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How should I manage a culturally diverse workforce?

How should I manage a culturally diverse workforce?

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All cultures have slightly different ways of operating, from ways of eating and drinking to ideas on meeting protocol and how to shake a colleague's hand.

Knowing how to deal with diversity is the key to a happy and cohesive workforce.

Diversity and cohesion
Free movement of labour within Europe has inevitably led to multi-cultural workplaces where diversity needs to be acknowledged, and managed.

In such environments, workers have an obligation to understand not only the company's ethos but the wider considerations of culturally different co-workers. This means the company getting people to work together, considering all viewpoints – and exercising courtesy and respect for each other.

This, of course, ought to be the norm in any workplace, but where cultural diversity is common, good communication has become an even greater challenge.

Some of the challenges
The problem with communication is that people harbour certain beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and values. This in itself is no bad thing, but what it does is causes us to interpret messages as we see fit. In short, incorrect assumptions easily lead to miscommunication.

We also interpret body language the way we are used to it. For example, if we believe that someone who doesn't look us in the eye is unfriendly or untruthful, our response is geared accordingly. Yet whilst some groups find direct eye contact preferable or acceptable, some consider it intrusive, inappropriate, and even shameful.

Similarly, some cultures emphasise the emotional quality of a conversation more than the words or context of the message whereas other cultures consider the expression of emotion to be inappropriate.

Creating the right environment
The key to helping cultures understand one another more constructively is first to create the right environment. Merely tolerating is not really enough and sometimes you need to bring co-workers together to discuss their misconceptions and even hang-ups.

Firstly, co-workers need to learn to separate facts from cultural assumptions and beliefs about those facts.

With increased experience and communication, co-workers will begin to distinguish among facts, beliefs, values, and personal experience. Sometimes it is merely about being prepared to learn with an open mind.

Emphasise the importance of teamwork
A shared objective can create the right background for a more efficient but culturally diverse workforce.

The central tenets of teamwork, participation, and empowerment encourage your co-workers to share, learn and understand in order to get the job done.

Good business
Diversity management is an inclusive process and any organisation that takes the time to recognise other people's standards and values can offer tremendous advantages.

The potential benefits of getting the diversity issue right include: different ideas, higher creativity and possibly even greater success in marketing to foreign and ethnic minority communities at home and abroad.

Diversity also tends to offer new approaches to old practices and long-standing problems.

These are some good ways to promote an effective, harmonious multicultural work force or maintain it if you already have one:

  • Setting a good example – One of the most crucial methods is for management to set a good example. Creating the right environment for people of different cultural backgrounds starts at the top.
  • Company rules – Sometime your company's own rules and constitution need to spell out what is expected; forbidding prejudice and discriminatory behaviour for example.
  • Training programmes – There is much to be gained from holding talks, in-house seminars and workshops to address the issues of integration and understanding.

Sometimes this is purely a question of seeking input and opinion from ethnic groups on important work committees. This makes people feel included and can result in much useful feedback and ideas.

Fairness in promotional opportunities, rewards and inclusiveness makes for a positive and productive workplace. Over time and with continuous monitoring, diverse workplaces can bring about impressive business results.