Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace, Part 2

From our increasingly diverse workforce to the globalization of business, cultural competence is possibly the most important skill for effective work performance in the 21st century.

In Part 1 of this article, we explored cultural differences, from communication to teamwork, from perceptions of time to differing cultural calendars.

In part 2 below, we’ll explore strategies, skills and techniques for managing cultural diversity in the workplace, and developing cultural competence.

To develop cultural competence, training should focus on the following areas:

  1. Awareness.  This is the skill to understand one’s reactions to people who are different, and how our behavior might interfere with effective working relationships. We need to learn to overcome stereotypes? We need to see people as individuals and focus on actual behavior, rather than our preconceived and often biased notions.

  2. Attitude. This is the companion skill to awareness. Attitude enables people to examine their values and beliefs about cultural differences, and understand their origins. It is important that to focus on facts, rather than judgment. Also, note that suggesting that some people are more biased and prejudiced than others can quickly sabotage cultural training.  The goal is managing cultural diversity in the workplace, and creating effective working relationships – not to make converts.

  3. Knowledge. Social science research indicates that our values and beliefs about equality may be inconsistent with behavior. Ironically, we are often unaware of this. Knowledge about our own behavior – and how it relates to fairness and workforce effectiveness – is an essential skill.  It’s also essential to be knowledgeable about other cultures, from communication styles to holidays and religious events in multicultural calendars.  The minimum objective is tolerance, which is essential for effective teamwork. Differences are what make tolerance necessary , and tolerance is what makes differences possible.

  4. Skills. The goal of training – in awareness, attitude, and knowledge – should be skills that allow organizational leaders and employees to make cultural competence a seamless part of the workplace. The new work environment is defined by understanding, communicating, cooperating, and providing leadership across cultures.  Managing cultural diversity in the workplace is also the challenge for organizations that want to profit from a competitive advantage in the 21st century economy.

Richard T. Alpert, PdD, is President of Diversity Resources Inc.

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