Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Cultural Diversity

So, what is Cultural Diversity? It can mean different things in different circumstances, but let’s think of it as the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, referring to the attributes that people use to confirm themselves with respect to others. These attributes include demographic factors such as race, gender, and age as well as values and cultural norm. The more obvious cultural differences that exist between people are language, dress and traditions, there are also significant variations in the way societies organise themselves, such as in their shared conception of morality and religious belief.

If we look at Australia specifically, it boasts of a unique history that has been shaped by the diversity of her inhabitants, from the indigenous population, previous colonisation, and extensive immigration from across the globe. I am sure you will agree that Australia could be described as a vibrant and multicultural nation, it being home to people who can identify with more than 270 ancestries. Statistics show that:

• One in four of Australians was born overseas and 46 per cent have at least one parent who was born overseas. 
• Overseas migration accounts for 60 per cent of Australia’s population growth.

Unfortunately, however, this diversity is not always reflected in workplace. For example, while Asian-born employees comprise almost 10 per cent of the Australian workforce, the percentage in executive-level positions is less than 5 per cent.

Why is cultural awareness important in your business?

As you will have observed or experienced, the workforce today consists of an eclectic mix of personalities and cultures, and these can greatly contribute to your organisation’s competitive advantage, improving productivity and innovation, if you are able to harness them and manage them creatively.

I am sure you will all agree that people really are an organisations greatest asset, and creating an inclusive workplace where employees are valued for their differences and given opportunities to reach their greatest potential, is a key factor in attracting and retaining the right talent. Organisations obviously require a broad base of knowledge and experience from which to draw, however embracing cultural diversity and all that it can provide, is just as important, bringing new perspectives, values and experience to an organisation, thus expanding its capabilities.

What benefits can a diverse workforce bring?

There are many benefits that a culturally diverse workforce can bring you and your organisation, if managed properly and positively, including:

• improved productivity, creativity and innovation, by drawing from a wide range of skills, experience, values, knowledge and ideas

• improved competitive and sustainable advantage; better financial results
• a range of language skills and cross-cultural understanding, to expand into different / global markets, and improve community relations

• enhanced reputation of the organisation

• it grows your talent pool – a company that embraces diversity will attract a wider range of candidates from which to choose for any job vacancies they are looking to fill

• improved employee performance – employees are more likely to feel comfortable and happy in an inclusive environment

What can you do?

There are various initiatives that you could adopt to use Cultural Diversity to your advantage:

• develop a diverse workforce that reflects your customer profile and external environment, therefore enabling you to better understand customers’ needs and expectations

• understand that you are dealing with people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Understand also that whilst people may do things differently, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. Recognise the value of these differences, and the way they can help an organisation to adapt or respond effectively to its changing environment. Organisations need to recognise, value and promote their employees’ different skills and capabilities if they want to enhance their performance, and with it the performance of their business

• plan how best to leverage the diverse talents of your workforce for both the short term and long term. If you don’t harness diversity effectively, you may not get the most from your employees, and you may even start experiencing problems

• remain flexible and open minded to new ideas and concepts

Managing cultural diversity effectively takes courage and commitment from every level of management – starting at the top and cascading down through the organisation – but don’t be put off, the benefits will be worth this commitment.

To conclude

Whilst legislation exists to prevent discrimination and promote equal opportunity, compliance is not enough if you want to maximise your organisations potential. You should look to the unique skills, attributes, experience, and values a diverse workforce can bring to your organisation when acquiring and managing talent. Access to new markets, new ways of working, and a good reputation are just a few of the benefits diversity can bring you.

If you would like to explore how enhancing how you manage cultural diversity could help your business, need help or advice with current diversity or equal opportunity issues, or would like help or advice with any other human resources related matters, please contact the writer at [email protected] or visit our website:

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