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Chapter: Principles of Management : Directing

Managing cultural diversity

Experts indicate that business owners and managers who hope to create and manage an effective, harmonious multicultural work force should remember the importance of the following:



Experts indicate that business owners and managers who hope to create and manage an effective, harmonious multicultural work force should remember the importance of the following:


            Setting a good example—This basic tool can be particularly valuable for small business owners who hope to establish a healthy environment for people of different cultural backgrounds, since they are generally able to wield significant control over the business's basic outlook and atmosphere.


            Communicate in writing—Company policies that explicitly forbid prejudice and discriminatory behavior should be included in employee manuals, mission statements, and other written communications. Jorgensen referred to this and other similar practices as "internal broadcasting of the diversity message in order to create a common language for all members of the organization."

            Training programs—Training programs designed to engender appreciation and knowledge of the characteristics and benefits of multicultural work forces have become ubiquitous in recent years. "Two types of training are most popular: awareness and skill-building," wrote Cox. "The former introduces the topic of managing diversity and generally includes information on work force demographics, the meaning of diversity, and exercises to get participants thinking about relevant issues and raising their own self-awareness. The skill-building training provides more specific information on cultural norms of different groups and how they may affect work behavior." New employee orientation programs are also ideal for introducing workers to the company's expectations regarding treatment of fellow workers, whatever their cultural or ethnic background.


Recognize individual differences—Writing in The Complete MBA Companion, contributor Rob Goffee stated that "there are various dimensions around which differences in human relationships may be understood. These include such factors as orientation towards authority; acceptance of power inequalities; desire for orderliness and structure; the need to belong to a wider social group and so on. Around these dimensions researchers have demonstrated systematic differences between national, ethnic, and religious groups." Yet Goffee also cautioned business owners, managers, and executives to recognize that differences between individuals can not always be traced back to easily understood differences in cultural background: "Do not assume differences are always 'cultural.' There are several sources of difference. Some relate to factors such as personality, aptitude, or competence. It is a mistake to assume that all perceived differences are cultural in origin. Too many managers tend to fall back on the easy 'explanation' that individual behavior or performance can be attributed to the fact that someone is 'Italian' or 'a Catholic' or 'a woman.' Such conclusions are more likely to reflect intellectually lazy rather than culturally sensitive managers."

            Actively seek input from minority groups—Soliciting the opinions and involvement of minority groups on important work committees, etc., is beneficial not only because of the contributions that they can make, but also because such overtures confirm that they are valued by the company. Serving on relevant committees and task forces can increase their feelings of belonging to the organization. Conversely, relegating minority members to superfluous committees or projects can trigger a downward spiral in relations between different cultural groups.

            Revamp reward systems—An organization's performance appraisal and reward systems should reinforce the importance of effective diversity management, according to Cox. This includes assuring that minorities are provided with adequate opportunities for career development.


            Make room for social events—Company sponsored social events—picnics, softball games, volleyball leagues, bowling leagues, Christmas parties, etc.—can be tremendously useful in getting members of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds together and providing them with opportunities to learn about one another.


            Flexible work environment—Cox indicated that flexible work environments—which he characterized as a positive development for all workers—could have particularly "beneficial to people from nontraditional cultural backgrounds because their approaches to problems are more likely to be different from past norms."


            Don't assume similar values and opinions—Goffee noted that "in the absence of reliable information there is a well-documented tendency for individuals to assume that others are 'like them.' In any setting this is likely to be an inappropriate assumption; for those who manage diverse work forces this tendency towards 'cultural assimilation' can prove particularly damaging."


Continuous monitoring—Experts recommend that business owners and managers establish and maintain systems that can continually monitor the organization's policies and practices to ensure that it continues to be a good environment for all employees. This, wrote Jorgensen, should include "research into employees' needs through periodic attitude surveys."


"Increased diversity presents challenges to business leaders who must maximize the opportunities that it presents while minimizing its costs," summarized Cox. "The multicultural organization is characterized by pluralism, full integration of minority-culture members both formally and informally, an absence of prejudice and discrimination, and low levels of inter-group conflict…. The organization that achieves these conditions will create an environment in which all members can contribute to their maximum potential, and in which the 'value in diversity ' can be fully realized."


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