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Diversity: think globally for local success [Cont]

For multinational organizations, culture is a strong diversity element. There are some

countries where specific cultural elements play out strongly. For example, in Japan the issue of diversity is very challenging. Most Japanese don’t feel that making distinctions among people is bad and do so openly on ascribed characteristics such as age, gender, family, place of birth, ancestry and education. One interesting element is that of Gaijin or “foreigner.” Even in writing, a different set of characters is used to distinguish and marginalize foreigners – even repatriated Japanese – who are

not considered “truly Japanese.” These perspectives will create significant barriers as Japan tries to replenish its rapidly ageing workforce and manage the resulting diversity.

There are other examples of elements beyond race and gender. In India the influence of caste/social class is still a powerful force of difference and exclusion. The element of age is also emerging and some older workers are experiencing friction with younger ones who are challenging traditions and norms.

In Mexico, those of European descent dominate the upper and middle classes. They openly use family, social and business ties to maintain advantages and as a result, it’s rare to find an indigenous Mexican manager or professional – though this dynamic has not yet been challenged openly in organizations. Other examples include regional and national origin (with associations of social class) in the UK, indigenous populations in Australia and HIV/AIDS status in South Africa.

Making the business case

Because a clear business rationale is the main motivation for behavior change within an organization, a strong business case is the most important component of a successful diversity initiative. With a weak or absent business case, leaders struggle to establish business-based long-term objectives and priorities; money and time may be wasted on “non-issues,” real issues may be overlooked. Employees won’t understand the true reason for their efforts and will perceive diversity as “special treatment” for certain groups at the expense of business.

The following are the major areas where diversity can affect the bottom line. This provides a framework for determining potential areas where diversity may impact the organization, department or division.

  1. Recruiting and retaining talent. In areas where the demographics of the labor pool are changing,organizations will need to ensure that they will be attractive to the “new” workforce. To retain talent, they will need to ensure that all employees feel they are valued and can reach their potential. Managers must incorporate an understanding of differences into key management practices in order to attract, retain, motivate and lead employees effectively.
  2. Maximizing productivity. Feeling valued and that one “fits in” increases morale, which in turns enhances productivity. This is particularly true for jobs requiring discretionary effort. Managed ineffectively, diversity can lead to increased conflicts and lower levels of quality, motivation and commitment.
  3. Fostering effective teamwork. Studies show that diverse teams – whether they be cross-cultural/global, virtual or interdepartmental – can outperform heterogeneous teams if they are well managed. Since all work environments have some elements of difference, building this skill set will benefit any organization.
  4. Increasing innovation and problem-solving. Diverse backgrounds, thinking styles and experiences are important sources of new ideas and perspectives, which fuel innovation and problem-solving.
  5. Facilitating merging of organizational cultures. Differences of corporate culture have proven to be a deciding factor in the success or derailment of mergers – even within countries.
  6. Customer focus. In cases where the customer population is changing, organizations need to be able to understand and respond to any unique needs. Adaptations can include prospecting, customer service, products, marketing and advertising. Companies benefit from recruiting and developing employees who understand those customers and their needs.
  7. Social responsibility, cohesion, community support. Organizations should support and value the communities in which they operate, regardless of whether the population represents the hiring pool or customer base. Changes in demographics can require changes in the kind of support provided.
  8. Compliance with legislation, policies and regulations. The costs of non-compliance vary greatly, but many countries and unions – particularly those that are experiencing diversification via immigration – are accelerating both the breadth and enforcement of their anti-discrimination laws.
  9. Fulfill company values. Differences can impact how we demonstrate honesty, integrity and respect. Diversity awareness, understanding and skills enable organizations to manage these variables.