What factors should be considered to properly manage workplace diversity?

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Answered by: Michael, An Expert in the Managing People Category
The modern American ethos has driven organizations to manage workplace diversity as a policy, if for no other reason than to avoid appearing insensitive to social mores. The past two centuries have seen the abolishment of slavery, the suffrage of women, and several waves of immigration, which have shaped much more than civil rights. They have also created one of the most genetically diverse populations in human history. For many business owners, managers, and investors, it is not uncommon to wonder just what the relationship between diversity and team success really is. Fortunately, research in the past several decades has provided insight into just how those two factors are related.Diversity’s Ugly Side

When diversity is implemented within an organizational system as a mandatory feature, this can have drastic effects on the early phases of Bruce Tuckman’s team development paradigm. Both forming and storming phases can have their inherent conflict and stress exacerbated by ethnocentric bias. Preexisting concepts of xenophobia can lead to the role of team members being minimized during forming and can lead to outright confrontation during storming. When these conflicts are not properly managed, they can ultimately lead to team inefficiency and loss of productivity.

Diversity as an AssetOnce team development has progressed into norming and performing, the benefits of diversity can potentially far outweigh any problems associated with it. Different ethnic, cultural, or economic backgrounds result in people having different problem solving strategies. In effect, this means that relative diversity is directly proportional to the likelihood of team success. For every new perspective that is added to a team, new innovation comes with it. Simply having been raised in a different environment can make solutions to problems simple for one person and insurmountable for another. It is for this reason that American managers are so widely consulted, even within markets outside of the continent.

Management and Diversity

Unfortunately, long before diversity and team success can develop a positive relationship, ethnocentrism can build power relationships within a team that reduces the net positive benefit of a mixed group. This is why it is imperative that diversity training be included in organizational policy and practice. It should be stressed that open-mindedness has much to do with effectiveness, and ignoring the input of a teammate can hurt everyone involved. A perfect example of strength in diversity is the global economic success story of the United States, which benefited greatly from the melting pot culture that helped form it.

Social theory has taught scientists and managers alike that people naturally form in- and out- groups, and the differences that inspire such a division can be founded in any human variation including sex, gender, accent, nationality, religion, or simply attractiveness. The conflict that is part of the early phases of team development is unavoidable. However, when in-fighting is properly managed, it can lead to the building of strong team bonds than would otherwise be difficult or possible. Most important of all is simply making sure that all staff are aware of the risk of ethnocentrism clouding their judgments, so they are able to recognize it and self-correct. Any organization that wants to stay competitive must, in this day and age, take measures to ensure they appropriately manage workplace diversity.

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