Can’t we all just get along? Embracing diversity in the workplace

Although traditionally HR has been told to ignore the differences in the workplace and emphasise what makes us the same, becoming a truly multicultural organisation might be the better option, experts say.

Can’t we all just get along? Embracing diversity in the workplace

Multiculturalism is a hallmark of Australia and its workforce. With many Australians coming from diverse backgrounds, the ‘bi-cultural’ worker is a key factor in Australia.

However, organisations are failing to take advantage of cultural diversity.

Commonly, the strategy in dealing with diversity in the workplace is to ignore cultural differences and to focus in on what makes everyone the same – this is an effective tool to help avoid discrimination, but may damage organisations in the long run.

“We all have our own values and beliefs that impact the way we like to work,” Kees Hoefsloot, partner at Culture Resource Centre, explained.

As just one example, Hoefsloot stated that many cultures viewed responsibility for decision-making and accountability of tasks performed differently. Some may view the output of a task the responsibility of the professional who executed it, while others see it as the responsibility of the manager who delegated it.

This is a pitfall many organisations fall into, as the issue is often overlooked.

“You can split it up: it’s the ‘what’ and the ‘how’,” Joost Thissen, partner with Culture Resource Centre, said. “Where we come in is much more in the ‘how’ – how do these tasks need to be delegated and managed? That is an important part of culture; looking into how things need to be done.”

This can prove a problem for HR considering the need to establish consistent policies that encompass the organisation. However, the answer can be found in getting back to the basics of communication and mediation.

“What HR needs to do is to be able to sit with the different teams and say ‘okay, how can we find a solution for the two preferences for where the responsibility lies?’ … HR should have the competences to facilitate the discussion,” Hoefsloot said.

“The solution that will come from reconciliation is a solution probably nobody else has come up with, and that will really deliver quality high performance,” he added.


Key HR takeaways

The process of building a strong workplace policy and environment that supports multiculturalism can be difficult. Culture Resource Centre outlined a number of steps HR can take to help reach a satisfactory conclusion for all parties:

  • Map the differences: This will help to enhance the understanding of where each side is coming from.
  • Bridge and communicate: This is to ensure full understanding of the differences each side is facing, and help clear up any confusion. You may find the differences are more minor than you thought.
  • Integrate: Now that the team is knowledgeable of the differences, help them identify and define the pros and cons of both sides. Break it down to organisational advantages and pitfalls, essentially.
  • Strategies: Now look at whether this calls for accommodation of different perspectives, compromise between them, or even in some cases a level of cultural dominance, all the while keeping in mind the need for strategic synergy.
  • Reconciliation: Now generate operating guidelines, practices, and action points to help make sure the new policies are effectively rolled-out.

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