Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Building a Strong Team
By Ally Smit
The rationale behind supporting cultural diversity in the workplace has evolved over the past few years. Whereas once it was simply considered the right thing to do, research has now confirmed that it positively impacts company profitability.
In the McKinsey & Company “Delivering through Diversity” report, a strong correlation was found between ethnic diversity in the executive team and stronger profitability. In their 2018 findings, companies sitting in the top-quartile for cultural diversity were observed to be 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. When diversity at the board level was reviewed, companies with the most culturally diverse boards were 43% more likely to experience higher profits.
At its base, the importance of a diverse workforce lies with the differences in employee perspectives. These perspectives, which are formed as a result of one’s experiences, environments, and knowledge, can provide for enhanced context, discussion and ways of looking at opportunities. The more culturally diverse the workforce, the more varied the perspectives, and the greater the opportunity to create new ideas and strategies.
Although there are many benefits to having a culturally diverse workforce, it is important for employers to consider how they will create and manage their multi-cultural teams. Here are some key points to consider:
Be Respectful and Curious
It is important to ensure that all team members are respectful and willing to understand and learn the differences across cultural norms and work styles. In a culturally diverse environment, there may be differences to the degree to which individuals are comfortable working within a team, how they manage uncertainty, their attitudes towards leadership and whether they have a longer term vs shorter term orientation. In fact, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory has identified cultural trends across six values dimensions and a comparison of the different cultures that exist within a team which can also be beneficial in order to gain an overview of general societal differences.
When team members adopt a curious mindset, they are putting in the effort to better understand each member within the team, where they come from, and what expectations they may have around tackling work. The more each team member works to understand the diversity that exists within their team, the more equipped they are to adapt a work style that works for everyone.
Encourage Informal Brainstorming
If an employee is relatively new to the country, they may be facing barriers that can limit their ability to contribute to a team project. Barriers related to language differences or cultural norms may make it difficult for an employee to feel comfortable contributing to a project or task. One way to overcome this is to encourage informal brainstorming where team leads can introduce open-ended questions such as “how do you think we should approach this project?” and “what do you think about our current solution?” to encourage equal participation. It is vital to ensure that each member of the team feels as if their voices are being heard and their ideas are respected.
Celebrate Diversity and Enjoy Commonalities
To build a strong multi-cultural team, it is important to create a culture where diversity is celebrated and commonalities are explored. Diversity within teams can be celebrated through the use of a multicultural calendar (Canada’s Multicultural 2019 Calendar), or through a potluck where everyone is invited to bring a traditional food item from their cultural background. This knowledge can help to expand team members understanding and interest in the various parts of the world and should bring people closer together.
Through this celebration of diversity, team members can learn more about each other, identify commonalities, and build relationships; all vital factors in ensuring a strong and productive team.