Thanks to technological developments and globalisation, people nowadays are more connected than ever before. Therefore, the workplace becomes increasingly diverse in terms of nationality, culture, gender, experience, personality and more. We can see people from different countries who speak different languages work together under the same roof. This inevitable movement has changed the way corporations manage their talent resources to maximise the advantage of having multicultural perspectives.
5 common diversity and inclusion challenges in the workplace
Despite offering countless benefits, fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace does come with a handful of challenges. Here are five common reasons why employers feel hesitant to embrace a multinational environment.
1. Communications barriers
It is undeniable that a diverse and inclusive workforce can lead to an increase in innovation, unique opinions and approaches to problem-solving. However, conflicts due to differences in perspectives also escalate at the same time.
Communication barriers are an obstacle that every international business faces. Even when people use the same language, for example, English, variations of colloquialisms and accents between American, British, and Australian English could potentially cause misunderstandings.
More important, a language can have many implications that only people from these regions could understand correctly. Moreover, some gestures could easily be considered an offence even without us realising it.
Therefore, there will be more conflicts than in a normal working environment since the employees need more time to understand and cooperate. Working in highly diverse organisations calls for strong interpersonal skills and cultural sensitivity; not something that can be taught at school.
2. Stereotypes and prejudice
Whether you like it or not, stereotypes directed at specific groups of people happen. While working, instead of trying to communicate and understand each other, employees may use these stereotypes as an excuse for not collaborating with their co-workers.
What’s worse are grudges people hold against particular cultures, religions, and races. This would cause isolation and disjointed teams, which can quickly escalate to disruptions during the knowledge transfer process among employees.
Read more: Why is collaborative leadership important?
3. Less trust
People from minority groups could feel like they are treated unfairly compared to the major groups. Similarly, they might also think the manager is nicer to people with the same background.
Consequently, these groups would barely raise their voice when encountering problems. For instance, employees from some Asian countries may not feel comfortable voicing their opinions, particularly when they are new to the job, or are in junior roles.
This situation requires a sensible manager with strong leadership, EQ and communication skills to manage a diverse team, make every member feels included, and align the team’s decisions with the business goals.
4. Visa requirements and cost of accommodation
Building a workforce that spans the world is a complex, and not to mention, costly process. Organisations need to establish guidelines for working visa arrangements plus employment policies and ensure they comply with local labour and immigration laws.
In some cases, organisations will sponsor the transfer of talents to different locations. The sponsorship could lead to endless administrative work and a (sizable) dedicated budget for accommodations and travelling.
Cultural conflict is unhealthy and can significantly lower both the productivity and morale of employees. Diverse teams can lead to the long-term success of businesses. However, if conflicts resulting from cultural clashes cannot be resolved effectively, it would cause lasting negative effects on employee satisfaction, the business' reputation, image, and more.
Read more: Emotional intelligence for leaders
Although it is not easy to manage a multicultural environment efficiently, there are plausible reasons to enhance the diversity rate for the business.
Overcoming diversity and inclusion challenges
It is undeniable that diversity and inclusion are crucial elements of business sustainable development, and it is an inevitable trend that the company should embrace.
However, it could turn out to be a painful process if the issues mentioned above are not addressed appropriately. Here are some suggestions that your company might want to follow for an equitable and inclusive working environment.
Focus on “culture add” not “culture fit”
The company should embrace the unique experiences and cultures of each employee. Different perspectives bring fresh ideas to combat the boring “sameness.” Companies should make an effort to understand the values of differences and continuously raise the employee’s awareness of the subject.
Managers and team leaders should provide their members with fair and open opportunities to share and contribute their approaches for improvements. Every employee needs to feel that they are heard and respected for who they are and what they are capable of. These unique experiences are invaluable for teams to build a fertile ground for innovation.
All cultures deserve to receive the same appreciation and celebration. Clearly state that no one could fully understand each other background, but we are all willing to learn. Therefore, everyone should have a chance to bring to the table their insights instead of modifying themselves to fit in with the majority. Treating your employees as an individual, not as a group of people, would help you overcome communication barriers.
Take a stance
Being neutral is no longer a good idea since it could cause more harm than good. Employees would feel the company is being wishy-washy rather than being fair to them.
Managers should be aware of what is going on in the world to promptly take a stance. Many social issues are happening right now, such as Black Lives Matter, Gender Inequality, and LGBTQI+ Rights.
More than that, HR managers should play an active role in identifying and resolving any conscious and non-conscious bias towards minority groups as fast as possible. Everyone, including you and me, wants to feel safe and supported by the companies they are working for.
Make better use of diversity
According to a Glassdoor survey, two-thirds of workers indicated that diversity was important to them when evaluating companies and job offers. In other words, showing proof that businesses are cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture would help them to stand out more in the competitive job market.
In a diverse workplace, each person has a unique set of strengths and skills which others can learn from. Everyone should be given a chance to grow and learn every day when they are exposed to unfamiliar cultures, working styles, and perspectives.
What’s more important is how organisations can incorporate collaboration projects and align employee development plans with the company’s objective to ensure sustainability. Thus, the next crucial step is having an action plan to implement all the above ideas.