Smart CEOs know that workforce diversity helps them establish an organisation with a competitive edge. This can include employing workers with cultural and language skills that can lead to greater reach for the business. And they recognise that heterogeneous groups can contribute more creative ideas to the mix. But managing people from different groups has its challenges. What’s the best way of managing a diverse workforce?
Writing in the Diversity Journal, JBK Associates CEO Julie B. Kampf says it is first of all important to define what diversity means for the organisation. Beyond race and gender, it can also include but is not limited to considerations of age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, mental and physical capabilities, gender identity, family status, language, opinions and working style. Every organisation is different, She says it is also important to get buy-in from everyone but at the same time, not every company will advance at the same pace. They should also build in metrics to measure progress toward specific, quantifiable long- and short-term goals. And everyone needs to be trained. Managers must be educated about the benefits of diversity and the processes necessary to achieve it. Employees must be given the coaching, mentoring and skills they need. Without training, you risk losing your best talent to your competitors. And finally, it has to come from the top.
Writing in Management Today, Simon Mitchell, director at talent management consultancy DDI, says good managers take the time to understand everyone on their team, regardless of differences in age, geography or experience. They have to find out what makes them tick and how they can best contribute. Ignoring the differences that exist in a highly diverse group is a mistake. He says a diverse team needs to be visible to each other to help generate better understanding when they cannot rely on cultural shortcuts. Social media and online tools can bring people together; video conferencing no longer has to cost the earth. Helping people be more comfortable with ambiguity is important too particularly for teams working together virtually and across borders. Different people like to raise issues in different ways, and not always in an open forum. The leaders’ job is to understand the important concerns and remove the barriers.
Leaders need to be seen to be listening to, and acting on, the concerns of their diverse teams. Among a diverse team, whether of age, geography or cultural background, conflict will arise and the leader must be skilled in dealing with it. People need a set of ground rules that help them understand the expected consistencies amongst all the differences they experience, and to help deal with confrontation and conflict.
As senior academic Andries du Plessis says, this will change management.
“Expect to see in successful organisations a new kind of manager and a new kind of employee in the future because of global competitive environments,’’ Du Plessis writes. “The new kind of manager will have to develop the capacity to handle a complex and changing business environment to outgrow their rivals. They will need to practice the art of inclusion, involving competent employees at all levels during the changing process. They will have to be ultra sensitive to the challenges posed by diversity, recognising the nature of these different workforces, and must be ready to implement the necessary strategies to ensure successful organisational change.”
How do you manage diversity?