Cultural Diversity impacts the workplace in a variety
of positive and negative ways. Examining how
communication is affected by this diversity.
Today's workforce is truly mixture of different races, ages, genders, ethnic groups, religions and lifestyles (Mor-Barak, 2005). It is the job of the management of the organisation to fit together different pieces of mosaic in a harmonious, coordinated way and utilising the abilities and talents of each employee to its maximum. If skilfully managed, diversity can bring a competitive advantage to an organisation. If not, however, the bottom line can be negatively affected and the work environment can become unwelcoming (Henderson, 2001). Many organisations have recognised that the workforce is changing and they are working to create a work environment in which diversity and difference are valued and in which employees can work to their fullest. They are dealing with the problems that arise when people in the workplace communicate. Businesses must be aware of the impact of cultural diversity on important business factors especially communication and the degree of the effect of cultural diversity on it (Henderson, 2001).
People and the organisation:
Today's workforce is made up of many types of people. Organisations can no longer assume that every employee has similar beliefs or expectations. Organizations exist to serve human needs. An organisation is only effective as the people who operate it. People are considered the most important resource in any organisation (Mor-Barak, 2005). They are the basic foundation of an organization and the basic unit of change within organisation. The human resource approach focuses on the interaction between people and the organization. If communication between employees is poor, organisation will suffer. When coordination and interaction within the organisation is good, both employees and business will benefit.
Culture is an important dimension of group diversity that influences communication. Culture is the integrated system of beliefs, values, behaviours and communication patterns that are shared by those socialized within the same social group. Cultural diversity is the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole. It is also referred to multiculturalism within an organization (Konard et al. 2006). Obvious cultural differences exist between people, such as language, dress and traditions, there are also significant variations in the way societies organize themselves, in their shared conception of morality, and in the ways they interact with their environment (Henderson, 2001).
Diversity in the Workplace:
Workplace diversity refers to the division of the workforce into distinction categories that have a perceived commonality within a given cultural or national context and that impact potentially harmful or beneficial employment outcomes such as job opportunities, treatment in the workplace and promotion prospects, irrespective of job related skills and qualifications (Stockdale and Crosby, 2004). Diversity can be defined differently by different cultures and organisations. A view of business, organisation and human resource literature produced three types of definitions of diversity: Narrow category-based definition (e.g. gender, racial or ethnic differences); broad category-based definition (e.g. a long list of categories including such variables as marital status and education); and conceptual rule definition that is based on variety of perspectives, differences in perceptions and actions (Thiederman, 2008). Some of the distinction categories may either have a positive or negative impact on employment and job prospects in different countries (Albrecht, 2001). Against the backdrop of broad definitions, on the one hand, and the narrow ones on the other, generating a definition of workplace diversity that will be relevant and applicable in different cultures proves to be a challenge. Workplace diversity focused on the similarities and differences of the people that they bring to an organization. It is usually defined broadly to include dimensions which influence the identities and perspectives that employees have such as profession, education and geographic location. As a concept, diversity is considered to be inclusive of everyone (Albrecht, 2001). Diversity initiatives create the workplace environment and organizational culture by making differences work. It is about teaching and learning from others who are different, it is about dignity and respect for all, and about creating workplace environments and practices that encourage learning from others and capture the advantage of diverse perspectives. Most scholars agree that diversity in the workplace utilizes employee skills to the fullest and contributes to the overall growth and prosperity of the organisation. It is based on the idea identities should not be discarded or ignored, but instead, should be maintained and valued (Henderson, 2001).
Increasing cultural diversity is forcing organisations to learn and motivate people with a broader range of value systems. To succeed in managing workforce that is increasingly diverse and multinational, managers need knowledge about cultural differences and similarities among people from different backgrounds (Golembiewski, 2000). They also need to be sensitive to these differences that can contribute to their effectiveness in cross cultural communication. In today's global business world, a manager has to understand cultural differences and their meanings in business relations. The manager who manages diversity should understand that diversity includes every employee. It is a challenge to successfully apply skills, energy, and commitment of employees to make an organization better. It is of primary importance that the manager understands the cultural beliefs and values of the organisation for effectively managing diversity (Golembiewski, 2000). These beliefs and values group together to create an environment that employee perceive as supportive or not supportive of diversity. Within all organizations there are culturally supportive and non supportive people, policies, and informal structures. Managers should carefully plan and implement organisational systems and practices to manage employees so that the potential advantages of diversity are maximised and disadvantages minimized (Jackson, 1999). It should be the policy of the company not to engage in discrimination against or harassment of any person on the basis of race, colour, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation or citizenship. This policy apply to all employment practices, including recruitment, selection, promotion, transfer, merit increase, salary, training and development, demotion, and separation (Henderson, 2001).
The organisations need to understand and accept cultural and communication differences, show respect, empathise and be flexible to communication issues in the workforce environment. It should be knowledgeable about ethical issues and understand values, communicate decisions regarding these issues to employees and keep communication channels open for all employees to feedback information without fear and revenge. Organisation should adapt the policies that directly or indirectly affect the diversity issues (Griffin and Hirsch, 1998). It is important how the organisation addresses and responds to problems that arise from diversity. It must reflect its stance on diversity in its mission statement. If the mission statement articulates a clear and direct commitment to diversity, everyone who comes into contact with that mission statement will grow to understand and accept the importance of diversity. Organisations can also manage diversity through a variety of ongoing practices (Jackson, 1999).
Impacts of diversity on workplace environment:
Workplace diversity provides strengths as well as offer challenges to the organisation. Cultural diversity is meaningful. It helps employees to learn from each other, to understand each other's differences (Griffin and Hirsch, 1998). Cultural diversity affects the businesses in many ways including the staff recruitment/retention, management styles and decision-making processes, and relationships within organizations. Cultural diversity often improves and develops workplace by helping as learning experiences for employers as well as employees. When an organisation embrace diversity and realize its benefits, it can succeed and compete more effectively (Henderson, 2001). When it actively assess the handling of workplace diversity issues, develop and implement diversity plans, it can increase its adaptability. Different employees bring individual talents and experiences and suggest suggesting flexible ideas in adapting to ever changing markets. An organisation can globally provide service with a diverse collection of skills and experiences. Organisations that encourage workplace diversity in inspire all of their employees to perform to their highest ability. Different strategies are then executed; resulting in higher productivity, profit, and return on investment (Konard et al. 2006).
On the other hand, diversity issues costs money, time and efficiency. If not managed properly it can create problems. Some of the consequences can include unhealthy tensions between employees or with management; loss of business performance and productivity because of increased conflict; inability to attract and retain talented people of all kinds; complaints and legal actions; and inability to retain valuable employees, resulting in lost investments in recruitment and training (Stockdale and Crosby, 2004). Taking full advantage of the benefits of diversity in the workplace is not without its challenges. Perceptual, cultural and language barriers need to be overcome for diversity programs to succeed. Ineffective communication of key objectives results in confusion, lack of teamwork, and low morale. There are always employees who will refuse to accept the fact that the social and cultural makeup of their workplace is changing. The "we've always done it this way" mentality silences new ideas and inhibits progress (Albrecht, 2001).
Although cultural diversity presents a challenge, organisations should view it as an opportunity rather than a limitation. When managed properly, cultural diversity can provide competitive advantages for an organisation. An organisation that manages diversity properly can develop cost advantages over other organisations and are in much better position to attract the best personnel. Proper guidance and management of diversity can improve the level of creativity in an organisation (Henderson, 2001).
Diversity in the workplace is strategic force influencing communication (Samovar et al. 2008). Communication in its most basic form is defined as the use of symbols to convey meanings. Culture is the integrated system of beliefs, values, behaviours and communication patterns that are shared by those socialized within the same social group. When persons socialized in different cultures and co-cultures look from the same point in same direction, they often see different things, and these different perceptions shape their communication (Samovar et al. 2008). Being different from others in an organisation can adversely affect communication and coordination. People from different cultures bring different set of assumptions about appropriate ways to coordinate and communicate in an organisation. Understanding how to communicate effectively with people from other cultures has become integral to the work environment of many organisations (Samovar et al. 2009). Managers who manage diversity need to be sensitive to cultural differences that can contribute to the effectiveness in cross cultural communication. Cross cultural communication involves several potential barriers to communication that are related to the use of verbal and non-verbal methods to convey meanings that may or may not be the same in the cultures of origin of the participants (Samovar et al. 2008). Often the message that is communicated, maybe different from the one that was intended because of cultural barriers. The use of different languages often creates barrier to communication because one or both sides are not articulate as they could be in their native tongue. Linguistic diversity is an important aspect of global diversity. Managing a workforce that does not share a common language can present a major challenge to both employees and management (Cragon and Wright, 2008).
Factors effecting communication:
Cultural diversity can have a powerful effect on communication within the organisation. Problems occur between people of different cultures primarily because people tend to assume that their own cultural norms are the right ways to do things. They wrongly believe that the specific patterns of behaviour desired in their own culture are universally valued. They have stereotypes about other cultures that interfere with communication when people interact. Workplace diversity can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications, but it also poses opportunities to improve both workers and organisations. Managers must be prepared to communicate effectively with workers of different cultural backgrounds. A diverse workforce poses various communication challenges to an organisation.
Misunderstandings, inaccuracies, inefficiencies and slowness are typical communication problems experienced by diverse groups. Communication breakdowns occur when members often assume that the other party understands the message when in fact they do not. People interpret information differently even when the same language is used. Therefore, the message sent is not always the message received. Differences in communication styles and non verbal communication can create problems. Communication problems due to diversity may become magnified because people are afraid or otherwise unwilling to discuss openly about the issues. Trust is an important factor that plays a significant role in intercultural, interracial and inter-gender communication. A lack of trust can result in miscommunication. Accent is another factor creating problems in communication as some people react negatively to different accents. It is even considered rude if someone does not speak in the official language. People make judgements and mental picture (stereotypes) about others based on the kinds of expression they use because of the region (regional jargon) from which they come. The fact that people have different experiences accounts for many of the problems that occur when they try to interact cross culturally. These experiences directly relate to ability to communicate. Cultural, racial and gender differences affect our experiences.
Henderson, G. (2001), Cultural Diversity in the workplace: issues and strategies, Praeger Publishing.
Mor-Barak, M. (2005), Diversity: toward a globally inclusive workplace, SAGE Publishers.
Golembiewski, R.T. (2000), Managing diversity in organisation, University of Alabama Press.
Jackson, S.E. (1999), Diversity in the workplace: Human Resource Initiatives, Guilford Press.
Griffin, R and Hirsch, M.S. (1998), Workplace diversity, Adams Media.
Konard, A. Prasad, P. and Pringle, J. (2006), Handbook of workplace diversity, SAGE Publishrs.
Stockdale, M. and Crosby, F. (2004), The psychology and management of workplace diversity, Wiley-Blackwell.
Thiederman, S. (2008), Making diversity work: 7 steps for defeating bias in the workplace, Kaplan Publishing.
Albrecht, M.H. (2001), International HRM: managing diversity in the workplace, Wiley-Blackwell.
Samovar, L.A; Porter, R.E. and McDaniel, E.R. (2008), Intercultural Communication: A Reader (12th edition), Cengage Learning
Samovar, L.A; Porter, R.E. and McDaniel, E.R. (2009), Communication between Cultures (7th edition), Cengage Learning, 2009
Cragon, J.F and Wright, D.W. (2008), Communication in Small Groups: Theory, Process, Skills (7th edition), Cengage Learning
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Before any analysis of the diversity of a workgroup, its internal conflict, or its productivity, a fundamental understanding of race, class, and gender as well as systemic racism and chauvinism must be understood. Additionally, by viewing the issue of workplace diversity at a macro levels an understanding of socialization, education, healthcare, and the role of company community and diversity projects can be brought into the conversation of discussing the possibility of more diverse workplaces in the future. This article gives a longitudinal perspective of the issue of workplace diversity and highlights the role social research plays in challenging and shaping business practices related to workplace diversity.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Work & the Economy > Diversity in the Workplace
The idea of diversity in the workplace has become a priority for human resource managers and public relations managers in large corporations, particularly in the United States. A link to a corporation's diversity program or mission statement can be found on virtually every Fortune 500 company website. Since the early 1990s, companies have aggressively positioned themselves in the marketplace as an employer championing workplace diversity and a partner supporting local diverse communities. This drive toward diversity has been spurned by dramatic shifts in manufacturing jobs away from advance capitalism economies, a rise in service sector jobs, company branding, investor relations, and in some cases a sincere business ethic. Despite the public narrative on diversity presented by companies, growing diversity--and even hiring trends favoring women in America's service-intense workforce (Green, 2003)--the fact is that many of the problems related to diversity do not seem to be going away. White men still dominate high status jobs and substantial pay gaps persist between men and women, white Americans and minorities, and upper and lower classes. Diverse teams in organizations routinely encounter communication obstacles and in many instances are less productive than their homogeneous counterparts.
Many of the challenges of diversity remain beyond the reach of large companies. Historical systems of racism, chauvinism, and classism along with their inherent rationality have lost favor with the rise of new cosmopolitan social graces. Yet these systems of historical bias remain intact and interconnect with networks of enculturation, education, health care, and economy constructing a faceless systemic bias that constrains the rise of a highly skilled diverse workforce. The well-intentioned corporation may find that once it has addressed internal issues of hiring, training, and promotion bias that the diverse workforce they want to hire simply is not available.
To better understand many of the issues surrounding the diversity in the workplace discourse, it is necessary to be familiar with some of the basic concepts and dichotomies leveraged in the diversity debate. The primary categories utilized in research are race, class, and gender. These categories can be, and are often, extended. Other categories can include age, physical abilities (ableism), religion, and sexual orientation. Within companies and labor markets diversity is studied in proportional analysis of minority and majority group members and in integrative approaches that examine faultlines determined by reoccurring majority-minority splits across many categories (Kravitz, 2005). Thus, diversity can be measured separately at many levels in the workplace hierarchy including the field, shop floor, project team, management team, and board room. Disparities in fairness can be studied through phenomena such as wage gaps, job segregation, marginalized work, and glass ceilings. Finally, workplace culture and its relationship to proportional representation, pay structure, and authority allow researchers to analyze the ability of certain types of workers to have a voice in the workplace. With these approaches, the sociologist is able to go beyond just measuring the count of majority and minority employees in a workplace. The sociologist can measure upward mobility, fairness in pay, status in like jobs, the effectiveness of teams, and cultural changes. Diversity is a social benefit only if it encompasses fairness in opportunity, rewards, and proportional representation.
Race & Ethnicity
Race is a social construct that identifies groups of people by certain shared characteristics. More often than not these characteristics are phenotypical, that is, differences in color of skin, facial features, and hair texture. Race as a category does not reflect actual genotypical differences (gene differences). For this reason race may actually hide or obscure discrete ethnic groups with common historical origins (Marshall, 1998). This does not prevent sociologists from using race in their analysis of diversity. However, within modern sociology race is not viewed as reflective of a genetically like group. Rather it is assumed to be a category shaped by larger social values.
Gender & Sex
In her 1972 book Sex, Gender, and Society, Ann Oakley introduces the concept of gender to sociology. She defines sex as the the biological differences between male and female and gender as the parallel and unequal division between masculinity and femininity in society. Since Oakley's definition, the concept of gender has been extended to the division of labor in companies (Marshall, 1998). Sociologists use "gender" instead of "sex" because it is believed that differences in status and pay are attributable to socially constructed divisions (Smith, 1987). Gendering is socialization and one of the ways humans organize their lives. Researchers have utilized gender to explain job segregation, job marginalization, and the effect of proportionality and workplace culture.
When sociologists work with the category of social class they are working with a slippery concept. Unlike race or gender, people are able to change class. Class refers to a group of people who share common economic positions and opportunities in an economy. Given the relatively similar economic status, they are afforded like opportunities for education, health care, jobs, and other economic benefits. Generally speaking there is an upper, middle, and lower class. Within each of these levels there can be additional sub-classes. For example, in the upper class there can be the wealthy and the middle upper class. In the lower class there can be the working class, poor, and underclass. Where the economic line lies between classes in terms of wages is debated. What is not debated is that most people are unaware of their class. Despite what research data tells us, well over 90% of people consider themselves middle or working class (Heaton, 1987).
Sexual Orientation, Physical Ability, Age & Religion
Other categories are often considered when looking at workplace diversity. Among these are sexual orientation, physical ability, age, and religion. Sexual orientation may be toward the opposite sex (heterosexuality), same sex (homosexuality), both sexes (bisexuality), and neither (asexuality). Some sociologists believe sexuality to be genetic, while others label all types of sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, as socially constructed. Physical ability is also a category to be considered in diversity. Traditionally, disabilities have been used to discriminate against certain types of workers. Impairment is a socially constructed concept that extends beyond the actual limitations of the individual. Ableism is a bias against people with disabilities. The four categories of sexual orientation, physical ability, age, and religion appear less often in corporate diversity mission statements.
The Workplace: Corporations, Nonprofits & the Government
To understand the dynamics of workplace diversity it is necessary to understand the US workforce. Corporations and small businesses still provide the lion's share of jobs in the US economy. However, since the turn of the century nonprofits have employed approximately 10% of the workforce and growth in jobs in the nonprofit sector have been outstripping those of corporate America. During the Great Recession (2007-2009), the private sector lost jobs at a rate of 3.7% per year, while jobs in the nonprofit sector rose at a rate of 1.9%. The highest nonprofit job category is health services; nonprofit entities account for 57% of the health services jobs in America (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Geller, 2012). This is an important issue when considering diversity in the workplace. Though nonprofit organizations do tout their diversity programs, the truth is that many nonprofits and most nonprofit hospitals have religious affiliations. These affiliations contribute to workplace cultures that constrain upward mobility for people who do not share religious affiliations or perspectives on sexuality with their employer.
The government is another fast growing sector of the workforce. According to US Census data from 2011 and the 2010 American Community Survey, 15.3% of the civilian workforce works for federal, state, or local governments. The government as an employer is much more diverse than the corporations and nonprofits. An example of this can be found in the construction industry. Construction upper-tier jobs (construction manager, estimators, and managers/supervisors of trades) in 2010 were comprised of only 4% African Americans, while 12% of city building inspectors, the individuals who inspect the work of construction management, were African American (US Department of Labor & US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). When considering diversity in the workplace, companies often find themselves between two strong growing sectors of the workforce with very different approaches to diversity.
Fairness & Diversity
It is not enough simply to have proportional representation in the workplace. A poultry business can claim to be diverse because a majority of its workforce is Latino and half its workforce is female. But if all the managers and executives of the company are white men, then it would appear that the company is just taking advantage of inexpensive, unskilled labor concentrated in a local community. A hospital may claim to be diverse because of the international background of its physicians. However, if the cleaning staff is overwhelmingly African American women and the nurses and administrators are predominantly white, then it would not appear to provide a diverse workplace, despite the backgrounds of the resident physicians. A large law firm employing more female lawyers then males may claim to be diverse. Yet, if women attorneys at the firm only earn 70% of their male counterparts' wages, then the fairness of the firm's approach to diversity must be questioned. Job segregation, wage gaps, and job marginalization, not just personnel counts, tell the real story about diversity for sociologists.
Job segregation exists when a category of jobs is filled primarily by workers of a certain type. Additionally, segregation exists when companies have a two-tiered system wherein jobs are divided up into levels that offer unequal pay, responsibility, security, training, and mobility (Doeringer & Piore, 1971). Job segregation makes it very difficult to show discrimination when the types of work women or minorities do is so different from the types of work white men do. American courts only recognize discrimination for doing the same work and usually only for doing it at the same company. Since the late 1960s this type of discrimination within job-cells has been largely a non-factor in the gender wage gap (Blau, 1977; Groshen, 1991; McNulty, 1967) because the courts are unable to address issues such as why computer programmers, a job more likely to be filled by a man, get paid much more than elementary school teachers, an occupation more likely to be filled by women. Some researchers believe that job segregation may be the largest remaining part of the gender wage gap (Groshen, 1991).
A wage gap is a term that signifies differences in pay for like work based on race and gender. The National Committee on Pay Equity reported that in 2012, women were earning an average of 76.5% of what men were earning ("Wage Gap over Time," 2013). Despite claims that since the late twentieth century the overall wage gap has closed between men and women, many argue that the wage gap has only improved for white women. Table 1, derived from the US Current Population Survey (2011) and the National Committee on Pay Equity (2013), shows the change in wage gaps from 1975 and 2010 representing 35 years of improvement for white women. Today, the combination of being the "wrong" gender and the "wrong" race appear to have a double penalty (Greenman, & Xie, 2008). African Americans and Hispanics have lost ground to white women over the past decades. The wage gap between Hispanic women and white women is greater than the wage gap between white men and white women. The rise of service industries and the demise of manufacturing have benefited white women but not all women. Though a wage gap for like work does exist between men and women as well as white Americans and minorities in America, the primary reason for the overall wage gap lies in job segregation and job marginalization.
Table 1: Wage Information by Gender
Year White Men...