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Strategies to Combat Issues Regarding Multicultural Workforce

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The topic of diversity management has rapidly filtered in to organizations and into school texts over the past few years. The term diversity management refers to efforts by organizations to actively recruit, retain and facilitate working relationships among individual from a variety of backgrounds. Multiculturalism was originally associated with initiatives for race and gender equality in the workplace. Primary dimensions of diversity, however, certainly include race and gender, but also age, ethnicity, physical ability, and increasingly, sexual orientation. Additionally, secondary factors such as education, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious preference, and work experience also reflect the elements of a diverse or multicultural workforce. Both primary and secondary characteristics significantly affect an individual’s interaction in the workplace. All of the diverse characteristics of a multicultural workforce can be used to a strategic advantage by those companies with the creativity to make use of them. This paper is designed to explore how managers can effectively manage diverse workforce populations. Further, it provides a deeper insight into “multiculturism”, discusses the advantages of diverse workforce, the challenges of managing a multicultural workplace, and presents effective strategies for managing diverse workforces. PAPER

The phrase “multicultural workforce” refers to the changing age, sex, ethnicity, physical ability, race, and sexual orientation of employees across all types and places of work . Multicultural workforce as a descriptive term or phrase has, however, largely been supplanted by the term “diversity” in describing the increasing heterogeneity of the workplace through the inclusion of different groups of people. While “multicultural workforce” is still sometimes used in reference to employees of varying social, racial, and ability characteristics, the scope of diversity goes further and includes not only the personal characteristics of an organization’s employees but also the way an organization responds to a multicultural or diverse workforce.

The challenge posed by diversity, is to accommodate different groups by addressing their lifestyles, values, work style, and family needs without compromising the goals and operations of the organization. Diversity and multiculturalism, however, should not be confused with affirmative action. The most striking difference between the two social schemes is that affirmative action is initiated by government regulation and legislation, whereas diversity is voluntary although various governmental agencies may pressure companies under certain circumstances to diversify their workforce. Affirmative action is also legally driven, quantitative, problem focused, assimilated, and reactive, whereas diversity is productivity driven, qualitative, opportunity focused, integrated, and proactive.

The world’s increasing globalization requires more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds than ever before. People no longer live and work in an insular marketplace; they are now part of a worldwide economy with competition coming from nearly every continent. For this reason, profit and non-profit organizations need diversity to become more creative and open to change. Maximizing and capitalizing on workplace diversity has become an important issue for management today.

Demographic changes (women in the workplace, organizational restructurings, and equal opportunity legislation) will require organizations to review their management practices and develop new and creative approaches to managing people. Changes will increase work performance and customer service.

Women in the Workplace:
The need to understand diversity is also driven by women in the workplace. Today’s workforce has the highest levels of employment participation ever by women. The number of dual income families and single working mothers has increased. Change in the family structure means that there are fewer men and women in traditional family roles. Therefore, diversity issues cut across
both race and gender.

The figure below shows the percentage of labour-force participation rate in the year 2010. The red figures indicate women and the blue figures indicate men. It is seen that the ratio of working women these days has increased. The women are very close to the men in every field or aspect there by raising concerns to manage workforce diversity.

Organizational Restructuring:
There have been significant changes to organizations as a result of downsizing and outsourcing, which has greatly affected human resource management. Work practices have changed due to the impact of globalization and technology and there is a trend toward longer working hours . Generally speaking, reorganizations usually result in fewer people doing more.

Federal and State equal opportunity legislation make discrimination in workplaces illegal. These laws specify the rights and responsibilities of both associates and employers in the workplace and hold both groups accountable.

Diversity is among the most serious issues in the workplace today, yet most employers are not prepared to deal with it. Nor are their managers. Many managers grew up having little contact with other cultures. They are actually ‘culturally deprived,’ and their academic training did not cover the kinds of situations that arise in today’s multicultural settings.

Cultural differences:
These affect the values that people bring to the workplace. Different people feel differently about their roles in an organization, how they can make a contribution and how they want to be recognized for their efforts. The negligence of the management on issues related to cultural differences may lead to under utilization of human resources and in extreme cases mismanagement and fragmentation of the organisational structure.

What motivates one worker might completely inhibit another – for example, rewarding people who don’t like to be touched with pats on the back, or publicly recognizing people who don’t like to be isolated from the group. Workers unintentionally humiliated in this manner may become less productive. Then, typically, the manager who made the mistake will fall back on stereotypes to explain an employee’s disappointing behaviour. Therefore it’s the management duty to understand the diversity in the workforce, the respective cultures and plan the training modules accordingly. Employees from different parts of the country or world may face communication problems, due to which they will be unable to express their ideas clearly, because of which the management may under rate the employee’s performance. If the management does not ask, cares, or encourages them, they may not perform upto the mark. If the organization does not takes an interest in their employees lives, the employee will not give his heart and soul to the company. If the employees do not feel included in the company’s vision their talent and willingness to contribute will lie untapped and it will be a waste of valuable human resource.

Manager’s Action Plan regarding Failure:
* Always stereotyping employees based on cultural attitudes, beliefs, or behaviour. * Keeping the employee in the dark about his performance and not informing the same to the employee about the same at regular intervals.. * Speaking to the employees in an unprofessional manner and asking questions frequently. * Not giving employees enough opportunity to communicate with the management.

Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace:
There are challenges to managing a diverse work population. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness. Managers may also be challenged with losses in personnel and work productivity due to prejudice and discrimination and complaints and legal actions against the organization.

Negative attitudes and behaviours can be barriers to organizational diversity because they can harm working relationships and damage morale and work productivity. Negative attitudes and behaviors in the workplace include prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, which should never be used by management for hiring, retention, and termination practices (could lead to costly litigation).

1) Communication: Perceptual, cultural and language barriers need to be overcome for diversity programs to succeed. Ineffective communication of key objectives results in confusion, lack of team work and low morale. 2) Resistance to change: There are employees who will refuse to accept the point that the cultural and social make up of their workplace is changing. 3) Implementation of diversity in the workplace policies: This can be overriding challenge to all diversity advocates. Armed with the results of employee assessment and research data, they must build and implement a customized strategy to maximize the effects of diversity in the workplace for their particular organization. 4) Successful management of diversity in the workplace: Diversity training alone is not sufficient for your organization’s diversity management plan. A strategy must be created and implemented to create a culture of diversity that permeates every department and function of the organisation.

Benefits of workplace diversity:
An organizations success and competitiveness depends upon its ability to embrace the diversity and realize the diversity. When organization actively access their handling of the workplace diversity issues, develop and implement diversity plans, multiple benefits are reported such as:

1. Increased adaptability
Organizations employing a diverse workforce can supply a greater variety of solutions to problems in service, sourcing, and allocation of resources. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual talents and experiences in suggesting ideas that are flexible in adapting to fluctuating markets and customer demands.

2. Broader Service Range
A Diverse collection of skills and experiences allows a company to provide service to customers on a global basis.

3. Variety of view- points
A diverse work force that feels comfortable communicating varying points of view provides a larger pool of ideas and experiences. The organization can draw from that pool to meet the business strategies needs and the needs of the customers more effectively.

4. More effective execution
Companies that encourage diversity in workplace inspire all of their employees to perform to their highest abilities. Company-wide strategies can then be executed resulting in higher productivity, profit and return on investment.

If managers are to be trained to value diversity – to go beyond offering equal employment opportunity and manage in a way designed to employ the benefits that differences bring – what do they actually need to learn, and what barriers must they overcome. How does a company initiate a multicultural or diversity program? Many different elements may be necessary to create a climate of inclusion and to incorporate genuine value for diversity in the workforce. Four common elements in diversity initiatives that strengthen diverse programs are training, communication, task forces, and mentoring.

Many major companies conduct diversity training for managers and almost half conduct training for all employees. The key to success lies in viewing training as an ongoing process rather than a single event. Core components of diversity training may include valuing diversity, cultural literacy, corporate enculturation, global perspectives, and individual self development

Communication is the most important element in successfully motivating a multicultural workforce. With good, solid communication between the workforce and management, as well as among members, trust and confidence grow, responsibility arises and a team can be built.

Various factors erect strong communication barriers between multicultural workforce members and management, including unfamiliarity with one another’s culture, differences between cultures, and difficulties in speak‐ing a new language. One of the first steps the manager of such a workforce must take is making the decision to be willing to give and receive communication for the sake of overcoming such barriers. Some other major issues that should be considered by the manager are : * Open‐Door Communication (Making Communication Happen ):Attentive listening and openness in receiving communication are not enough to make it happen. As a manager of a multicultural workforce, he must actively encourage others to make sure that communication occurs. He must look for the places where communication is missing amongst his workforce and find solutions to the problem.

* Building Trust and Rapport: The trust factor is a major issue in a multicultural work environment. A manager must work extra hard to make sure that members of a multi‐cultural workforce trust him or her. As a manager, he must be in control of the area of the workplace for which he is responsible. It may seem risky, then, to hand over authority to someone from another culture, someone who may not yet trust him, but if he does not give them a chance to do the best they can, showing that he trusts them, they’ll never step up. The manager will loose out on their potential.

* Written rules: Each organization has its own culture, and that culture reflects attitudes about what is important, how the organization does its work, how employees are to behave, and how they are rewarded. It is important for all employees to know what those values are because they define the ground rules for success. In some organizations, many of the rules are explicit, even written. In most, however, the rules are ambiguous, unwritten and may be completely inconsistent with written policy.

* A Two-Way Street – Many people expect women, minorities and others outside the mainstream to do all the adapting. But it has to be a two-way street. While women and minorities must perform, build relationships, learn the rules and work to become members of the club, managers must share the rules, invite people into the club, accommodate cultural differences, create climates that support diversity, and establish systems that enable different types of employees to succeed.

A manager who is aware of the special challenges a multicultural workforce faces can take steps to ensure that employees learn to improve their skills in presenting ideas, addressing a group, and participating in meetings with confidence.

Manager’s Action Plan for Success
1. Be clear in telling the new employee about your promotion procedurewhen the employee is hired. 2. Schedule at least two meetings per year with each employee to relate how they are doing and tell them their status. 3. Provide coaching programs to help employees move up to the next level. 4. Utilize and build on each employee’s previous experience. 5. Determine the best incentive for an employee to succeed and give it to them so they will try harder. 6. Give the employee responsibility for a small project at first so that theycan experience a small win and then gradually motivate them to take on greater responsibilities for bigger wins. 7. Practice an open‐door policy: let employees know they are welcome to come to you with issues or concerns and that you will want to help. 8. Allow employees to bring a buddy or family member to a one‐on‐one meeting to help with English translation. 9. Take meal breaks at least once a week with employees. They’ll love it. 10. Communicate clearly. Make sure your staff understands your directions. 11. Encourage employees to express their concerns, communicate ideas and feelings, and finish what they try to say. 12. Pay attention and use direct eye contact.

13. Encourage English as the common language and provide English classes when needed.  Cultural awareness in a multicultural workplace:
14. Build your cultural knowledge: Try and learn a bit more about other cultures and countries. Information is easily found on the internet and in books. You can also ask your colleagues. Start to build some sort of cultural awareness. 15. Treat people as individuals: Information in other cultures is usually based on generalisations. This means that the information will not apply to every single member of that culture. Be aware of this and try and deal with people as individuals. 16. Implement your cultural knowledge: If you have discovered some useful information about a culture that is represented in your multicultural team put it to the test. It is only by putting these things into action that you will come to see the benefits and learn more.

17. Withhold assumptions: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions about people. One of the first rules of cultural awareness is refraining from assuming one way is wrong and one is right. 18. Avoid blame: Blame is simply not constructive. When you see a situation break-down rather than apportion blame, pick the situation apart with your ‘cultural awareness glasses’ on and see what the cultural mechanics were. This helps resolve issues and act as a precedent for the future. 19. Listen actively: Active listening is another cornerstone of cultural awareness. Rather than listening to people you should really pay attention to the words used, the way it is said, the context and also read between the lines. 20. Relay your knowledge: Work with colleagues in your multicultural team to relay knowledge to one another. Help build up the skills set of the team.

A diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace. Diverse work teams bring high value to organizations. Respecting individual differences will benefit the workplace by creating a competitive edge and increasing work productivity.

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