5 Ways to Overcome Diversity Barriers at the Office
Businesses that strive to cultivate diversity in the workplace are generally stronger, more flexible, and rise up to meet challenges better. The mix of ideas from heterogeneous groups deliver better solutions and critical analysis, so you must structure and run your company in a way that promotes diversity. However, if you adopt the attitude of “not seeing color,” you run the risk of treating people insensitively. Diversity barriers do exist and always will, but it’s up to you to deal with them appropriately and professionally.
Here are five ways great managers deal with diversity barriers:
You must recognize that people have differences, be they physical, generational, cultural or even in personality. Think about your own family and how different you are from your brothers, sisters or cousins. My brother and I share some extremely important similarities because we grew up with the same parents in the same household. We generally treat people the same and have a weird and quirky sense of humor that only “we get”. Yet, outside of that, we are polar opposites in many ways. However, despite our differences and sometimes fighting “like brothers”, we’re still close. We overcome our diversity barriers constantly.
Likewise, don’t pretend that barriers don’t exist between you and your co-workers. Instead, celebrate the differences among your employees, and encourage them to let their individualities show. For example, don’t hesitate to ask someone from another culture about their culture’s etiquette practices—they will likely feel honored that you care enough to ask. Furthermore, their knowledge could prove useful to your business. Do not pigeonhole your employees. An employee’s worth comes from more than his ethnicity or age.
Diversity is an issue that you must manage in the workplace, and it starts with managing your own attitude and behavior. For example, examine your behavior in job interviews. When an applicant of a certain ethnicity or gender comes in, do you make assumptions that he must prove or disprove during the interview? How do you respond to different styles of communication? Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are the keys to developing a safe, fair workplace for a diverse group of employees.
This is where many well-intentioned supervisors mess up. Acting fairly and acting uniformly are different, and only one enables you to successfully deal with diversity in your workplace. Don’t be fooled into thinking that by treating everyone exactly the same, you are demonstrating a fair attitude and respecting diversity. Instead, treat people fairly and respect the differences that make them who they are. For example, don’t schedule a mandatory meeting that falls on a religious holiday. That demonstrates insensitivity and may breed resentment if you’re forcing someone to make a choice between the two.
As a manager or business owner, you should already conduct employee reviews and assessments. When preparing these reviews, you must also examine your employees’ attitudes, particularly how they work with others. If you notice that an employee only delegates tasks to people of a certain race, or if an employee discounts the ideas of people below or above a certain age, it is your responsibility to address the issue. Identify issues among your employees and bring them up when assessing their performance.
When you identify diversity-related issues in the workplace, discuss them with your employees in a non-confrontational manner. Also, encourage employees to work with others of different backgrounds or generations and expand their understanding of each other. Even a monthly “pot luck” department lunch where people can bring dishes featuring foods from their culture can be a fun and informal way to experience diversity. Food definitely helps break down walls! Initiating these types of interactions encourages your employees to learn more about communication styles, talents and goals – their own and those of their co-workers.