As the economy becomes increasingly global, our workforce becomes increasingly diverse. Organisational success and competitiveness depends on the ability to manage diversity in the workplace effectively. Discover how to harness diversity in your organisation for greater success.
Diversity’ refers to differences in race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organisational function, education and background. It also relates to perceptions; how we see ourselves and others.
These differences can cause divisions in an organisation that, at best, are counterproductive. If diversity challenges are left unmanaged, it can be much more damaging thank you think.
Draw attention to stereotypical perceptions
Stereotyping causes us to typify a person, a group, or a thing using oversimplified conceptions, beliefs or opinions. Stereotyping can substitute thinking, analysis and open-mindedness to a new situation. You should encourage your team to continuously identify and challenge thinking, conclusions and actions based on stereotypes.
Related: How to manage employees when they're on the road
Employees need to be open-minded. They should focus on the positive contributions that each person makes to the workplace, rather than negative attributes. The best team players are supportive and positive. Encourage this behaviour in your employees but know that many prejudices are a lifetime in the making; you will not break down these walls overnight.
Give staff freedom to express themselves
You cannot take full advantage of diversity if your employees do not have a voice. They need to have the freedom to express their thoughts and ideas. Review your culture; does it allow for employees to speak their minds, to debate problems and possible solutions openly?
If your business is run in an autocratic way, where employees are expected to follow instructions without question and management are not open to feedback, your employee voice will be lost.
You need to foster an environment where people listen to each other respectfully and where you implement changes suggested by your staff. You have an opportunity to lead by behaving like this yourself. By doing this, you set an example and expectation of how people should be treated in your business.
Discover common ground amongst staff
Humans are naturally social and we are drawn to those who are similar to ourselves. We feel warmer towards those we have the most in common with. Finding genuine things in common with colleagues can be an effective way to overcome hostility.
Finding common ground is the basis of every successful working relationship. Start by playing a game: Ask staff members to partner with another person in the business and to try to find out five things they have in common. Offer a prize to the pair who discovers the most unusual commonality.
On a more serious note, mature businesses have clear vision and mission statements. These provide a foundational commonality shared by all staff; they are all working towards the achievement of the same goal. How they get there may be different, but the end game is the same.
Related: Why cutting staff might just cost you more
Be more inclusive when making decisions
You can further ward off resistance to diversity in the workplace by involving every employee possible in operational decisions. Inclusion breaks down barriers and gives employees a sense of value.
You should try to foster an environment where all ideas and suggestions are considered and measured on its merit. This way, your employees are empowered to come to their managers with suggestions that can help solve problems. Encouraging thinking in your business is a good way to tap into the benefits of a diverse workforce.