Gardenswartz, Rowe, Bennett, Tobin, and Palthe (2008) explain that effective management of workplace diversity is crucial to support a healthy, dynamic, and effective workplace:
“…global business realities were highlighting the need for increased cultural understanding and flexibility. Because of vision and necessity, companies began to understand that diversity was a business issue and managing it effectively was a strategic imperative for growth and survival (Gardenswartz, et al. p. 35).”
Benefits of workplace diversity include an ability to more readily adapt to the changing needs of the customer, the environment, the regulatory landscape, and business conditions. This ability to adapt is often referred to as agility in the business literature, and represents a competitive advantage particularly in a service environment where demands are often competing and fluid in nature. This increased agility, in turn, also supports the organization’s ability to provide a broader service range to an increasingly diverse customer base. With workplace diversity come an increase in skills, perspectives, abilities, and interests. Similarly, the viewpoints that are available within a diverse workplace support the organization’s ability to identify relevant and meaningful services, strategies, and values that will have the largest impact on the organization’s mission.
What may possibly be one of the most significant assets of a diverse workplace is the organization’s ability to more effectively execute their mission statement, plans, and resources. The underlying competencies of adaptability and variety of viewpoints support the organization to both expand its service capabilities as well as execute/implement those capabilities. This becomes particularly crucial in a fluid work environment.
This does not necessarily mean that workplace diversity is easily supported, or that the benefits are readily optimized and realized. With diversity come opportunities for communication barriers (Lyknis, Weidemeier, Williams, Gill, and Keifer, n.d.), resistance to change, and personality conflicts. Communication barriers can result from different viewpoints, values, priorities, expectations, or language (to name a few). Resistance to change often occurs when miscommunication exists, but can also present when the skills, abilities, and knowledge to implement the change is not present. Effective evaluation and analytics are needed to insure that the appropriate barrier is identified, or your efforts to overcome obstacles will miss their mark.
Additional barriers mentioned by Lyknis et. al (n.d.) includes socio-cultural factors, education, age, and gender. Socio-cultural factors are often considered determined by upbringing and attitudes, values, family structure, religion, rituals, taboos, and concepts of power. Education, age, and gender are also considered central to, and expressions of, the socio-cultural factors. A comparison might distinguish socio-cultural factors as pertaining to upbringing whereas education and age over the lifespan can influence access and opportunity.
Society still continues to have a lot of work to do when it comes to supporting diversity in our communities, and this includes increasing access and opportunity to groups. What is your organization currently doing to leverage workplace diversity? Leave your comments below.
Travis Barker, MPA GCPM
Gardenswartz, L., Rowe, A., Bennett, M., Tobin, J., & Palthe, J. (2008). Part II: Understanding the Evolving Role of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace. Orange, California: SAGE Publications.
Lyknis, T., Weidemeir, S., Williams, V., Gill, M., & Keefer, S. (n.d.). Challenges & Benefits of Cultural Diversity. Retrieved October 12, 2015.