Diversity alone is not enough

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Most organisations understand the moral and economic necessity of having a diverse workforce. But unless people also feel included, it’s meaningless. Irene Mosota explains how to build institutions in which everybody reaps the rewards.

Cultural misunderstandings are often a source of conflict. And yet we live in a global age, of interconnected economies, in which organisations have increasingly diverse workforces. It’s more challenging than ever, and more important than ever, but the potential gains are greater than ever too. What better time to ensure that there is fair treatment and opportunity for all and that all employees can bring their full authentic selves to work.

But what is cultural diversity and how do we place it in the context of workplace diversity? How can we expect organisations to celebrate and empower cultural diversity, unless they understand and recognise diverse cultures and value the importance of a variety of cultural perspectives and differences.

Forward-thinking organisations have been making diversity and inclusion a core strategic priority for years. Most leaders now understand that it is no longer just a nice thing to do, but a moral imperative, and good for business too. Plus, businesses have to remain competitive and relevant in an increasingly multicultural global marketplace. In their different ways, both technology and the pandemic have seen companies trying to increase not just their global reach but also to broaden who they recruit. Good reasons to embrace and understand diversity… yet what diversity actually means still seems to elude many bosses.

So what is cultural diversity and why does it matter?

It’s much more than the obvious strands such as race, gender, ethnicity, or nationality. It’s multi-layered with factors that influence a person’s life, how they think, beliefs, behaviours, and emotional responses. So if you want to recruit in a culturally diverse way, you need to dig deeper. One essential aspect that is often taken for granted is language. But language matters in culture. Language is critical in cultural diversity and there is a lot of power embedded in language: it can be both unifying and divisive.

Diversity isn’t an add-on. Rather it is, by definition, the reality of our planet. So we must have diverse workforces. But that alone is not enough… diversity without inclusion is meaningless. Organisations can have the most diverse teams but if they lack an inclusive leadership and culture, then their people won’t feel included, valued, and respected. Fail to create an environment for growth, in which employees can reach their full potential, and diversity can feel worthless and superficial. When employees feel ‘othered’ they become disillusioned. It’s a missed opportunity and an expensive mistake for companies that don’t pay attention, especially if they wish to remain competitive and innovative.

Equally, consumers now demand companies address inequality in society. It’s not enough to issue statements of support for Black Lives Matter. Research from Edelman Trust Barometer showed that 54 per cent of employees globally expect their CEOs to speak out on matters of controversy relating to social or political issues that matter to them. Meanwhile, 53 per cent of consumers said that every brand has a responsibility to be involved in at least one social issue not directly linked to profit. Beware though. Edelman also noted a scepticism among canny consumers about whether companies really mean it. Companies should speak out, but they need to consider if they can meaningfully influence the issue, and if their words align with the company’s strategy. There’s nothing worse than empty statements, paying lip service or greenwashing.

So what can you do to foster cultural diversity? Our organisation, Knowledge Bridge, uses the DEAR framework – an organisational change management tool to can help embed a culturally diverse workplace.

  • - Dignity should be afforded to each employee regardless of their background or cultural believes.
  • E - Empathy is key in understanding and appreciating difference.
  • A - Authenticity should be fostered. It costs you nothing for employees to be themselves and bring their full authentic selves to work. And this is a conduit to creativity and innovation.
  • R - Respecting and valuing other perspectives means employees feel that their contributions are acted upon and that they feel respected at work.

Cultural diversity is not a fad that will fade away anytime soon. It is here to stay, just as  globalisation is, so organisations must invest in initiatives to increase cultural competency and intelligence for their leaders and teams. Making it a compliance-driven initiative with a written process is a good starting point, but cultural diversity and inclusion is much more about changing hearts and minds. Inclusion is a mindset that no amount of process can deliver alone. But, as you foster a culture of cultural diversity, with future recruits aligned to the culture from day one, the gains are huge.

Irene Mosota is the founder and managing director of Knowledge Bridge and on the board of Social Enterprise Scotland. She specialises in delivering social projects and campaigns, and has expertise in stakeholder management, as well as skills in change management and research. Additionally, her experience includes providing focused leadership in cross-cultural intelligence within organisations and communities.

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