Every March, for the past three years, my sons’ school has hosted a multicultural festival. It’s a big celebration with a huge turnout. Families of different backgrounds and cultures fill the auditorium to exhibit food and customs from their native countries. It’s a great opportunity for learning, not only about the different cultures represented, but about the benefits of having an ethnically diverse community.
The same advantages can apply in a business setting:
- Different perspectives: People from different backgrounds bring their own unique cultural experiences to situations, in and out of the office.
- Greater creativity: When many different and diverse minds come together, more creative ideas and methods of solving problems are generated.
- Tolerance: Working together to achieve a common goal (such as planning a festival or meeting a deadline) unites people and leads to a more harmonious culture.
Diversity in the workplace certainly has its advantages. When people feel respected and their differences are welcomed rather than discouraged, they are better able to realize their full potential and make a meaningful contribution. And while it may not be practical for you to host a festival in your office, there are a few things you can do to encourage it:
Educate New Hires – Include diversity education in your employee onboarding process. Diversity training can help employees identify prejudices and cultural assumptions in their own minds, while teaching them skills to respectfully seek to understand people of other cultures. Diversity training can also teach employees effective communication skills and help them overcome language barriers.
Make Communication a Priority – Once properly trained, workers should be encouraged to engage in open dialogue with others to help gain a better understanding of their views and beliefs. Fear of the different is often what stands in the way of people working cooperatively with each other. By learning about each other’s cultures, chances are they’ll realize they have more things in common than not.
Lead by Example – Managers play an important role in setting the tone for inclusiveness in an organization. Value each individual’s opinions and make everyone feel comfortable sharing their points of view. Set an open-door policy to encourage employees to come to you to discuss any concerns so you can diffuse any potential conflicts before they become an issue.
Be Supportive and Inclusive – It’s important to recognize your employee’s religious needs to create a more productive workplace. The “Workplace Religious Freedom Act” seeks to clarify when employers must make religious accommodations for their employees. What are a few things you can do to address your employees’ needs? Consider adding a floating holiday (or two) that employees can use to satisfy religious duties without disrupting schedules, and include all holidays in office celebrations.
Celebrate Diversity – Having a culturally varied workplace has its benefits. Encourage workers to share aspects of their culture, rather than conceal them. Have a positive attitude toward diversity, and others will follow suit.
In retrospect, maybe having a festival isn’t such a bad idea after all.