Managing a Multicultural Workplace

United Nations emblemWith today’s global economy and the growing ethnic and racial diversity found throughout the country, multicultural workplaces are becoming the norm for many employers. Diversity in the workplace can create a positive, dynamic working environment for all employees. But, it can also present unique challenges such as language barriers, cultural differences, and discomfort among minority groups. With a proactive, creative approach, these issues can be managed to the benefit of all employees.

Understand Your Culture: In order to ensure that your workplace is a welcoming environment for all employees, you need to keep an open mind, learn about your employees, and avoid over-generalizing.

  • Recognize diversity. When gathering information about the ethnic and cultural makeup of their organization, many employers are surprised to learn the number of identifiable culture groups and subgroups within their company.
  • Learn about your employees. Research the various ethnicities represented in your company to gain a better understanding of the cultures with which your employees may identify.
  • Don’t generalize. While it is true that certain characteristics or preferences can be common among a gender, ethnic or racial group, you should never assume that all employees of one “group” feel the same. It is important to learn about broad cultural differences, but always think of employees as individuals with unique feelings and needs.

Improve Your Communications: Employers often make mistakes when communicating with bilingual employees without even realizing it. You may assume that since your workers have an English vocabulary sufficient for them to function on a daily basis that communicating everything in English is adequate. However, for many workers, English is a second language and they still feel more comfortable communicating in their native tongue. This is especially true when it comes to safety rules, company policies, HR forms and other essential and/or confusing information.

Multiculture labor posterOne way to solve this problem is to use bilingual forms of communication (whether written or spoken) when providing health and safety information to your bilingual employees. Also, be sure to post federal and state compliance posters in the language in which your employees are fluent. Many of federal posters can be downloaded for free in multiple languages by visiting the Department of Labor’s website.

Encourage Acceptance: Just as important as the relationship between and your employees is the relationship employees have with each other. When companies shift from a mostly homogeneous workforce to a more diverse one, some employees struggle with the change. This may be due to underlying prejudices, discomfort or unfamiliarity with other ethnic groups, or displeasure with changing policies and procedures. In order for everyone to have a comfortable and pleasant working environment, you need to address these issues.

multiculture handshakeCreate company-wide nondiscriminatory policies, and distribute them to all employees. It should be emphasized that the company is committed to a diverse, inclusive workforce, and that any sort of prejudiced or discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated. You may also want to implement mentoring or shadowing programs, to help new employees feel welcome and help all employees feel comfortable with others in the workplace.

Also consider implementing diversity training or learning seminars for all employees, to introduce them to other cultures. Open or semi-directed dialogues among employees can also be useful for breaking down barriers, fostering respect and understanding, and helping employees feel comfortable despite their differences. Planning company social events, including picnics, outings, parties and clubs, can also be beneficial in bringing employees together and providing laid-back opportunities to get to know each other.

Train Your Managers and Supervisors: Managers and supervisors should be trained on communicating effectively with workers of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Not only do they play an important role in verbally communicating information, but some of their non-verbal actions can also have a big impact.

Managers should be careful to always have the same attitude toward all employees, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. Any difference in mood or attitude, whether real or perceived, can make a minority group feel isolated or unimportant. This is even more of a risk if a minority employee needs extra help or is confused by something – the manager must be careful not to seem irritated or impatient. Such a situation causes a few problems. In the future, non-English speaking employees may be afraid to ask safety questions out of fear of further agitating an impatient or already aggravated supervisor. Plus, the company becomes vulnerable for a discrimination lawsuit, if the employee feels he/she is being treated differently because of their minority status.

Managers and supervisors should keep these tips in mind:multicultural globe

  1. Treat all employees equally, despite any language barriers.
  2. Don’t make patronizing comments about a specific group of employees, even if you think they are complimentary. Not only will this insult the employees those comments are aimed at, but it can also open the door to discrimination lawsuits.
  3. Don’t over-compensate any specific group of employees. Extra money will not remedy communication barriers. In fact, it is a discriminatory practice that will ultimately alienate other members of the workforce.
  4. Be patient with workers who may have a hard time understanding the English language or who struggle to adapt to certain communication methods or working styles.

Mind Your Hiring Practices: If you are the leader of an organization with a diverse workforce, you might consider hiring managers with multicultural management expertise and recruiting employees that have also had exposure to multicultural work settings.

Keep It Simple: While there are many resources available that can help employers develop, promote and value a multi-ethnic, multicultural workforce, it really all comes down to four simple actions. By encouraging the following, you will be well on your way to creating a more welcoming environment for all of your employees:

  1. Work to understand all your employees and their unique needs, so that the workplace is comfortable and accessible for everyone.
  2. Promote open and honest communication within the company between employers and employees.
  3. Encourage acceptance and respect among all employees.
  4. Establish a commitment from top management to promote and support diversity and equal opportunity as a core value of the organization.

multicultural earthIf you have questions about anti-discrimination laws, managing diversity, or if you need help with training, drop us an email at hrhelpline@eastcoastrm.com.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this web site is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Use of and access to this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship between East Coast Risk Management or our employment attorney and the user or browser.

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