WASHINGTON, June 9, 2014 — America’s workplace is diversifying. In many cases, Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, African Americans, Caucasians, Asians and Indians all work for the same company.
In the recent past, these groups tended to be in separate workplaces, but now it is becoming more and more likely that all of us work under one roof.
Will this lead to higher productivity or irreparable conflict?
The answer to this question depends on management. If management is open to this type of diversity and supportive of each groups’ needs, then the potential conflict between groups will be minimized.
An employee’s work needs are entirely different than her beliefs. For example, if an employee requests time off for a specific religious event this is acceptable. If that same employee expresses her religious beliefs at work, this is unacceptable.
Consider some of each group’s dominant traits – are certain women in some of these groups shy and internal? Do they prefer male management? Do men in some of these groups prefer to work for males and insist that women serve as subordinates? Do some members of these groups prefer collaboration and some prefer autonomy? Do some group members rely on instinct to make decisions and others rely on data? Are some members of these groups more outspoken and domineering and others are likely to keep their opinions to themselves?
In addition, each societal group tends to emphasize different aspects of life such as social interactions, education, dedication to work, dedication to family, etc. Will this create conflict in the workplace?
One method to overcome these differences is to set clear expectations that all people will be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their beliefs or outward appearance. Further, there must be stated expectations that people remain private about their beliefs in the workplace. No one should ever promote their beliefs or religion in the workplace unless that workplace is devoted to that belief or religion (e.g., a church or religious school).
The clever manager will form teams that leverage the strengths of each type of person, ignoring their demographics. They will promote those strengths and teach every member of the team to respect those differences and the unique perspectives brought to the table.
Conflicts may arise as a result of these differences. The manager must redirect the conflict to task performance and the strengths each person brings to a successful outcome.
Remember that a team of diverse people has a much higher probability of selling their products and services to our diverse American society.
It was profound when an African American Female Human Resource Director recently stated that “diversity is no longer about African Americans in the workplace – it is about many more diverse people with many different demographics and backgrounds.”
When I began my career in the late 80s/early 90s, this HR Director would not have been selected for that position. Now, there is no doubt in her mind that she has the same opportunity as every other person in the workforce to obtain that job. She sees progress and she sees a new breadth of diversity that is perhaps even more challenging than what she, and others like her, faced.
This Week’s Prescription: Always remember to utilize the strengths of a diverse workforce to the company’s advantage.