the marketing process when it comes to launching new products, discussing merges with foreign clients and other aspects of international business. Trompenaars contends that diversity offers great understanding to how different people perceive thing leading to a better understanding of the human race (2009).
Multiculturalism creates a diverse market that is a market opportunity for organizations. The higher the level of diversity within a given region translates directly to a higher market opportunity for the organizations in the region. Consequently, this acts as an economic advantage that attracts investors. A good example is Sydney, Australia which is so diversified that almost every race and ethnicity during the Sydney Olympics was represented. According to Collins (2002), this is Sydney’s competitive advantage. Apart from diversifying the market, cultural diversity also plays other economic and productivity roles. However, not all the organizations have the capacity to tap from this opportunity. Most of them fail because of poor strategizing.
A good comprehension of multicultural aspects assists in good management. Study has shown that individual characteristics play an integral role in determination of one’s productivity while working as an individual and while working in a team. Therefore, multiculturalism would help managers to identify the roles to be played by different members of his workforce. Banks (1991, p.32) argues that by identifying each culture and their distinguishing character, one can increase productivity. In his argument he points out that individuals who come from roots that are known to be collectivists tend to increase their production while working in groups. These groups include African-Americans, Asians and the Hispanics. On the other hand, individuals who originate from societies whose cultures are individualistic like the Caucasians tend to increase their productivity when working alone. This means that multiculturalism allows the organization to have a wider variety of talents that are necessary for different circumstances. Precisely, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics could be used in tasks that entail teamwork and groups while the Caucasians whose cultures are individualistic would be used in tasks that call for individual capabilities to succeed.
Diversity at the workplace enables an organization to deal with the needs and demands of the market easily. Customer demands and needs vary depending on the diversity of the market population. Therefore, only organizations that put this in consideration perform well. This can only be achieved if the workplace is comprised of a great diversity of workers. According to Greenberg (2009), a diverse work force increases the organization’s adoptability. The backgrounds characterized by the diverse workforce puts an organization at an advantaged position hence allowing it to meet the fluctuating demands of the market. The diverse workplace therefore brings together various talents that come up with appropriate ideas to meet the demands.
Diversity at the workplace guarantees a wider range of skills. With the diverse backgrounds, an organization can handle all types of market demands in terms of services and goods. These increases the diversity of ideas so that meeting any challenges becomes very likely to prove positive. In addition, this enables the organization to have a broader range of services to offer. This is as a result of the variability in languages spoken and the greater number of cultural understanding present within the workforce. The diversity in languages and cultural ability allows the organization to have the ability to offer its services not just to a locality but on a global basis. This allows the organization to have a wider pool from which skills and abilities can be identified to meet the objectives and goals of the organization. Without doubt, such an organization is able to beat competition and remain afloat within competition. Furthermore, the increase in the skills level increases the company’s productivity and return on investment (Allport, 1959, p. 32).
In order to fully harness the full benefits that come with cultural diversity at work places, it is important that the managers and supervisors set rules safeguarding against discrimination during employment, promotions and layoffs. In addition to this, training sessions by professionals should be included in the work places so that workers can learn how to cope and work together towards a common goal despite their differences. Another effective way of managing cultural diversity is by using a neutral third party during conflict resolutions. According to Adamopoulos provides the individuals involved with a sense of fairness as well as a chance to air their thought fully (1999).
Evaluative and monitoring tools should be put in place to ensure that the organization’s workforce is well developed. This should be a deliberate venture to ensure that the company is aware of its level of diversity. An employee satisfaction survey is the most appropriate way through which a company can evaluate its level of diversity. Through such a survey, the implementers will be able to identify the challenges faced by t he organization in their effort to diversify their workforce. Consequently, they would be in position to develop appropriate measures to control the issues. This should be followed by a re-assessment which will further determine the places to amend.
Finally, the team involved in the implementation of the strategy should ensure that it rolls a program that aims at a complete attitudinal change. This is one of the steps that can ensure success and overcoming of barriers to diversity at workplace. The program should involve the whole continuum of production beginning with the management down to the lowest staff. Special emphasis should be laid on the leadership positions as these are the ones who are expected to spearhead any form of change within the organization. On the other hand, the workers are the ones at high risk of facing cultural conflicts hence in need of attitude change. With all these, an organization is very likely to experience success and hence profitability 9cohen, 1964, p.34).
As the world is slowly turning into a global community, it is important that humans brace themselves for the changes that come with this transition. As exposed within the work this leads to multiculturalism which carries with it either negative or positive implications depending on the way the organization handles it. If the organization fails to address the issue of multiculturalism appropriately, it is likely to experience intercultural conflicts. On its part, this reduces workers’ productivity as they channel most of their energy in the intercultural war. Furthermore, organizations without multiculturalism tend to have a narrower range of services and hence are unable to meet the needs of their market. On the other hand, diversity leads to increased skills and talents which, when put together gives it a competitive advantage. With increased skills and competence, the organization’s return on investment, sales and profits increase. Furthermore, such institutions are endowed with a larger pool of ideas that enable them to forge forward in its quest to achieve its objectives and goals.
Unfortunately, being in position to positively maintain a diverse workforce is not easy. Drawbacks like communication and strategy implementation can, to a large extend impede on the positive aspects of diversity. As a result, implementers must ensure that they follow relevant steps which will ensure success. For instance, the organizations must ensure that attitudes of all the workers are changed towards the strategy. The attitudes in question include attitudes towards the program itself and the attitude towards culture. In addition, evaluation mechanisms should be enacted to identify the points from which hindrances to diversity could arise. If the strategy is implemented successfully, monitoring measures should be enacted ensure that improvements on the program are made. One of the ways through which this can be done is through equipping ourselves with ample knowledge on how to interact and cope with each other not only for our own benefit but also for further development of the generations to come. This can only be done if we set our differences aside and work as a unit all the while learning from each other.
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