How to manage workforce diversity

Diversity in the workplace is defined as the acknowledgement and valuing of differences among people with respect to views and approaches. On the other hand, diversity in general has been associated with varying race, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, creed, political opinion, education, skills etc. Employees with the same gender and cultural background may have diverse thinking and approaches. It is therefore the appreciation that people are different cognitively in their approaches, perception of things, doing, as well as relating to one another that is important. The challenge is how to manage diversity whichever way we define it.

Despite the associated benefits of diversity in creating an exciting, flexible and creative corporate environment through synergistic blending of individuals with different backgrounds and perspective, most managers have challenges managing multicultural workforces. With the world now a global village, there is more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs and backgrounds than ever before. Organisations no longer exist and operate in insular environments, they are now part of a worldwide economy and competition is coming from nearly every continent. Managers need creativity in management and openness to change.

Challenges to managing diversity come when decisions makers only value individual who are similar to them in attitude, beliefs and values. Henceforth organizational selection need not be based on undefined concepts of fit and chemistry, tribal or racial stereotyping which guides behavior towards a group.

The goal is to encourage mutually beneficial interactions among diverse employees by promoting an inclusive culture in the organisation. To attain diversity, managers should avoid discrimination which limits progress due to stereotyping. To be successful in a multicultural environment it is key to manage the differences than ignore them or allow problems to fester. Managers should make a conscious effort of ensuring all employees understand the organisation goals and are willing to attain them. These team will be a mix of individuals with different skills but sharing two things - passion for what they do and the wish to get things done. This must come first. Conflict may result thus affecting production among people who do not understand one another. Very often though, managers value employees with a variety of thinking and approaches but at times they do not understand how to manage them. Yet, respecting these differences is the key to maintaining a successful innovative culture.

Focus need to be on diversity and looking for ways to become more inclusive if diversity is to become a source of competitive advantage. It is indeed a key component that organizations cannot afford to ignore as well as a good practice of effective people management.

Managers need to understand their own cultural conditioning so that they see how their conduct influences their opinions, attitudes and behavior. Effective multi-cultural managers need to overcome the tendency that everyone is the same. Learn to describe cultural differences before interpreting and evaluating them. Also show respect for others and their culture, avoid being judgmental when faced with cultural differences. Be flexible and tolerate ambiguity.

With the increase in workplace diversity the ability of many organizations to remain competitive will depend on them managing cultural diversity. Develop policies and practices that allow for diverse employee to work comfortably and cooperatively together. Diversity conscious leaders allow a broad array of needs and expectations to be considered rather than just those of the majority cultures. When team members bring their own behavior skills and biases, creating teams out of such vast array of unique individuals is problematic. Team building with diverse member can be a nightmare. Innovation takes place when different ideas, perceptions and ways of doing collide. However, this happens only when there is collaboration among various players who see the world differently.

Paradoxically corporates now work from countries mixed with national cultures. Managers’ attitude to priorities becomes important. Being good listeners who are sensitive to perceptions becomes key. A lot more people are working and living outside their home countries. Managers cannot go around this but dealing with it by listening and establishing ways to get everybody to work together.

Effective management need to be aware of skills necessary to create successful diverse workforce. There is a real need for mindset shift as people advocate and lobby for inclusivity in organizations. It’s high time managers become open about their cultural biases’ roadblocks. Demographic changes in leadership now a topical issue as issue of women inclusion in the C-suites becomes a business trajectory.

A diverse workforce reflects a changing world and marketplace. Leaders through diversity start building their business competitive edges. Best ideas and solid execution are formed by multicultural workforces and with the advent of the global market place diversity plays a significant role. Employees who speak the language and understand the culture of their international trading partners provide their companies with a competitive edge

Being just or fair by managers no longer suffices; embrace equity to ensure creation of an enabling environment for innovation to happen. Diversity management is simply more than the acknowledging of differences in people. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination and promoting inclusivity.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at