Advancement in technology and thriving global trade has led to a modern breed of international workers.
The workplace environment has also become more diverse than ever as people continue to do cross-border business.
These trends and others pose new challenges for the business leader who needs to lead a unified team striving towards the same corporate goals.
A recent study on managing diversity and bridging communication gaps, conducted by the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) in September 2008, revealed that a majority of workers (77 percent out of 272 participants) in Singapore feel that their organizations' leaders are not able to motivate and enable staff to achieve both individual and corporate goals.
The lessons learned there are very applicable to the US workplace.
How can these managers become more effective? Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a provider of Multilingual Communication services, shares that in today's diverse workplace, effective corporate managers and leaders need to be able to command respect and motivate a multicultural team, and to separate the truths from the myths.
Workplace diversity refers to differences among people working in an organization. Besides the usual race, ethnic group, age and gender differences; workers also come with different religion, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organisational function and educational background. If diversity in the workplace is well-managed, workers with varying backgrounds can bring different skill sets and experiences to their tasks.
Diverse teams can empower organisations and help them gain competitive advantage. In the SHRI report, there are many myths that surround diversity. Corporate leaders should bust these myths and encourage their employees to embrace diversity, so that they can utilise the advantages diversity provides.
Myth 1: Diversity is divisive.
Reality Check: Diversity can bring about harmony to the company's environment if communicated properly. It will help to promote unity, bringing employees together for common goals.
Myth 2: There is a single business case study for diversity.
Reality Check: Each company has its own case study. Every situation is unique and requires its own analysis and custom implementations/solution. This is due to the differing cultures of the various races or countries. Gender may also play a part.
Myth 3: The hardest part about creating a diverse workforce is recruiting.
Reality Check: The hardest part about creating a diverse workforce is retention. This is especially so when managing the increasing number of Generation Y employees. Contrary to popular belief, monetary benefits are not the key to retaining employees. Benefits like networking sessions and sharing sessions that make employees feel supported and valued are the ones that are contributing to high retention rates.
Myth 4: Diversity requires lowering standards.
Reality Check: Diversity brings out the best performance in everyone. Despite the assumption that employees of minority races are of lower calibre and are inferior performers, if it is managed properly, the same productivity as a homogeneous workforce can be achieved without compromising on the standards.
Myth 5: If the CEO is onboard, diversity will succeed.
Reality Check: If the rest of the senior management is not as committed, diversity will fail. Yes, commitment to diversity and inclusion practices starts right at the top, but it should be spread to all levels in order for it to become part of an organisation's culture. Everyone must feel the ownership and accountability in order for diversity to
Good Leadership Behaviors
High performance leaders practise what human resource practitioners call 'good leadership behaviors'. Successful leadership in a diverse workplace requires that managers continue to practise good leadership behaviors with all contributors under his charge, and not just with employees he is most comfortable with.
Diversity consultant and author of The Diversity Advantage: A Guide to Making Diversity Work, Lenora Billings-Harris once interviewed hundreds of corporate leaders to find out what makes a good corporate manager or leader. She asked them to think of the one manager/leader that they had worked with who motivated them. They were then asked to describe what attributes, characteristics or work habits this person has that made an impression.
Lenora found that the successful manager/leader:
* is fair and respectful towards others
* had high personal standards
* believed in one's abilities and potential
* helped one believe in oneself
* encouraged and stretched one's abilities and potential
* led by example
* mentored and coached
* asked for and appreciated different points of view
* criticised objectively
* had integrity, was honourable
* helped one solve one's problems
* had a vision
* developed a trusting environment
Successful corporate managers and leaders are able to embrace diversity effectively and practise leadership behaviors with all contributing members of their team at all times. They must be able to lead no matter how different a team member is from him or her, and no matter how uncomfortable he or she is with that member's differences.