Workforce diversity, as a concept, has evolved drastically since the concept’s rise in popularity over the last decade. Starting as an ideological principle, it’s been moulded and adapted and unpacked and brainstormed into various different models, outcomes and frameworks that all speak to predominantly the same concept: that various skills, found within various people, add different avenues of value to your business.
Cultural diversity materializes when differences in race, ethnicity, language, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation are represented within a community. A community is said to be culturally diverse if its residents include members of different groups. The community can be a country, region or city, and for purposes of this article- we’ll be linking this specifically to an organization as a whole.
Why does cultural diversity matter? People from different races, etc. have different life experiences. This flavours their interpretation of events, work objectives, conflict resolution mechanisms, personal expectations, emotional intelligence-related practices and styles of communication. Through acknowledging that our Human Resources are just that – humans AND resources – we acknowledge that their differences can yield an increasingly large variety of solutions to problems and challenges experienced in a work-related context. A culturally diverse workplace, by virtue of itself, directly promotes equity, equality and enhances staff skills and agency success. Agencies working with diversity have identified the significant benefits to of having a culturally diverse workplace.
By identifying, valuing and recognizing the differences between staff members, we groom our workforce to achieve a predetermined set of results. Workplace diversity conflict is reduced through peer-agreement and management, especially where the nature of such conflict is identified as being a result of differences in normative behaviors, interpretations, communication styles, individual differences, etc. This, in turn, causes a reduction to management stress and wasted time spent in work-place conflict resolution, as the active focus on differences between parties (and how these differences can be accommodated / handled) places emphasis on conflict resolution. We therefore see far less expenditure on labour dispute mechanisms and labour lawyers as the volume of incidents requiring these kinds of professionals is reduced. Workplace teams, through active composition of teams with varying characteristics, are known to be involved, professional, committed and communicating. Through the identification and appreciation of changes between team-members, and the corresponding degree of focus that has to be placed on how they engage with others, in order to communicate clearly, effectively and without conflict, urges their relationships with clients, family and community to be better. A noticeable Improvement to customer service is achieved by having various factors within your workforce that can relate to different kinds of clientele.
Customer service improves when staff understand and can communicate skillfully with customers from a range of backgrounds. The community is also more likely to identify with and relate to agencies that reflect its own level of diversity – hence why one would historically come across demographic-based workforce representatives in workforce committees, etc.
Responsive service delivery and enhanced staff skills are noticed where teams are more diverse. Agencies are seen as being more responsive when staff are exposed to new ideas and provided with different ways of working and making decisions. When staff are encouraged to learn from one another, their skills and knowledge are also enhanced and kept sharp. This, in turn, equates to a reduction in skill shortages, as a greater volume of different skills are obtained when resources, which house these skills, are from various demographics- eg. countries, nationalities, economic clusters, industries, language groups, etc. Overseas-trained staff have increased the pool of talent and experience in the Public Sector and helped to reduce skill shortages at specific times and provide skills not locally available. Through having access to overseas markets, we observe an influx of new competencies that aren’t comparable with that of our country. Some agencies are even utilizing the language, international expertise and cultural knowledge of staff to identify successful export opportunities.
Workplace diversity means creating an inclusive environment that embraces people’s individual differences and provides opportunities for all staff to achieve their full potential. When staff are encouraged to work in their areas of strength and capability, they are happier, more productive and more likely to stay with the agency. Valuing diversity is acknowledging differences through action. It emphasizes the processes needed to create a flexible and responsive agency where staff potential is recognized and developed.
Through considering what diversity is, we also need to consider the opposite of it. Having different people purely for the sake of having them be different to your existing staff, does not yield value in and of itself. Only once the power of applying diverse thought has been demonstrated, once ideas and opinions are leveraged to solve complex business problems, can we truly determine that an increase to diversity has lead to an increase of problems being solved with various skills / methodologies/ When all is said and done, diversity is not the constituents of the group but the quality of the results that are produced.
Additionally, in a South African Context, the principles of Employment Equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment also motivate for the acquisition and maintenance of diversity; whereas the Employment Equity Act gives guidelines for the employment of staff and composition of the workforce based on the existing demographics, either as a country or per province, and the alignment of recruitment initiatives to same in order to guarantee faster economic redress and compliance with legislation in the face of harsh financial penalties. As one of the elements of the BEE Scorecard, organizations are rewarded with points that accrue and culminate in a “certificate of compliance” that incentives other organizations to do business with one’s own agency. Through having a diverse workforce profile (albeit only in terms of racial and gender-based designations) – companies are incentivised to make changes to improve their “diversity profile” or “diversity score” which, in turn, furthers the amount of business that will be channeled to them by virtue of their diversity benefiting the overall score of their suppliers, as well as the initial origination’s themselves.
Ultimately, each employee in a diverse workplace possesses unique strengths and weaknesses derived from their culture in addition to their individuality. When managed properly, diversity in the workplace can leverage the strengths and complement the weaknesses of each worker to make the impact of the workforce greater than the sum of its parts. Co-workers with diverse cultural backgrounds bring unique experiences and perceptions to the table in groups and work teams. Pooling the diverse knowledge and skills of culturally distinct workers together can benefit companies by strengthening teams’ productivity and responsiveness to changing conditions. In addition to compliance factors, such as the Employment Equity Act and the various B-BBEE Codes, local government offices are also more prone to fund training interventions that aim at the development of those groups that are not yet as present as others across the diversity space. The more diverse your organization, the higher the odds of receiving government funds for development of your staff.
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