For several decades within many organizations, diversity in the workplace has been an important topic. As the most diverse generation in the workplace,  growing millennials are forcing companies to rethink how diversity affects the organization as well as their business efforts.

By now it’s proven that diversity can bring tremendous benefits to the workplace. While it does present some challenges requiring companies to undertake significant changes in their existing practices, the long term benefits that come from encouraging diversity make the decision an easy one.

Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures, and work with varying cultural beliefs and schedules. While there are myriad cultural variations, here are some essential to the workplace:

1. Communication: Providing information accurately and promptly is critical to effective work and team performance. This is particularly important when a project is troubled and needs immediate corrective actions. However, people from different cultures vary in how, for example, they relate to bad news. People from some Asian cultures are reluctant to give supervisors bad news – while those from other cultures may exaggerate it.

2. Team-Building: Some cultures – like the United States – are individualistic, and people want to go it alone. Other cultures value cooperation within or among other teams. Team-building issues can become more problematic as teams are comprised of people from a mix of these cultural types. 

3. Time: Cultures differ in how they view time. For example, they differ in the balance between work and family life, and the workplace mix between work and social behavior. Other differences include the perception of overtime, or even the exact meaning of a deadline.

4. Schedules:  Work can be impacted by cultural and religious events.  The business world generally runs on the western secular year, beginning with January 1 and ending with December 31. But some cultures use wildly different calendars to determine New Years or specific holy days.

Challenges of Diversity

While we proudly talk about the benefits of diversity in the workplace we will not be able to ignore its unique challenges. While diverse workplaces perform better in terms of productivity, they also frequently show lower levels of satisfaction among people.

Take, for instance, a prominent 2014 MIT study on gender diversity. While the scope of the research was limited to a single large firm over a period of seven years, it showed that although gender diverse offices performed far better financially than their homogenous counterparts (roughly 41% better), both the men and women surveyed in those offices scored lower in terms of morale and satisfaction.

Other studies have shown broadly similar trends, but as the Harvard Business Review has pointed out, this dynamic is, to a certain extent. Diverse teams can create a feeling of discomfort that actually contributes to better performance. Implementing new ideas given by people with different experiences may be uncomfortable, but the chances of getting solutions are high. While people may feel more relaxed in an office filled with coworkers who look and think like them, they’re also less likely to be exposed to different ways of thinking that could push them to perform better.

Hiring for Diversity

Embracing cultural diversity in hiring practices in an organization can help to hire different sorts of people. There are a number of ways to hire a diversified crowd which can help ensure that hiring practices help to contribute to innovative work environments. For example, Michigan economist Scott Page suggests implementing data-driven assessments that identify candidates who bring unique ways of thinking to the organization.

It’s also important to remember the ways in which industries that rely heavily upon referrals in job searches can undermine diversity efforts.

There are many important advantages if you encourage greater cultural diversity into any organization. Making a commitment to that diversity, however, is more than just a simple shift in recruitment practices. In order to be successful, any diversity initiative needs to account for how that change will affect existing practices while identifying specific changes that will need to be made to facilitate the transition. While this process can be difficult, the benefits are too substantial for any company to afford to ignore.