Frequently asked question: Can Managing workplace diversity strengthen work teams?
Diversity in the workplace encompasses a range of elements. Differences in national origin, primary language, religion, social status and age can benefit or harm organizations. Managing diversity effectively is the key to leveraging the advantages and minimizing the disadvantages of diversity in the workplace.

Diverse Experience
Co-workers with diverse cultural backgrounds bring unique experiences and perceptions to the table in groups and work teams. Pooling the diverse knowledge and skills of culturally distinct workers together can benefit companies by strengthening teams' productivity and responsiveness to changing conditions. Each employee in a diverse workplace possesses unique strengths and weaknesses derived from their culture in addition to their individuality. When managed properly, diversity in the workplace can leverage the strengths and complement the weaknesses of each worker to make the impact of the workforce greater than the sum of its parts.

Learning And Growth
Another advantage of workplace diversity is the opportunity for employees' personal growth. Being exposed to new ideas, cultures and perspectives can help individuals to reach out intellectually and gain a clearer view of their surroundings and their place in the world. Spending time with culturally diverse co-workers can slowly break down the subconscious barriers of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, encouraging employees to be more well-rounded members of society.

Communication Issues
Diversity impacts workplace communication in positive and negative ways. Between co-workers, diversity can place impediments in the way of effective communication, which can directly dampen productivity and the cohesiveness of small groups. Spending time with diverse employees can break down communication barriers over the long-term, but first impressions and co-workers' orientation periods can be difficult to control when cultures clash. Diversity can strengthen your company's relationships with specific customer groups by making communication more effective. Customer service representatives can be paired up with customers from their specific demographic, making the customer feel comfortable with the representative, and thus with the company. A number of companies in the southwest United States, for example, prefer to hire bi-lingual customer service reps to deal with Spanish-speaking customers in their native language.

Integration Issues
Social integration at work can only be influenced to a small degree. The formation of cliques and exclusive social groups is a natural process that can be impossible to control at times. Because of this, companies can experience informal divisions in their staff, creating a situation where culturally diverse employees avoid exposure to each other during break times and after work. Although there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this scenario, it can hinder the effectiveness of sharing knowledge, skills and experience, thus curbing productivity growth and the effectiveness of teams.

Disadvantages in Increasing Diversity in the Workplace
Business communities admire employers that strive to increase diversity throughout the workforce. However, companies that implement their strategies for increasing diversity encounter a number of challenges. The challenges related to receptiveness to training and prioritizing hiring decisions based on diversity can transform those challenges into disadvantages.

Mandatory Training
Increasing workplace diversity often includes mandatory diversity training, during which employees, supervisors and managers receive lessons on how best to interact with customers, clients and employees who represent diverse populations. Mandatory training for some employees is the equivalent of forcing employees to accept diversity at all costs, regardless of their personal exposure and experiences. Training that's forced upon employees may have unintended consequences. Employees who feel diversity training shouldn't be mandated might believe instead that the mere concept of diversity is more important than any other kind of employee training and development the employer provides to improve employees' skills and capabilities.

Hiring Manager Authority
In the name of increasing workplace diversity, employers may feel pressured to recruit applicants from diverse groups. Many hiring managers believe that employer edicts concerning increasing diversity require them to overlook more suitably qualified applicants in favor of applicants who bring diversity -- not necessarily talent -- to the organization. In these circumstances, hiring managers may begin to resent how increasing workplace diversity affects their ability to exercise independent judgment, as well as their authority in making hiring decisions.

Workplace Relationships
Employees who realize the company's goal is to increase diversity may feel they are less important if they don't represent the typical diverse populations that focus on race, sex, national origin, age and disability. In a workplace where employees don't belong to diverse populations, these employees may feel undervalued and unappreciated based purely on the fact that they don't represent diversity. They also might believe that employees from diverse groups have more opportunities for advancement, thus disrupting the working relationships they once had with colleagues and co-workers.

Myriad Accommodations
Although the premise of workplace diversity is mutual respect, making accommodations for numerous diverse groups' demands can become burdensome on employers, making diversity management difficult. Employee requests and work constraints based on religion, national origin, gender and race can become overwhelming if your workplace has so much diversity that it takes a full-time human resources staff member just to keep track of accommodating the needs of diverse groups in the workplace. Examples of accommodating numerous diverse populations include translating materials into multiple languages and having interpreters on hand for meetings with employees, accommodating employee absences due to religious practices or disabilities, as well as adjusting business hours to coincide with preferred schedules for employees with different work styles and personal obligations.
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