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Cultural diversity in the workplace provides strengths as well as challenges to businesses today. The United States is often thought of as the great melting pot where anyone from any background can assimilate into a single society. A more realistic and appropriate "Ideal" is one of multi-culturalism (cultural diversity). Multi-culturalism is based on the idea that cultural identities should not be discarded or ignored, but instead, should be maintained and valued. The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace has been, for the most part, accepted in American business but with slow progress and some resistance.
Corporate Culture - A Diverse World
Although we live in a country that assimilates many different cultures, the fact remains that diversity in the workplace is making slow progress. Many companies have yet to incorporate the belief that diversity within their corporate structure does contribute to the bottom line. Diversity also provides the company with more appeal within the employment community while opening the door to good employees that are willing to work hard and value their employment.
Diversity in the workplace refers to the vastly different cultural backgrounds amongst the employees with that organization. This diversity can include not only race, gender, age, ethnicity, educational background and upbringing, but can also be an employee's personality and organizational function. A person's perception of his- or herself and how they perceive others is another facet of diversity within a workplace that does affect the day-to-day interactions. In order to deal with change, companies need to embrace the diversity of their personnel and deal with issues in communication, adaptability, and change as they arise ("Workplace Diversity", 2004). By placing cultural diversity throughout the management structure of a business and distributing responsibilities equally, managers are more committed to implementing culturally diverse policies and take a more active role ("Diversity issues in the workplace", 2008).
By bringing a culturally diverse environment to the workplace, companies open new doors for global expansion with the various languages and cultural understanding each of the employees has to offer. Thus, the company has a new competitive edge in the business community and has a larger pool of talent to build upon. Organizations that are comprised of employees with various educational backgrounds as well as cultural differences are found to be more innovative with varying creativity. Problem solving within this culturally diverse environment offers a unique set of perceptions on handling different situations and can lead to increased creativity amongst employees (Goessl, n.d.). As with any corporation, creativity and communication will also be affected by change. These processes are critical to any organization and cultural diversity can either complement or challenge these areas.
While most Americans are opening themselves up to the idea of different cultures and trying new things, there are still many that do not embrace the cultural diversity and will make every attempt to avoid using goods and services made by these culturally diverse companies. Depending on the products and services offered by a business, it could be tailored to a specific cultural group which could also ward off those who are not ready to embrace the cultural differences that are around them.
Although there are many positive aspects of cultural diversity in the workplace, it also presents certain challenges. A company that will not hire someone due to their cultural background not only faces potential of legal problems, it runs the risk of damaging their reputation within the business community (Green, Lopez, Wysocki, & Kepner, 2002). The most obvious challenge with cultural diversity is the language barriers that may be present; however, resistance to change from existing employees with a "no change" mentality can create animosity for the incoming workers and inhibit progress (Greenberg, 2004).
Implementing procedures ahead of time before integrating change may ease some tensions that may present themselves down the road. A successful management system is another important tool that can aide with the transition. Offering additional training to employees regarding cultural diversity and the benefits it brings to the company may also reduce employee grievances and provide some insight as to the effectiveness and creativity the merging of different cultures can offer the corporation.
For staff that is already employed in the organization, cultural diversity can be a real bonus. Employees that are required to work the traditional holidays often have to sacrifice time with family. By employing workers that do not celebrate these holidays, companies may find these workers willing to work these shifts in exchange for using some of their vacation time for their own cultural celebrations. Better productivity for the company is the ultimate outcome and it is a win-win for the employees (Green et al., 2002).
By learning about different cultures in a safe, friendly work environment, employees can overcome their own prejudices and fears while aiding in the expansion of the business. It is very likely employees will enjoy learning about and celebrating new cultures. St. Patrick's Day (Irish), Cinco de Mayo (Mexican), Mardi Gras (French), Diwali (Buddhist, Hindu), Hanukkah (Jewish) are just a few examples of celebrations widely recognized and enjoyed in this country that started specifically with one culture. Likewise, Christmas - a Christian holiday - is now celebrated in many non-Christian countries that enjoy the beauty and pageantry associated with Christmas celebrations.
Diversity in the workplace will increase in the coming years as the population continues to grow and change. The success of any organization and the competitiveness within will largely depend on the company's ability to manage diversity effectiveness, implement diversity policies and plan for the future.
The bottom line is that embracing cultural diversity is not only the "right" thing to do, for many companies it makes good, if not imperative, business sense. This is particularly true for large corporations with global interests, which is increasingly common as the world's economies become more and more interrelated. By embracing different cultures, a company not only appeals to a larger customer base, but it can attract talented employees from a much larger pool of individuals who might not otherwise be interested.