The Challenge of Managing a Diverse Workplace
By Lawrence Herzog for Hcareers.com
There was a time not so many years ago that diversity was looked at as a financial liability rather than an investment. But now the companies that embrace employees from different cultural backgrounds, perspectives, experiences – and even countries – are better positioned to succeed in the economy of the 21st century. Hiring a diverse workforce helps them stay in compliance with employment laws and build workplaces that are more inclusive and help employees reach their full potential.
American companies leading the way in the pursuit of greater diversity and inclusion include ARAMARK, a professional services company serving clients and customers with 255,000 employees in 22 countries around the world. From its headquarters in Philadelphia, the company has built a U.S. workforce that is comprised of more than 50% minorities, and 27% African Americans. In 2008 alone, more than 54% of its executive-level new hires were women or people of color.
“It is imperative that we continue to create an inclusive workplace, enabling us to hire and retain top talent and better position us to meet the needs of our clients,” says Joseph Neubauer, ARAMARK's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
To make it happen, the company formulated a diversity and inclusion strategy which lays out how it should hire, retain, and develop its workforce. It nurtures a culture that values and leverages differences and similarities, recognizing that a valued employee feels good about where they work and is more likely to encourage others to consider ARAMARK as an employment destination.
The approach extends to suppliers it chooses to do business with, and ARAMARK says it is focused on building strategic partnerships with ventures owned and operated by minorities and women. It also seeks out small, disadvantaged organizations that share its values. The approach has garnered plenty of notice, and this year Black Enterprise named ARAMARK one of the “40 Best Companies for Diversity.”
Diversity from Beyond Borders
Sometimes companies reach beyond borders for solutions, bringing a different kind of diversity into the mix. When availability of workers became tight in Canada’s western provinces, the Compass Group Canada, a contract foodservice provider, started a foreign worker program. In the last four years, the program has recruited more than 100 foreign workers, helping to fill many of the company’s most urgently needed hospitality positions.
Many of the recruits quickly moved up from entry-level positions into more senior supervisory roles, says Anita Binder, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Compass Group Canada. “It’s been very successful for us. Along the way, we’ve provided supports to make it work. The manager of our foreign program met new workers at the airport, took them to get their necessary documents, and arranged lodging for them in advance.”
The company supports the workers with ESL (English as a Second Language) courses to improve their skills. “It gives them a better chance of success,” Binder says. “At Compass, we've got a diversity council, a senior manager of diversity, and we have support right from the top, right from the get-go. It's a core value for us."
Hiring and managing employees from different cultural backgrounds is challenging, and yet rewarding, Binder says. At the beginning, it was a challenge getting the newcomers to mix with the long-serving staff members. “Once they understood they were a valued part of the team, the mix happened and the results have been fabulous. Our rate of retention has been extremely high. They are a very dynamic and enriched workforce."
Binder says the initiative helps employees to understand different perspectives and how to work with people of different cultures and different viewpoints. “You know, there’s more generating of ideas because of it, and more sharing. It’s been successful beyond our expectations.”
Top tips to ensure everyone feels included:
* Establish consistent rules for all workers, regardless of background. For instance, the places in the business where only English is expected to be spoken.
* Communicate with clear language. Remember that not everybody comprehends at the same level.
* Respect differences. Remember that what one culture finds acceptable another may find offensive and gender issues may be factor, particularly in the chain of command.
* Stay open to all viewpoints, cultures and customs. Encourage workers to celebrate their culture, and be sensitive to the need for time off at important holidays.
* Help with documentation requirements. If you have foreign workers, point them to resources for assistance.