Managing a Culturally Diverse Staff
As we enter the 21st century, many regional, national, and cultural boundaries are being stripped away, creating a world -- and a workforce -- that is more diverse than ever before. According to a frequently cited statistic from the 2000 U.S. Census, one in four Americans now identify themselves as part of a minority group, with experts predicting that the minority population may achieve majority status in the near future.
Decades of multiculturalism have created widespread appreciation of the benefits of diversity. In most locales, overt tension between racial and ethnic groups is no longer a significant problem. Still, cultural differences can be an obstacle in the smooth operation of any organization.
This issue is particularly relevant in the hospitality industry, since its workforce is comprised of a large number of minority workers from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds. So, what are some basic strategies you can use to manage a diverse workforce effectively?
Adopt a top-down diversity management strategy
- Truly effective diversity management does not happen haphazardly. Instead, take a proactive approach: make the goal of creating a harmonious and mutually respectful work environment part of your organization's mission statement. Take every step necessary to create a culture of inclusion, suggests Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants.
- Create a long-term action plan that highlights the importance of diversity in your organization. How will having a diverse staff help the company better serve customers or achieve other goals? What are some steps that can be taken to reach out to minority employment candidates and consumers?
- Ensure that all executives, managers, and supervisors are completely on-board with your diversity management strategy. Achieving this goal may require some specialized training in cultural competencies. Even subtle signs of a leader's ambivalence or discomfort can create tension in the staff.
Make respect part of the rules of engagement
- It's human nature to notice differences rather than similarities between ourselves and others. But staff and managers alike must be encouraged to move past the often-unspoken assumption that cultural differences indicate differences in skill, ability, or intelligence. It's up to managers to cultivate a culture of respect in the workplace.
- Underneath our surface differences, we are all human beings who want and deserve to be treated with dignity. The Golden Rule has lasted for thousands of years for a reason! Enshrine it as the guiding principle of all interactions in your diverse workplace.
- Often, speed and efficiency are the keys to success in a hospitality industry setting, and they can be doubly difficult to attain when a language barrier exists. But these skills take time for everyone to develop, regardless of their cultural background. Remind impatient staff members that they, too, were once beginners.
Knowledge is power
- Today, experts caution that developing an effective diversity management strategy is a long, challenging process that can't be solved simply by attending a few half-day workshops. Still, most agree that basic training in diversity concepts and practices should be a part of every workplace.
- If your workforce or customer base is comprised largely of a unique ethnic or cultural group, it can be very helpful to offer basic training in the language, customs, and social practices of that group to all employees.
- Employees or managers who haven't had much exposure to diverse groups may not have had the opportunity to develop cultural competencies. Extra training in sensitivity, cultural differences, and reversed role-playing can help foster empathy and understanding.
Diversity is an increasingly important component of the 21st century workplace. By putting these strategies into action, your organization will be well-positioned to leverage the power of difference.