America is often referred to as a cultural melting pot; there are people from all around the world who for any given number of reasons have chosen to settle in this country. This has been beneficial because all these people who have diverse cultural, social, and economic backgrounds bring with them new knowledge and new perspectives on how to do and solve old problems. This has been to America’s advantage because it has created room for innovation and ingenuity. It is rather sad that the American workplace is not as diversified as much as it should be, not only in terms of people of different races working together but also in terms of gender, religion, and physical impairments (Konrad, Prasad & Pringle, 2006).
What are the pros and cons of promoting a diverse workforce? Does having a diverse workforce have a direct correlation with the company’s bottom line? By looking at literature and research did by experts on what kind of relationship there is between having cultural diversity within workgroups and teams at the workplace, it shall be determined whether diversity is harmful or helpful to group performance in terms of job satisfaction, decision making, and innovativeness among other things.
What is cultural diversity at the workplace and what are its ramifications?
Workplace diversity is no longer only used in terms of gender or race, there is now the concept of inclusion; it is not enough to hire employees from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, it is also imperative to ensure that they are an integrated part of the team that makes up the business (Lockwood, 2005).
The factors that have stimulated the expansion of the workforce from the traditional predominantly Caucasian males have been government legislation on race, age, and physical disabilities that has promoted equal employment opportunities for all (Lockwood, 2005).
While in the past cultural and other social differences were seen as a hindrance in promoting cohesion at the workplace, now they are seen as an asset in that there are different viewpoints and all segments of the market are represented (Mo-Barak, 2005).
What companies and businesses are working at right now is how to integrate workers from diverse cultural and social backgrounds so that they can form a strong corporate team. This has called for the building of a strong corporate culture that focuses on an individual’s ability to perform and deliver at work, not race, religion, sexual preference, disability, or political ideologies (Samson & Dant, 2009).
However, it has not been smooth sailing all the way. There are those in the job market who still discriminate on basis of color, culture, or race. About one in every five Americans is acquainted with someone who has faced discrimination at the workplace. This is according to the research that was conducted by the Hudson Highland Group Inc and covered 1900 working people (thefreelibrary.com, 2005).
The statistics gathered concerning African-Americans who took part in the survey showed that though 50% said their employees openly advocated for equity at the workplace, nearly a third admitted that they knew someone who had undergone discrimination at their place of work (thefreelibrary.com, 2005). However, the percentage of white workers who said that they knew someone who had undergone discrimination at work was much lower (18%). Overall, almost a quarter of the workers admitted to knowing someone who had faced gender discrimination at their places of work (thefreelibrary.com, 2005).
The traditional workforce in America was made up of predominantly white males (Konrad, Prasad & Pringle, 2006). This is changing because there has been an increase in the number of issues that cannot be sufficiently dealt with by the traditional narrow homogenous workforce. The experiences and knowledge of women, ethnic minorities, and people with living disabilities have come in handy (Konrad, Prasad & Pringle, 2006).
Having a diverse workforce has its pros and cons; it means that on top of the usual challenges that come with dealing with a group of people who have different backgrounds and worldviews, there is the added into the formula a need for sensitivity to cultural and social issues (Konrad, Prasad & Pringle, 2006).
Why cultural diversity among teams at the workplace should be encouraged
Diversity creates a better environment for adapting to changes that occur in the market. An employer who is open-minded about who is on his team as long as they have the qualifications is more likely to get the best of talent that is available. He is not limited by factors such as race, gender, or religion hence he has a wider selection to pick from. Consequently, since the employer has a dedicated and driven workforce, there will be fewer cases of absenteeism and low productivity at work. Greater output means greater returns (Samson & Dant, 2009).
There is the attraction of having Return on Investments (ROI) that are activated by different policies as well as initiatives. Another major advantage of having a diverse workforce is the expanded customer base as well as a bigger share of the market because a diverse workforce is a representative of the different consumers in the market and not just a segment of it. A wider customer base and increased market share translates to more sales and hence more profit (Samson & Dant, 2009).
Empirical data that supports having a culturally diverse workforce
Diversity at the workplace does not refer only to culture and race. A diverse workforce can be translated to gender, sexual preference, religious inclination, physical disabilities, and sexual orientation (Ghiselin, 1995).
According to Herring’s (2008) research, teams that were more culturally diverse had a higher return in terms of output and productivity. This was due in part because culturally diverse teams could come up with new perspectives on problems. The occasional differences between team members were at times positive in that propositions were challenged first and not just accepted unanimously meaning that they had to be proven to be worthwhile.
Cultural diversity among teams also facilitated greater exertion by the individual team members. This is because each member, though a part of the team, was more likely to be judged on his or her merit rather than as a group as happens with a homogenous team. Thus, each member has to exert him/herself to the fullest.
Using a culturally diverse work team also contributed towards the development of goods and services that were representative of the market segment since the team itself understood the needs of what cultural section of the market they were presenting. A team made of people coming from the same cultural and most likely economic background would be limited when it came to full market analysis.
Herring (2008) noted that for a culturally diverse team to deliver the challenges that come with such a team had to be overcome first. This could be done by having clear communication between team members, not having favorites, building on cultural intelligence to understand what would offend a member of the team, and above all showing tolerance to the idiosyncrasies of cultural practices of members with a different cultural background (Heriing, 2008).
Cultural diversity at the workplace is a strong determinant of how well a company will perform financially as well as a great boost to team performance, according to research that has been published in the American Sociological Review (Herring, 2008). An empirical study that was conducted by Cedric Herring, the interim head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois in Chicago clearly showed that there are numerous benefits of having culturally diverse work teams. The results of his study indicate that unlike the general belief that a diverse workforce might not be as harmful as it has been perceived to be but rather the other way round (Herring, 2008).
The research conducted by Herring indicated that companies that used teams that were a more racially diverse workforce generated an income that was almost fifteen times as much as that of companies that had a more homogenous workforce (Herring, 2008). From his research, Herring (2008) noted that there was a direct correlation between the average increases in gender or racial diversity as a given percentage of the significant population there was a corresponding 3-9% increase in sales.
Workplace diversity has enormous advantages; it creates room for innovativeness and creativity as well as enriching employees’ lives. It teaches people at the workplace to tolerate and appreciate a way of life that is not their own.
Workplace diversity also has a link to the financial performance of a business organization. Research done by sociologists like Herring (Herring, 2008) indicates that a more diverse workforce will generate higher sales revenue for the business.
In his immortalized ‘I have a dream speech, Martin Luther King surmised his hopes for the future generations of America. He hoped for a country where one day his sons and daughters would be judged by the character and not the color of their skin.
Advocating for diversity at the workplace is fulfilling this great man’s vision, and he knew what he was talking about because when people come together to work with one accord, more is achieved than if there are baseless senseless divisions that classify individuals into a category and put a limit to what they are allowed to do. When this happens, the whole nation suffers because there is plenty of potentials that go to waste, just because someone is of the wrong sex, color, political affiliation, or has a physical impairment.
All Business (2005). Workplace diversity: leveraging the power of difference for competitive advantage. Web.
Ghiselin B (1995) Diversity in the Workplace : Work Teams and Diversity. Web.
Herring, C (2008). Does Diversity Pay? Race, Gender and the Business Case for Diversity American Sociological Review, Vol. 74, No. 2., pp. 208-224.
Konrad M, A., Prasad P & Pringle J, K. (2006). Handbook of workplace diversity Sage Publishing: New York.
Lockwood N R (2005). Workplace Diversity: Leveraging the Power of Difference for Competitive Advantage. HR Magazine.
Mor-Barak M (2005). Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. Sage Publishing: New York.
Samson, D. and R.L. Daft (2009). Fundamentals of Management. McGrawHill: New York.
thefreelibrary.(2005). Workplace Bias Abounds: New Study Confirms the American Workplace Has Much Farther to Go to Achieve True Diversity. Web.