Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. How should supervisors view or understand diversity in the workplace and use it as a resource to support the organization’s mission?
A. Understand the business case for diversity in the workplace beyond it being simply the right thing to do. Diversity brings many benefits to the employer, including valued outcomes such as creativity, the generation of new ideas, discovery of solutions and the ability to market to a diverse world economy. Diversity facilitates healthy challenge of the status quo that naturally comes from those who have different social backgrounds. Keep inclusion in mind and you will maximize the usefulness of this phenomenon in supervision. Everyone wants to feel included, but you should view “inclusiveness” as the energy source or the mechanism that excites employees about making contributions to the organization. Welcome diversity and it will become a positive force to support your organization’s mission.
Q. Regarding diversity in the workplace, what is the purpose of educating employees to understand the cultural norms of foreign-born employees while training employees from other countries in the expectations of the cultural norms in the USA?
A. When training foreign-born, new workers to understand American customs, you will not eliminate manners of communication to which they are accustomed. And frankly, that is not the goal of diversity awareness. Although you will not expect your American employees to adopt or practice the cultural norms of another country, educating them about what they are reduces the likelihood of improper statements, harassment, miscommunication, tension and impersonal comments or questions that foul relationships between workers. So education works both ways. Body language, for example, varies widely among different cultures. Without some awareness training of your employees, how might they react, for example, to a coworker who does not smile back when greeted? For an interesting review of issues regarding personal space, touch, tone of voice, eye contact, silence, facial control and feedback, check out some of the resources at the Diversity Council website.
Q. What is the best way for me to increase my level of cultural sensitivity in the workplace, and what is the best argument for doing so?
A. The best argument for increasing one’s level of cultural sensitivity is to improve engagement of workers and their job satisfaction. Gallup polling organization has maintained a rolling seven-day average of this index since first reporting on it several years ago. It stood at only 31% recently for workers in general, but if you add discrimination and lack of cultural sensitivity to the mix of reasons normally cited, this problem is compounded. Improving cultural sensitivity is a professional responsibility, although larger organizations with training and education budgets can go about the task with more ease. To enhance your cultural competence (also referred to as cultural intelligence or “CQ,”) consider books such as David Livermore’s The Cultural Intelligence Difference. Another helpful resource is the Executive Planet website, which describes virtually every aspect of business communication, family values and the social customs of every country in the world. Want to know what not to talk about when you meet someone from Paraguay? You’ll find it here.