For many people, cultural diversity in the workplace used to mean simply employing women and minorities.
Now diversity refers to people of various ethnic roots, physical abilities, ages, creeds, sexual orientations, socio-economic levels, education and even personality types.And the concept has gone beyond hiring and evolved into managing diversity. It involves allowing all kinds of employees to develop their potential and work with others without sacrificing individuality.
Valuing diversity is good business, too. Companies with diverse work forces and leaders can be more in tune with the world market of the 1990s.
These suggestions can help you transform your organization from one that values sameness into one that honors differences:
- Involve many different people in decision-making. They can help set goals, write mission statements and share information. Eliminate traditional hierarchies and chains of command that can block diverse employees.
- Send a message from the top that your organization values diversity and will reward those who support it. Write and distribute diversity policies. Establish a grievance committee to hear about insensitivity and exclusions in the workplace. Announce diversity goals and deadlines.
- Test your programs and systems by asking: Does this favor any one group?
- Include managing diversity in your performance reviews. Hold managers accountable for recognizing and expanding employees' qualities; forming effective, diverse work teams; recruiting; training; building rapport; acknowledging value; recognizing individuality, and motivating all kinds of workers.
- Are some of your performance standards rooted in cultural bias? Does your organization recognize only a narrow band of qualities, maybe one that comes from a white, male, middle-class background? For example, it might be culturally biased to expect all employees to speak out in meetings. In some cultures that would be rude or presumptuous. But you could recognize and value the other ways people share ideas and constructive criticism.
- Look at the way your organization develops people and offers career opportunities. Are the programs structured mostly for existing managers? Do the schedules and education prerequisites block people who tend to have lower education levels or different personal responsibilities?
- Accept and accommodate variations in approach, style and pace - as long as the organization's goals and basic performance standards are met.
- Train your employees. Help them recognize their own culturally biased thinking, learn about different people and develop sensitive communication skills.
- Encourage employees to form support networks (such as a Hispanic employees lunch forum). And ask them to take responsibility for diversity by telling other employees when insensitivity or bias creates problems.
- Measure and monitor diversity efforts. Gather employee feedback informally, with surveys or from upward evaluations. Track who is taking development opportunities.
It's impossible to know what motivates and frustrates everyone. So ask your employees what actions, words or policies prevent them from doing their best work. Maintain an open atmosphere so employees won't be afraid to speak up.