Inclusion doesn’t just happen with cultural diversity
Is the hype around having a more diverse and inclusive workplace justified?
Many organisations nationwide are trying to harness diversity and inclusion. Does it actually contribute to a stronger economy, better organisational performance, and significant financial impact? What does the evidence say about the strengths and areas for considerations in driving for a more inclusive and culturally diverse workplace?
Unfortunately, inclusion doesn’t just happen
While metrics around gender, ethnicity, age, and cultural background are good indicators of diversity, they will not guarantee an inclusive culture. So whether you are charting the path for diversity and inclusion in your workplace or bringing in new talent from overseas, it’s important to really understand how to build an inclusive culture that can leverage your organisation’s cultural diversity.
Let’s get on the same page
Diversity relates to the range of qualities by which humans can differ. These can be split into two broad types of diversity.
- ‘Surface’ level attributes may include things like height, skin colour, sex, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
- On the other hand, ‘deep level’ attributes may include cognitive thinking style, attitudes, beliefs or values.
Inclusion relates to being included in, or made part of, a group or initiative. Within organisations, it may look like all individuals feel comfortable to raise ideas and suggestions at meetings. Inclusion can be increased by building and developing a sense of belonging and appreciation of all individuals. Ultimately, it involves giving equal access to opportunities and reducing discrimination based on attributes not relevant to desired outcomes.
As the popular phrase goes, if diversity is being invited to a ball, inclusion is being asked to dance.
Broadly, cultural diversity has been promoted as leading to positive team outcomes such as:
- Better decision-making
- Growing market share
- Capturing new markets
- Attracting and retaining diverse employees
- Targeting unmet needs in under-leveraged markets
The challenges of cultural diversity
A review of the impact of cultural diversity by Stahl and colleagues (2009), found that cultural diversity can lead to performance gains in teams, based on increased satisfaction and creativity. However, cultural diversity can also lead to performance losses via unproductive conflict and decreased social cohesion.
When people come from a different cultural background, they are likely to use different terminology and approach problems in different ways. While these different approaches can help develop innovative solutions to complex problems, differences in terminology usage and ways of working are likely to highlight the differences between people.
In diverse teams, these highlighted differences can act as barriers to group performance. Our human tendency to develop in-and-out-groups can lead to an unproductive “us vs them” dynamic between people, which can be quite threatening. When people feel threatened, their natural emotional reaction serves to reinforce this polarisation. The time and energy taken to resolve this reaction ultimately reduces overall performance.
The research suggests that negative results can emerge if organisations are not setting the appropriate systems and processes in place and fostering inclusion and psychological safety.
The next steps for organisations
The question then becomes how to maximise the gains and minimise the losses for optimal team and organisational performance.
Luckily, there are some tangible steps we can take to enable ourselves and others to strengthen the impact of cultural diversity in the workplace:
- Explore the features of diversity & inclusion that actually facilitate positive outcomes to utilise these opportunities in having a culturally diverse workforce.
- Understand the evidence that points toward the most appropriate contexts to form (culturally) diverse teams to minimise the risk of neutral, of even negative, consequences of diversity & inclusion initiatives.
- Educate team leaders to recognise the cues of unproductive conflict and strengthen their ability to guide this toward more constructive conflict.
- Build awareness in individuals of the diverse attitudes, beliefs and values that exist in their team, leveraging this intelligence to implement shared goals and stronger understanding across their organisation.
- Review systems and practices to determine which cognitive biases may be driving negative behaviours in the workplace and use techniques to prevent or challenge them in the moment.
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It is crucial to acknowledge the benefit cultural diversity for Australian business and build an inclusive culture to effectively leverage it.
Mapien’s team of workplace strategists, including behavioural scientists and organisational psychologists are well equipped to assist you in developing evidence based diversity & inclusion initiatives, as well as making the most of international talent.
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Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, & Jonsen (2009). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups, Journal of International Business Studies, 41(4), 690-709, doi: 10.1057/jibs.2009.85