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Addressing cultural diversity: The leadership challenge

by Katia Alegre

College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University LDR 1203: Assess & Build Leadership Cap.

INTRODUCTION

Change, which is a fact constant in mostly organizations, challenges managers to be creative and flexible when it comes to leading employees. One of the most important changes these days is the diversity of many work groups in the U.S. creating potential benefits and challenges for their leaders. No doubts, diversity in the workforce is becoming an organizational reality and is proportional to our expanded global economy. According U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a significant number of the new entrants to the workforce today are African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans, people that once were considered minority of the population. This statistic highlights the fact that the U.S. population is becoming more diverse and that to remain competitive in todays world companies need to embrace diversity as a strategic initiative. Hence, organization success and competitiveness depend on the ability of leaders to manage cultural diversity in the workplace effectively. Thus, addressing possible issues associated with increasing diversity is important in the expanding global marketplace.

BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Leaders in public and private organizations are searching for and experimenting with various approaches to more effectively deal with increasing workforce diversity. Therefore, identifying the roots of diversity in the U.S. seems to be an important step to understand the benefits of diversity and to learn how to well manage this challenge.

There are two points of view about the cultural integration of the diverse population of the United States according Ivancevich JM and Gilbert JA. One view is referred to "melting pot," the idea that societies formed by immigrant cultures, religions, end ethnic groups, will produce new hybrid social and cultural forms. The other view is designated as the "multicultural society" and suggests those of different ethnic groups should retain their cultural patterns and coexist with each other. The melting pot term fitted well to the first immigrants that arrived in the U.S. centuries ago and built the Americans culture the frontiers. While today, the multicultural society seems to be the term that better represents the cultural integration facing the nation. As result, the management of diversity can be considered a response to the need to recognize, respect and capitalize on the different backgrounds in our society in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

PURPOSE OF THE SUTDY

Since managing diversity represent a significant organizational challenge, managers must learn the managerial skills needed in a multicultural work environment. Leaders must be prepared to teach themselves and others within their organizations to value multicultural differences. Fortunately, there are many example of how organizations are training leaders to be able to handle the diversity and also make them aware of how their actions regarding cultural differences influences other employees. Thus, the purposes of this study are (1) summarize the leadership challenges (2) identify how cultural diversity challenges leaders today, (3) describe the challenges of diversity in

the workplace, (4) present the tools required for managing diversity, and (5) analyze how different industries are overcoming the diversity challenge and training their leaders to handle it successfully.

LIMITATION

It is important to mention here that workplace diversity refers to the variety of differences between people in an organization. This diversity encompasses race, gender, culture, age, personality, cognitive style, education, background, religion, and other. However, the focus of this study is to identify how leaders are trained to handle cultural diversity on their organizations. Further examination is recommended to evaluate diversity on gender, age, and race to draw a better understanding of the diversity on organizations in general, as its understandable that these variables are presented on mostly organizations all around the world.

LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES

Leaders inspire, support, guide, and encourage their teams through challenges and uncertainty while remaining serene, strong and focused. Effective leaders influence and direct the performance of their group towards the achievement of common goals. Today, leaders are constantly challenge by many issues that arise from a dynamic society. There are several challenges that leaders must deal on organization. Thus, its important to define here what is challenge. Among many dictionary definitions, challenge can be

defined as a stimulus, an opportunity to perform your best to achieve the goals. And it is directly related to the word change in organizations; every change represents a challenge, and every challenge is solved with change of behavior as well. Thus, anything that differs from the routine of the organization represents a challenge for leaders. On this context, it is easy to identify why diversity represent a challenge for leader today. Although many are the challenges, this study identifies five challenges most leaders face during their period as leaders, whether working for a corporation or for themselves. One of the challenges according Stenmark, Shipman, & Mumford (2011), is how leaders should think and take actions to encourage creativity and innovation in organizations, and more specifically, how leader cognition and social behavior are likely to change throughout the innovative process. This is essential to any successful business. Therefore, it is the role of a leader to ensure that every member of their team and the organization share a common vision. This challenge can be solved with effective communication. And this appears to be another challenge for leaders. As a second challenge faced by leader, promoting open and clear communication among all team workers represents a constant challenge in all organizations. As we all know communicate effectively is the key to achieve the desired goals. Undeniable, clear and concise communication is essential leaders success. Communicating the evaluative conditions to the followers should help them understand the critical issues at hand consequently will make them understand the reasons and priorities of the company. (Reiter-Palmon & Illies, 2004). Other issue is related to empowering. As Whetten and Cameron (2011) defines, empowerment means providing freedom for people to do successfully what they want to

do, rather than getting them to do what you want them to do (p 443). Today, employees dont want just to receive order and follow a routine, they want to feel inspired and the best way to inspire employees is by empowering them to excel and achieve. A leaders role includes providing employees the ability to make proactive choices. That means including employees in the decision making process so they become part of the organizational team. Another common challenge observed in many organizations is the motivating others. Leaders must motivate employees to achieve outstanding performance. Motivation appears as a leadership challenge because workplace motivation is very complex, leaders must deal with people with different motivational factors, and the word different lead us to the main focus of this study diversity. All the challenges mentioned previously are doubled when leaders deal with a diverse workforce. Communicating with someone from other culture can be difficult if leader doesnt understand ones limitations and ways of thinking. According studies, global leaders often fails to perform at expected level because of their inability to change their leadership approach to fit different cultural context (McCall & Hollenbeck, 2002). Thus, respecting and understanding cultural diversity is not only politically correct but is the way that society can move forward a free civilization and share the benefits from navigating in this constant changing world (Graham, 2006).

DIVERSITY AT WORK

Organizations are in constant transformation and consequently leaders must adapt to these fast changes. As technology expands, the world shrinks. People are coming together and have to learn how to interact in an acceptable manner for all. Because cultures are so diverse, values, beliefs, and standards for behaviors differs drastically from person to person. What is important to a member of one culture may not be priority to a member of another culture. Therefore, leaders have to be ready and learn the right set of leadership skills and the right attitudes to success or even to remain alive in this new reality. Many are the challenges faced by leader on a diverse workplace, but if leaders are ready for it, the benefits are rewarding - appreciation and understanding of cultural diversity means not just tolerating differences among individuals but supporting and nurturing them.

Communication diversity

Recent data shows impressive number of speakers of a first and second language in the United Stated. Speakers of English and Spanish are rapidly increasing in consequence of immigration and also because people now realize the importance of a second language. While English remains the business and international language, people are increasing their interesting in communicating well with people from different languages. The language differences represent a challenge for leaders today as they create a variety

of communication problems if the leader is not read to handle it. Interacting with people from other culture can be challenge but to avoid misunderstandings leaders need always to communicate clear and as formal as possible, avoiding jargons, slangs, and idioms that are not appropriate to the work environment. The key to handle any diversity successfully in the workplace depends of the ones ability to adapt behaviors and take actions to support the differences.

Barriers to diversity

The importance of cultural diversity for humanity is now being increasingly recognized by numerous international organizations. People are diverse in infinite ways, but when people accept and learn to live with them, creativity and productivity increase where organizations value this interaction. Although positive behaviors toward differences are always desired, issues of cultural diversity may arise when individuals engage in negative behaviors toward others from different background. These negative behaviors, such as prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination become barriers to organizations diversity. According U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of suit filings alleging national origin-based discrimination is increasing substantially. As observed, American companies pay high prices for its inability to deal successfully with diversity. Implementing a proactive strategy to avoid issues related to diversity would save companies money and certainly increase profitability and performance.

INCLUSIVE LEADERS

Working effectively with diversity means recognize that every single individual is different and respect the fact of people have their own strengths and weaknesses. Leaders must be the first one to perceive and change employees views to avoid offensive behaviors, projecting an attitude of caring and inclusion about diversity developing a plan to promote and improve teams performance. The term inclusion is well defined by OMara and Richer (2006) as how differences and similarities are respected and create an equitable, healthy, and high-performing organization or community in which all individuals and their contributions are valued. To create an inclusive environment both individual diversity awareness skills and effective organizational systems are required to support diversity and inclusion. And that represents a challenge for leaders today. On this context, leaders have to learn how to handle the diversity in a proactive way. As someone committed to diversity and inclusion, understanding that building and sustaining an inclusive environment is key to attracting and retaining top talent, building employee engagement and fostering creativity and innovation as vital for an effective leader. When leaders see the cultural differences as an important advantage, they actively engage employees to share experiences, ideas, and suggestions to promote teamwork.

MANAGING DIVERSITY

Unfortunately, there are not set formula to implement diversity policies, but rather a set of tool that leader must learn and combined them to turn organization into a flexible and inclusive environment that is better adaptable to all differences. It mainly depends on the manager's ability to understand what is best for the organization based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace. Effective leaders are aware that certain skills are necessary for creating a successful, diverse workforce. Still, Anca and Vazquez (2007) categorized the tools to manage diversity into three categories: assessing the work environment, specific human resource policies, and diversity support systems and structures. Assessing the work environment and the employees needs refers to evaluation of organizations necessities regarding cultural diversity. A draw from cultural diversity must be draw to engage employees and avoid resistance. As an example of successfully management of diversity, American Express was one of the first companies to implement a strategy for assessing the work environment. According research, the companys initiative, Building a Winning Culture: Accountability Counts, has created an environment in which leaders are not only encouraged but also expected to integrate diversity into their business objectives. The goal to build a truly inclusive workplace is managed through workforce transformation, which not only attracts new talent to American Express, but also helps retain current talent throughout the employee life cycle. These elements are communicated to the workforce in a variety of ways (Nikravan).

Another category regards human research policies, directly related to new hiring inclusive policies and training of the organization. Diversity training should be required for leader and employees of all levels of the organization. Training meetings where employees are not only made aware of the importance of diversity in the workplace, but also how to promote diversity in the workplace, helping to create a more inclusive environment. Employees need to learn how to behave at work so they promote diversity, instead of engaging in activities that make the workplace a hostile environment for others. In addition to these strategies, many organizations with intuit to provide support and training to leaders develops and implements diversity support systems and structures. A good example of that is Kellogg Company. Kellogg believes on the potential and benefits to support cultural diversity, and work hard to preserve it through responsible leadership and action. The company knows that having a diverse work force is the right thing to do and makes good business sense but simply having diversity in work force is not enough; they must create an inclusive environment where all people can contribute their best work. That means valuing the diversity of employee, customer and consumer base, and putting a framework in place to support people and business strategies. According research, Kellogg Companys diversity and inclusion strategy is designed to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive work environment. The strategy includes four building blocks, which outline objectives for action as follow: build accountability for diversity and inclusion throughout the organization, recruit, retain and develop talented people, drive understanding, education and awareness, and create an environment where diversity can be promote. Leaders throughout the organization, have

performance measures in place to ensure the execution of the diversity and inclusion strategy throughout the company. The community of the 21st century is a global one, embracing people of all backgrounds and cultures. At Kellogg, its just the way we do business (Kellogg.com). Given the speed and diversity of global market, and understanding that the success of any international organization depends of its capacity to work effectively across those differences IBM is another example of corporation that focus in training for its leaders to help them handle cultural diversity effectively, consequently engage employees to act in accordance with the companys diversity strategies. In 2008, leaders across IBM developed a company diversity strategy to help safeguard the continued viability and growth of IBM on a global scale, as part of that, revalidating our diversity competencies, integrating them into every development and evaluation process, and restructuring programs. Importantly, those restored competencies included ensuring employees have a deeper level of cultural intelligence and the ability to collaborate and lead across the globe. (IBM.com) What became apparent to the organizations researched on this study is that leaders understood the necessity to a more proactive stance on diversity in order to change the course of a company toward a dynamic future. In clearly analyzing their views on diversity and investing in deliberate diversity strategies laid the groundwork for their futures. Furthermore, this groundwork is essential for any company hoping to succeed in the marketplace.

CONCLUSION

Diversity is literally changing the face of the country. Thus, to succeed in this new multicultural society, leaders in the organizations must value the differences and maintain a climate in which individuality of all nationalities are treated equally. Leaders must be the first ones in the organization to show a commitment to diversity in the organization. Although many organizations are now training leaders and employees regarding diversity challenges, diversity alone is not really a skill or something people can be trained; it is difference that must be understand by all. As discussed on this study, promoting diversity in the workplace give companies undoubtful advantages since work teams become more diverse, ideas and discussion improves and help leaders to achieve creativity and high performance. An organizations success and competiveness depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and realize its benefits. When organizations actively access their handling of workplace diversity issues, develop and implementing diversity plans, multiple benefits are identified such as increased adaptability, broad collection of skills and experiences, variety of different points of view, consequently more effective execution of projects, resulting in productivity, profit, and positive returns. The sooner leaders understand the advantages of cultural diversity in the workplace, the sooner it can leave it behind and move toward to put talents and differences to the higher and best use in this diverse world. Handling diversity is not easy, must be accompanied by a change of behavior. And as discussed, any change can

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