Since globalization and multiculturalism have become synonymous aspects of the global market place companies tend to respond to the diverse consumer and cultural demographics to which they sell their products and services to stay relevant.
A company that limits itself in terms of diverse employee demographics runs the risk of being unable to understand the quirks and cultural norms in specific ethnic and racial markets resulting in the creation of an ill-equipped marketing and sales strategy which very likely will result in adverse consequences for the company in terms of the number of products sold and the degree of market penetration.
Taking such factors into consideration, most modern-day companies attempt a certain degree of racial, gender and cultural diversity in the employees they hire. This enables the creation of unique product concepts, sales strategies and marketing mixes based on the views and backgrounds of this diversified workforce.
Other benefits derived from workplace diversity come in the form of higher employee retention due to a company culture that supports equality and racial acceptance rather than discrimination and divisiveness.
It is also noted that multiethnic and multi-gender companies tended to have higher rates of productivity due to greater employee satisfaction over the company’s policies which results in better overall profits for the company due to increased productivity. On the other hand, it cannot be stated that the implementation of a racial, cultural and gender diverse workforce will automatically result in better company performance.
As Thomas and Woodruff (1999) states there must be a distinct benefit derived from the implementation of a diverse workforce otherwise it doesn’t make sense for a company to implement a hiring strategy that attempts to gain a breadth of experience from having multiple genders, cultures and ethnicities when it doesn’t need nor even utilize the benefits such employees could have on company operations (Thomas & Woodruff, 1999).
In fact it is even argued by Ilmakunnas & Ilmakunnas (2011) that various laws and regulations mandated by the U.S. Federal law that prohibits preferential hiring practices to a particular race, ethnicity or gender is actually detrimental to the standard operations of a specific company or firm since at times a diverse workforce is not what it needs in order to properly conduct business (Ilmakunnas & Ilmakunnas, 2011).
Focusing on the arguments of Ilmakunnas & Ilmakunnas (2011) it can be stated that while it may be true that a diverse workforce is oftentimes needed in order to generate new ideas and concepts for sales and marketing, it cannot really be said that it is a requirement for all companies.
An examination of various enterprises located in regions such as Europe and Asia reveal that some companies are able to operate perfectly fine with a non-diversified workforce and are even able to excel in their respective target markets.
This can be seen in the case of Japan and China, where a majority of workplaces are predominantly Japanese males with few females and other racial ethnicities in their respective work environments.
It must be questioned whether workplace diversity should be considered an option for companies or should it be considered a business requirement in an era of integrating financial markets where a diversified workforce enables the creation of unique strategies and points of view?
Examining the Case of Diversified Workplaces in the U.S.
First and foremost, what must be understood is that at times diversified workforces are actually a requirement in order to meet a certain need. For example, AT& T is currently the second-largest mobile service provider within the U.S. servicing millions of customers on a daily basis.
Due to the rising proportion of Spanish speaking individuals within the country this has necessitated a certain degree of workplace diversity within the company due to the need to address the fact that some individuals would prefer speaking Spanish rather than English. Evidence of this can be seen in the Spanish representative options when talking to AT& T customer service.
This is one case where workplace diversity is a requirement yet it cannot really be said that in all cases a diversified workforce becomes a necessity.
For example, when it comes to factory workers assembling cars, constructing electronics or a variety of other forms of manual labor workplace diversity isn’t really a necessity since gender, ethnicity and culture don’t really impacts how a person constructs a car or device that they were trained to do.
In fact workplace diversity in this particular case can actually be considered detrimental due to the fact that language and cultural barriers do occur when hiring people of Latin American, Mexican or other non-English speaking ethnicities resulting in problems in regards to communication, employee relations as well as other forms of barriers that result in problems in regards to creating a conducive work environment for efficient operations.
It must also be noted that though rarely there are instances where people originating from different ethnicities cannot properly work together due to racial tensions.
This was actually seen in various parts of Arizona and Texas wherein racial tensions between ethnic Mexicans and Caucasians escalated to outright racial discrimination due to the perception that people of Latin American heritage entered the country illegally and were a drain on the country’s resources.
Based on the examples presented it must be questioned whether outside of workplace diversity being a requirement due to the line of business a particular company is in, would it actually be implemented if there were no federally mandated laws enforcing workplace diversity within the U.S.?
One attempt at answering this question comes in the form of arguments utilizing the psychological term “Speciesism” which is based on the belief that the group or a particular individual belongs to, is inherently superior to all other groups.
This is more commonly known as the belief in gender and racial superiority and as argued by Luzadis, Wesolowski & Snavely (2008) can be seen in hiring practices more often than one would think (Luzadis, Wesolowski & Snavely, 2008).
It is also argued by Luzadis, Wesolowski & Snavely (2008) that what limits behaviors related to hiring practices according to perceived gender and racial superiority is federally mandated laws, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as well as the perceived need for the skills of that particular individual (Luzadis, Wesolowski & Snavely, 2008).
Another way of looking at this is based on the views of Yang & Konrad (2011) who examined workplace diversities and its effects on company performance, “in the case of the U.S. where there is a high degree of multiculturalism it is often the case that companies acquire a diversified workforce whether intentional or not, yet what must be understood is that as companies attempt to expand into new markets it becomes necessary to expand the diversity of workforces as well since the U.S. unlike other countries is so culturally and ethnically diverse that to not do so would severely limit market penetration especially in areas with differing ethnicities and cultures” (Yang & Konrad, 2011).
This particular view does show that workplace diversity is inherently a necessary aspect for companies targeting consumer markets that are ethnically and culturally diverse and as such it reveals that it is more of a necessity rather than an option when it comes to ensuring that a company continues to thrive and succeed especially in the current economic downturn which has resulted in the need for strategies involving diversifying marketing strategies to penetrate new consumer markets.
Challenges of Workplace Diversity
One of the inherent challenges in implementing sufficient workplace diversity is in creating sufficient channels of communication within an organization.
While it is already a well-known fact that channels of communication are one of the cornerstones of any successful business what must be understood is that when it comes to having a diverse workplace environment, it entails the use of added practices so as to sufficiently relay messages across different ethnicities and cultures.
What must be understood is that people from different cultures and ethnicities tend to perceive messages in many different ways due to the unique quirks of their method of understanding. Some messages may be interpreted as insulting and vice-versa and as such, it is essential to implement methods of communication that take this into consideration so as to reduce possible misinterpretations of what is being said.
Another challenge to take into consideration are factors related to cultural bias and prejudice that affect the ability of workers to work harmoniously at their respective jobs. As mentioned earlier in the case involving Mexicans and Caucasians within Arizona and Texas there was a certain degree of cultural bias as well as prejudice resulting in work-related conflict as well as instances of intentional discrimination resulting in not only substantial reductions in performance but the loss of certain operational capacities as workers from both sides left in favor of being in a less conflict-ridden environment.
Companies that want to be able to take advantage of a diversified work environment need to implement measures to reduce cultural bias and prejudice. This can come in the form of team-building exercises; company sponsored behavioral training or even joint vacations, all of which should help necessitate proper communication and collaboration between members of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
One interesting aspect related to promoting workplace diversity, as indicated by Alessandra and Hunsaker (2008) comes in the form of promotions and rewards that honor diversity (Alessandra and Hunsaker, 2008).
They note that at times promoting workplace diversity through the use of promotions and rewards can actually cause negative feedback within workplace environments from white males due to them feeling “cheated” as direct result of company practices that promote diversity in the workplace.
The reason behind this is connected to the fact that seniority usually plays a large role in promotions and rewards within a company and as such, it is often the case that some individuals feel “entitled” towards receiving their fair share of acclaim based on their time with the company (Alessandra and Hunsaker, 2008).
Addressing this particular issue is a particularly difficult challenge for managers since not only do they have to balance prerogatives in promoting workplace diversity, but they also need to ensure that the majority within a workplace stays happy as well. Mishandling of this particular type of situation may resulting in one group feeling alienated which would could adverse reactions within workplace environments,
The final challenge that companies should take into consideration is the concept of corporate assimilation and how this affects an individual’s productivity.
As noted by Reio Jr. & Sutton (2006)assimilation is a way in which a worker is negatively affected by an organization’s business and corporate culture wherein they are unable to sufficiently express themselves utilizing their ethnic and cultural backgrounds due to constraining rules and regulations at their work environment (Reio Jr. & Sutton, 2006).
Alessandra and Hunsaker (2008) support this argument by showing how the historical approach to dealing with employee diversity has been to expect minority groups within organizations to adapt to an organizations dominant culture however as seen in the case examples they provide it is evident that such strategies don’t work due to many members of the minority feeling constrained, restricted and otherwise gagged resulting in lower employee performance higher churn rates within companies (Alessandra and Hunsaker, 2008).
Based on the views of Alessandra and Hunsaker (2008) it can be stated that “managers must understand how cultural diversity affects the expectations and behavior of everyone in the organization” as such it cannot be expected that everyone within the company will act in the same manner or can be managed in the same way (Alessandra and Hunsaker, 2008).
Taking this into consideration companies need to implement new business culture practices that enable people to express themselves based on their cultural and ethnic background so as to encourage positive employee productivity rather than negative employee performance results as a direct result of constraining factors on their ability to express themselves.
Benefits of Workplace Diversity
With the recent financial recession affecting not only the U.S. economy but the global economy as well, this necessitates the need for creativity and innovation in being able to access new markets in order to sell particular products and services.
As mentioned earlier workplace diversity actually enables a company to utilize a pool of individuals that come from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities in order to access their unique views and skills.
What must be understood is that regular marketing and sale strategies that have been implemented for the company’s original market may not be as effective when applied to new markets and as such this calls for views and opinions of people that either belong to that particular consumer segment or understand it to an extent in order to implement sufficient strategies for sales and market penetration.
One example of a failure of proper marketing was seen in the strategy of Coca Cola when it tried to enter Chinese market. Their marketing campaign consisted of merely translating their slogan of “We bring you to life” into Chinese and using that in their marketing and print ads.
Unfortunately, its translation wound up as “we bring your dead relatives to life” and as such wound up costing the company millions in changes to its original slogan. Another example of failures in marketing and sales came when Gerber expanded into Africa and did not take into account the predilections of local companies to place a picture of what was inside a product on a product label due to many Africans not knowing how to read.
This, of course, resulted in a rather embarrassing recall by Gerber due to Africans perceiving each product by Gerber as containing babies.
It is this and quite literally hundreds of other examples that show how having a diversified workplace with multiple viewpoints and different levels of understanding are essential for any company.
A diverse workplace enables better methods of problem-solving, allows the company to successfully market itself to different consumer groups, helps to promote innovation and furthermore creates an excellent corporate image due to its practice of creating a multicultural and multiethnic workforce.
Alessandra, T., & Hunsaker, P. (2008). The new art of managing people. New York: Free Press.
Ilmakunnas, P., & Ilmakunnas, S. (2011). Diversity at the workplace: whom does it benefit?. De Economist (0013-063X), 159(2), 223-255.
Luzadis, R., Wesolowski, M., & Snavely, B. (2008). Understanding criterion choice in hiring decisions from a prescriptive gender bias perspective. Journal of Managerial Issues, 20(4), 468-484. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Reio Jr., T. G., & Sutton, F. C. (2006). Employer assessment of work-related competencies and workplace adaptation. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 17(3), 305-324. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Thomas, R., & Woodruff, M. I. (1999). Building a house for diversity: How a fable about a giraffe & elephant offers new strategies for today’s workforce. AMACOM Books. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Yang, Y., & Konrad, A. M. (2011). Understanding diversity management practices: implications of institutional theory and resource-based theory. Group & Organization Management, 36(1), 6-38.