A multicultural work force is one wherein a company’s employees include members of a variety of ethnic, racial, religious, and gender backgrounds.  Most of today’s business owners and corporate executives recognize that attention to the challenges and opportunities associated with the growing trend towards culturally diverse workforce can be a key factor in the overall business success. A combination of workforce demographic trends and increasing globalization of business has placed the management of cultural differences on the agenda of most corporate leaders.


Organizations’ workforces will be increasingly heterogeneous on dimensions such as gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Potential benefits of this diversity include better decision-making, higher creativity and innovation, greater successes in marketing to foreign and ethnic minority communities, and a better distribution of economic opportunity. Conversely, cultural differences can also increase costs through higher turnover rates, interpersonal conflict, and communication breakdowns. 

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

Setting a good example

This basic tool can be particularly valuable for 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. .


Training programs 

Training programs designed to engender appreciation and knowledge of the characteristics and benefits of the multicultural work forces have become ubiquitous in recent years. Two types of training are most popular: awareness and skill-building.  The former introduce 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 involves 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

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, ethnics, and religious groups. Business owners, managers and executives must recognize that differences between individuals cannot always be traced back to easily understood differences in cultural background. Do not assume that differences are always ‘cultural.’

There are several sources of difference.  Some relate to factors such as personality, aptitude or confidence. 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 and performance can be attributed to the fact that someone is ‘Nigerian’ or ‘Methodist’ 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 opinion and involvement of minority groups on important work committees, etc., is beneficial not only because of the contributions that they make, but also because such overtures confirm that they are valued by the company.  Serving on relevant committees and task forces can increase their feeling 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 system

An organization’s performance appraisal and reward systems reinforce the importance of effective diversity management. This includes assuring that minorities are provided with adequate opportunities for career development. 

Make room for social events 

Company-sponsored social events – picnics, 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

Flexible work environments could be 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 

In the absence of reliable information, there is a well-documented tendency for individuals to assume 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 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 should include research into employee needs through periodic attitude surveys.


Increased diversity presents challenges to business leaders who must maximize the opportunities that it presents while minimizing its costs. 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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Bernard Taiwo

I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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