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How Do We Train Managers to Welcome and Promote Diversity?

January 4, 2012

Dear Proceeding:

We presume your objective is not about creating a culturally diverse workforce, but rather how to manage one that already is diverse and becoming more so.

It's wise to anticipate the challenges you've identified. Managing those challenges with similar wisdom will go a long way toward leveraging the benefits of a diverse workforce, rather than allowing diversity tensions to become a distraction.

Some cautions: Managers whose plates are already pretty full may see a diversity "program" or "initiative" as a nonproductive drain on their time, energy and business focus. Some will see such efforts as political correctness in disguise. They might raise questions such as:

• What's in this for me?

• Does it add to my workload?

• How does it affect the success of the organization?

Don't introduce this as a program, but rather as a vital and growing element of the organization's fabric. Make it a way of life for your organization, and don't apologize for it.

The single best piece of advice we can offer is this: Address the above concerns with a strong focus on the business case for managing diversity well. Lots of diversity research has been conducted during the past 20 years or so. Most of it concludes that organizations that work well for a broad range of workers have better business outcomes than those whose environments work well only for a narrower demographic.

Further, it has been shown repeatedly that when managers understand the business rationale for anything they're asked to do, they'll support it much more than if they understand only the social or moral implications.

To that end, teach managers the following:

• The ability to lead and manage a diverse workforce will ultimately make your job easier and the organization more successful.

• Not everyone is like you nor do they aspire to be like you. Recognize this as a good thing.

• Treat people as individuals, not members of a cultural group with whom they might identify. Don't get worked up over what makes one group of employees different from another. Instead, listen, be attentive and lead, using what you learn.

• When it comes to rewards and recognition: One size does not fit all. One size fits one. Learn the reward and recognition preferences of each team member, regardless of cultural identity. That capitalizes on the motivational power of recognition.

• Some cultural differences matter a great deal in the workplace while others do not. Learn the difference.

• One thing that does matter is how people from various cultures socialize at work. Let them socialize as they like, providing it doesn't interfere with the work or unit cohesiveness.

• Link the diversity of your workforce to the diversity in your markets and of your networks around the world. This is especially important for multinational organizations or those with international customers or suppliers.

• Call people by the name by which they like to be addressed. As a rule, don't shorten or modify names to fit the dominant culture or to make them easier to remember or pronounce.

Ignoring cultural differences is folly, as is overblowing them. At the most fundamental level, most people share a universal set of motivators. Among them are:

• Being treated as a professional, with respect and consideration.

• Having a clear sense of purpose and direction.

• Understanding how their work touches customers and contributes to the success of the enterprise.

• Expressions of appreciation.

Focus on these elements and your managers will find it rewarding and relatively easy to lead an increasingly diverse workforce.

SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, Contented Cow Partners, Memphis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, contentedcows.com

LEARN MORE: Five of the best practices on diversity training are discussed.

Workforce Management Online, January 2012 -- Register Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.