How to Manage Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

cultural diversity in the workplace

One of the realities of working in a corporate setting, especially a large one is the opportunity to meet individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds who are all in a race to achieve a common goal. While this is a benefit, it also poses challenges to how employees interact with each other in the organization. The impact of cultural diversity in the workplace affects all organizations, both the local ones in terms of ethnic/tribal diversity and large multinationals in terms of racial and or ethnic/tribal diversity. The world has been tagged a “Global village” and the implication of this is that more than ever before, more individuals from across the world will keep collaborating to achieve a common goal.

In light of the above information, the need to manage cultural diversity is a major skill that any organisation which seeks to thrive in the dynamic business environment we find ourselves must imbibe. This article considers how employers and employees can maximize the potential inherent in cultural diversity and how it can be effectively managed in the workplace in order to create an inclusive and harmonious work atmosphere.

Understanding cultural diversity

Culture has been defined as the total way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

Cultural diversity majorly involves all the numerous differences that individuals from different cultural orientations bring to the workplace, including their backgrounds, beliefs, values and traditions. As organizations expand across borders and individuals migrate for opportunities, workplaces become microcosms of the world’s cultures. The end goal of managing cultural diversity is not necessarily to celebrate differences but to leverage the diversity for the collective growth of the employees and the organisation at large.

Benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace

It is not unusual to have teams with Smith from the United Kingdom, Lethabo from South Africa, Ronaldo from Brazil and Mohammed from UAE. Also, in multi-ethnic countries such as Nigeria, The United States and South Africa, it is common to have individuals from different ethnic groups teaming up in an organisation to achieve a common goal.

One of the benefits that come from this union is the high prospect of creativity and innovation. Different people perceive issues from different perspectives and this ensures that the combination of diverse ideas, opinions and beliefs could act as a catalyst for creativity and innovation that leads to unconventional solutions and fresh ideas in an organisation.

It is also important to note that an organisation can leverage its cultural diversity to understand the preferences and idiosyncrasies of its customer base. A team that is made of employees with a wide range of cultural insights will have more opportunities to understand and cater to the needs of its multicultural customer base. This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also opens the doors to the penetration of new markets.

Challenges in managing workplace cultural diversity

Communication gap is usually one of the major challenges faced in an organisation seeks to manage its cultural diversity. It should be noted that communication is not only limited to the language barrier, although that is also important. However, different cultures have diverse styles of communication, nonverbal cues and body language interpretation. There are also proverbial sayings, word usages and slang that are generally acceptable in some cultures but not allowed in other places.

The issue of unconscious bias and stereotyping are also some of the challenges that multicultural organisations usually have to contend with. Unconscious bias can be defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments made in favour of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. It has also been referred to as the social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Such biases affect the relationship between employees in an organisation as there is a preconceived mindset that affects the interaction with people from other cultural backgrounds, usually based on past experience or unfounded claims.


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How to manage cultural diversity

1. Promoting inclusive communication

It was mentioned earlier that the gap in communication is one of the major challenges faced in culturally diverse teams. One of the major ways of managing this challenge is by putting in place a workplace culture that accommodates different communication styles within the team. This gap is majorly bridged by creating an atmosphere where members of the team are able to ask questions and seek clarifications in a bid to ensure that the listener receives the message that is being communicated. The use of open dialogue should also be encouraged in the team in order to ensure that everyone is carried along.

cultural diversity

 2. Understanding cultural sensitivity and awareness

Cultural sensitivity speaks to the need for all team members to the aware of and consciously conduct themselves in a respectful manner towards people from different backgrounds. This takes into account treating people based on what is acceptable in their own culture and not yours.

The strategies that could be adopted to develop this include seminars, training, workshops and in some cases, cultural exchange sessions. The opportunity to learn about other cultures often help individuals get rid of certain stereotypes and unconscious bias that underlies their actions.

3. Implementation of diversity and inclusion policies

The essence of this policy is to promote a welcoming, diverse, discrimination and harassment-free workplace. Putting in place a formal policy helps the organisation to not only inform the team members but also to effectively monitor compliance with the policies. The policies typically include rules that provide for equality in the process of recruitment, promotion, training and retrenchment. The benefit of this is that a good policy will help an organisation to attract and retain talents from different cultural backgrounds.

4.  Celebrating diversity

Is there a better way for team members to understand their diversities apart from the celebration of diversities? This act has been shown to help individuals understand and embrace the richness of other cultures. This could be done by celebrating cultural festivals, cultural days and sharing traditional cuisine that creates a sense of belonging and also educates team members about


The article has shown that embracing cultural diversity is an important factor for any organisation that intends to succeed in our highly interconnected world. The increasing migration of talents across the world due to globalisation and the quest for greener pastures has made cultural integration more seamless across the world. The article also mentioned few points that could be adopted by employers and employees alike to address the pressing issue of cultural diversity in the workplace.

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