Impact of cultural diversity in the workplace

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016 - Last Updated on April 29, 2016

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” ― Stephen R. Covey

Cultural diversity may refer to gender, age, race, religion, socio-economic background, ethic group, personality, educational attainment, learning styles, work habits, expertise, organization responsibilities, tenure, and more.

Every person is unique. Diversity has the power to create a stimulating enterprise. It can increase business potential and give the organization a competitive edge if used wisely.
Cultural diversity can either create a bridge to connect individuals or put up barriers to separate people in the workplace.

A multi-cultural workforce can contribute to the success and development of a business but if not managed properly, it can have its drawbacks. Failure to establish mutual respect for cultural differences prevents employees from reaching their true potential.

Benefits of cultural diversity

Large multinational companies like Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, MasterCard, Sodexo, Starbucks Coffee Company, The Walt Disney Company, Novartis, and Ford Motors are just a few examples of organizations that favor diverse culture. These companies believe that diversity promotes growth and development. For them, cultural diversity makes the workplace more interesting and dynamic.

Embracing cultural diversity has its advantages such as:

Surge of creativity and innovation – Diversity in thought leads to innovation. An organization composed of culturally diverse groups is better off than having teams with members who share similar traits and background. Human creativity and imagination rise when individuals with varying characteristics and expertise interact.

People with different viewpoints can introduce new variables into the equation and reach an innovative solution. They come up with more creative ideas and different ways of solving problems, especially complex and non-customary ones.

The organization can experience growth and success when teams work together to reach a common solution.

Allow creativity and innovation to flourish by encouraging employees to openly share their ideas. Collaboration helps promote business growth and development.

Teams that work together can use their unique talents and abilities to achieve a common goal. Individuals can learn different approaches and techniques to overcome issues.

Greater adaptability – The ability of the workforce to anticipate and respond to changes can affect the evolution of a business.

An organization that employs people with diverse culture has more resources for creative ideas, talents and experiences that can help the business adapt to the changing market and customer demands.

Competition can be tough in some industries. Adaptability gives a company a competitive advantage. It is a vital ingredient in saving a business from becoming irrelevant in a fast-changing environment. A company should be ready to ride the wave of change in order to survive.

Adaptability is something that can be taught. The company can instigate adaptability in the workplace by providing employees opportunities to acquire skills that can help them become more productive and competent.

Quality customer service – Customer service is an integral part of the business because it is associated to customer’s experience before, during and after a purchase. A good business knows that quality customer service can help the company maintain existing customers and at the same time attract new ones. It helps build customer loyalty, inspire higher customer spending, increase frequency of purchase, and generate positive word-of-mouth.

Having a wide range of employees equipped with different scope of knowledge, skills and experience in various fields enables the organization to provide excellent customer service.

Best performance – A company with a culturally diverse workforce pushes employees to give their best performance. Employees are aware that they are surrounded by a lot of brilliant and experienced people. No one wants to appear dispensable. People who want to climb the ladder of success are driven to prove their worth to the organization that they are associated with. As a result, the company enjoys higher productivity and return on investment.

Mutual respect – Diversity in the workplace encourages mutual respect among its workers. Synergy is formed among the different groups working on similar projects and common goals. Combining strengths and talents yields better results.

Increase in market share – Employees with diverse backgrounds have the potential to attract a wider customer base. Diversity gives the company leverage in marketing to a wider consumer market.

Diversifying the workforce can increase an organization’s market share. Reaching new markets rely on the ability of the workforce to pull together their knowledge, talents and experiences to build new customer relationships and create a deeper understanding of their needs.

Challenges of cultural diversity

The workplace is becoming vast. Diversity in the workforce has its challenges.

Obligatory diversity training – Imposing diversity training on employees, supervisors and managers forces the workforce to accept diversity without considering their personal exposure and experiences.

Employees may not appreciate mandatory training. They may think that the organization’s central focus is diversity rather than paying attention to improving employees’ skills and enhancing their experiences.

Zeroing in on diversity – When diversity becomes the center of priority in terms of hiring, there is great risk of overlooking more suitable and qualified applicants for the job.

Communication barriers – When there is a language barrier, productive output is affected. It may be challenging to explain objectives, demonstrate procedures, provide clear instructions, express vital points, give performance feedback, and so on.

Effective communication does not rely on verbal communication alone. Nonverbal communication is equally important. People exhibit different body language, facial expressions, and mannerisms which may sometimes result to conflict or misunderstanding.

Hostility – The modern workplace is composed of people from different backgrounds. Varying ideas, visions, and perceptions may result in intentional or unintentional conflict. Difference in opinions can drive people away from each other. The inability to cooperate or find a common ground can prevent employees from achieving the same goal.

Different needs – Employers may feel pressured to satisfy the varying needs and demands of diverse groups to maintain a peaceful working environment. Making adjustments based on gender, age, race, religion, socio-economic background, personality, educational attainment, work styles, and other cultural differences can be challenging to supervisors and managers.

Tension on relationships – Workers may feel compelled to fit certain criteria to feel relevant to the organization. Employees who think that they do not represent diversity may feel insignificant to the company.


Photo from Pixabay. Public domain.
Rachel Yapchiongco, also known as Rach to her friends, is a Psychology and Marketing Management graduate of De La Salle University. Rachel is a mom to a charming boy and married to an entrepreneur who has a passion for cooking. She shares parenting experiences and slices of everyday life on her personal blog called Heart of Rachel.

Ma. Rachel Yapchiongco (389 Posts)

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