Multicultural Work Force
A company that wishes to encourage diversity and a multiplicity of view points should start by restating the common goals and objectives of the company. This may seem contradictory but it is not. Establishing a well-defined sphere in which diverse ideas and view points may be freely expressed in the pursuit of a common goal is an essential part of encouraging a free flow of ideas.
Once this groundwork is laid, the following items provides a checklist for implementing policies that will foster and encourage a harmonious, multicultural work force.
- Start at the top—A commitment to the idea of an open and receptive work place must be seen from the owners and managers of a company early on, preferably before official policies are announced.
- Communicate in writing—Company policies that explicitly forbid prejudice and discriminatory behavior should be included in employee manuals, mission statements, and other written communications. This has been referred to by some as a way of broadcasting the diversity message internally in order to create a common language for all members of the organization.
- Training programs—Training programs designed to engender appreciation and knowledge of the characteristics and benefits of multicultural work forces have become ubiquitous in recent years. Two types of training are most popular: awareness and skill-building. The former introduces the topic of managing diversity and generally includes information on work force demographics, the meaning of diversity, and exercises to get participants thinking about relevant issues and raising their own self-awareness. The skill-building training provides more specific information on cultural norms of different groups and how they may affect communications and behavior. New employee orientation programs are also ideal for introducing workers to the company’s expectations regarding treatment of fellow workers, whatever their cultural or ethnic background.
- Recognize individual differences—Do not make the mistake of assuming that differences are always ‘cultural.’ There are several sources of difference. Some relate personality, aptitude, or competence. Too many managers tend to fall back on the easy ‘explanation’ that individual behavior or performance can be attributed to the fact that someone is ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Jewish’ or ‘a woman.’ This sort of conclusion is more likely to reflect bias and intellectual laziness than it does culturally sensitive managers.
- Actively seek input from minority groups—Soliciting the opinions and involvement of minority groups on important work committees, etc. is beneficial not only because of the contributions that they can make, but also because such overtures confirm that they are valued by the company. Serving on relevant committees and task forces can increase their feelings of belonging to the organization. Conversely, relegating minority members to superfluous committees or projects can trigger a downward spiral in relations between different cultural groups.
- Revamp reward systems—An organization’s performance appraisal and reward systems should reinforce the importance of effective diversity management. This includes assuring that minorities are provided with adequate opportunities for career development.
- Make room for social events—Company-sponsored social events—picnics, softball games, volleyball leagues, bowling leagues, Christmas parties, etc.—can be tremendously useful in getting members of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds together and providing them with opportunities to learn about one another.
- Flexible work environment—Flexible work environments may have particularly beneficial results with people from nontraditional cultural backgrounds because their approaches to problems are more likely to be different from past norms.
- Don’t assume similar values and opinions—In the absence of reliable information there is a well-documented tendency for individuals to assume that other people are ‘like them.’ This is almost always an inappropriate assumption; for those who manage diverse work forces this tendency towards cultural assumptions can prove particularly damaging.
- Continuous monitoring—Experts recommend that business owners and managers establish and maintain systems that can continually monitor the organization’s policies and practices to ensure that it continues to be a good environment for all employees. Be flexible and apply the lessons learned as new situations arise and are managed.
Increased diversity may present a challenge to business leaders who must work to maximize the opportunities that diversity provides while minimizing its costs. The organization that achieves this objective will create an environment in which all employees are able to contribute to their fullest potential, and in which the ‘value in diversity’ can be fully realized.