Building a Multicultural Organization
A multicultural organization is one that has a workforce which includes people from diverse backgrounds across all departments, and which offers them equal opportunity for input and advancement within the company.
A multicultural organization also possesses an absence of discrimination or prejudice towards people of based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or physical limitation. In a multicultural organization, skill, talent, and performance are the criteria for meritocratic advancement.
A multicultural organization recognizes that the contributions of its employees include perspectives based on culture, gender, and other unique characteristics.
Few companies in our times want to make their products or services available only to one narrow slice of the population. A multicultural workforce helps them create products that meet the needs and expectations of a broader population.
An emphasis on diversity also may attract a better talent pool. In a survey by Glassdoor.com, fully 67% of job-seekers said that a diverse workforce was an important factor in their decision to accept or reject a job offer.
Moreover, a multicultural workforce is seen as essential for any business considering going global. “As national politics and discourse seem to grow more inward-looking and divisive across America and Europe, successful businesses must continue to think inclusively and globally,” notes a blog for Hult International Business School. “Embracing cultural diversity in the workplace is an important first step for businesses that want to be competitive on an international scale.”
Building a Multicultural Organization
- Make multicultural management a strategic focus. Value the contributions of employees from all parts of your company and from different cultural backgrounds. To establish a welcoming and supportive work environment, senior management should set the tone by making it clear to managers and employees that the company will not tolerate insensitive comments or discrimination of any kind.
- Use focus groups, surveys and one-on-one discussions to determine how effectively employees and managers can function in a multicultural setting.
- Develop strategic and operational plans to correct the identified gaps. For example, if the middle and top management ranks do not have sufficient experience in managing multicultural teams, consider making changes to your in-house leadership development programs. Global companies should not be importing managers from their headquarters to fill overseas management positions, except on a transitional basis.
- Foster an environment of multicultural understanding. This includes respecting and accommodating the cultural differences in your company. For example, a development team in India may need certain days off during the year for religious celebrations. Publish tips on your internal website that employees can use as references for planning purposes.
- Create opportunities for culturally diverse groups to work together. For example, if you have one partnership with a manufacturing company in Mexico and another with a product design facility in Europe, bring key employees from these companies together in process improvement teams or new product development groups.
- Implement cultural diversity training programs. In addition to discussing myths and stereotypes that can prevent multicultural groups from working together effectively, the training programs should increase your employees’ ability to understand cultural differences and communicate effectively across these differences.
- Train your employees to look for nonverbal communication signals when working in a multicultural environment. For example, silence could indicate agreement in some cultures and disagreement or disapproval in others. Self-promotion may be acceptable and even expected in North America, but not necessarily in certain parts of Asia. You may have to set aside funds for translation facilities, especially when negotiating agreements or collaborating on development projects.
- Recognize differences in decision-making processes. For example, the chief executive officer of a family-held company in India may sign a partnership agreement, but the actual approval might involve several family members. When it comes to negotiations, executives from some cultures may prefer working on the specifics, while others may prefer to work on a broad framework and fill in the details later.