Maintaining workplace diversity
HR departments work hard to ensure recruitment diversity, particularly where it’s legislated for, but the next big challenge is to maintain diversity. Whilst HR departments work hard to recruit, if those employed don’t fit comfortably into the corporate culture, they may be quick to change/assimilate, or move on.
There are some very easy ‘external’ wins for some cultural difference – changing policies on dress codes, ensuring that appropriate bathroom facilities are available, and so on. However, whilst these things may smooth a transition into the workplace, keeping people there is a bigger challenge.
Encouraging diversity and maintaining it are two very different challenges.
Many organizations, and even departments within them, tend unwittingly to develop a corporate culture which assimilates difference.
At its base level, if an organization – or department – culture is quiet, intellectual and considered, then a bright, ‘breezy’, noisy individual will feel out of place. And whilst for a while the difference will be noted, after a while either the department will change, and existing members will show their brighter, breezier side, or the noisier individual will get fed up and move on.
Conversely if a team working together is from Nordic cultures like, for example, Finland, they are likely to be very calm and inexpressive when seen through the eyes of very expressive Southern Europeans such as Italians, who may become subdued, or simply leave.
Yet often it’s harder to adapt to the difference and adopt the ‘host’ culture than simple ‘personality types’. Take ethnic diversity or other ‘differences’ such as disability or gender bias, where it’s not possible to ‘change’ – discomfort may mean friction or moving on.
Take as an example the amount of effort that has been put into addressing gender bias in financial services, yet a perception still lingers. Or race bias in senior management.
To address attitudes to, and understanding of, cultural difference requires a deeper understanding and acceptance of difference than the kind of training that defers to stereotypes, thereby reinforcing them. It’s saddening that it’s often not hard to change perceptions generally. Taking the time to see the World through the eyes of another in a structured, non-confrontational manner can change our attitudes to all people, not just a target group.
The business imperative is there. Internal diversity helps understand external diversity – the people we buy from and sell to. Quite aside of moral and legal requirements, if an organization has an international reach, or sells to a diverse consumer base, being able to embrace cultural difference becomes operationally and commercially important. People staying in roles reduces recruitment costs, increases the knowledge pool within the company, and provides a wider likelihood of success with a wider range of customers.
Being able to accommodate, understand and celebrate diversity – in all of its aspects – tops wide reaching commercial implications with the moral satisfaction of knowing that organizations that get it right, and make it stick, are happier, more interesting, places to work.
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