Asst. Professor
Department of Management

Taking full advantage of the benefits of diversity in the workplace is not without its challenges. Some of those challenges are:

  • Poor Communication

Communication barriers lead to problems in a company attempting to create a diverse workplace. When a U.S. company hires employees of other cultures whose first language is not English, employees and managers may experience difficulties communicating with one another. Perceptual, cultural and language barriers need to be overcome for diversity programs to succeed. In a diverse work environment, many different ethnicities, age groups, sexes and religions are represented. Along with these differences come a variety of communication styles. One of the main challenges of managing diversity is poor communication between employees. Ineffective communication of key objectives results in confusion, lack of teamwork, and low morale Its easy to misunderstand someone who communicates differently. Misunderstanding leads to misinterpretation and poor office relationships. To promote better communication in your office, encourage your staff to learn more about their coworkers and communication methods. This can be done through office retreats, frequent diversity meetings and diversity seminars. Sometimes it helps for companies to hire bilingual employees who can mediate and reduce language and communication barriers.

  • Resistance to change

There are always employees who will refuse to accept the fact that the social and cultural makeup of their workplace is changing. Every workplace has people who resist diversity and the changes it brings, even in the most positive of environments. Individuals who do not take a diversity plan seriously are a big challenge to managers and owners trying to implement and maintain a plan. If the company doesn’t handle opposition properly, workplace diversity initiatives may not provide the intended benefits to the company. Employee resistance can be handled through workshops, employees getting to know each other and knowing when to let an unwilling-to-adapt employee go.

  • Disorganization

Implementing an unorganized diversity plan is almost as ineffective as not having a diversity plan. Managers must take an organized approach, implementing a plan that is well-thought-out and well-communicated to the staff. This can be done in several ways. Brainstorm with managers and executives about how to effectively implement diversity in the workplace. If a budget allows, bring in a diversity consultant to help you make a plan. Communicate the plan to employees. One of the biggest mistakes managers make is not effectively communicating the diversity plan with the staff. This can be done through meetings, memos and diversity conferences. Getting the staff on board is half the battle in implementing a plan. Encourage employees to take diversity classes and seminars, or plan a diversity retreat to allow everyone to get know each other. Set goals for diversity with concrete objectives–start with long-term goals and work backward. Come up with a list of things you would like to achieve as a company and ways to achieve them.

  • Implementation of diversity in the workplace policies

This can be the overriding challenge to all diversity advocates. Although on paper workplace diversity may seem like a good idea, many companies experience challenges when attempting to implement changes. Employers must develop strategies for implementation, analyze results and make necessary changes if results do not meet the established goals. The implementation process may present challenges to everyone involved, and frustrations may arise because implementation is not as smooth as expected. To help with implementation, employers may decide to hire experienced professionals who specialize in workplace diversity. Experienced professionals understand the challenges and know how to handle them. Armed with the results of employee assessments and research data, they must build and implement a customized strategy to maximize the effects of diversity in the workplace for their particular organization

  • Managing Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity training alone is not sufficient for your organization’s diversity management plan. A strategy must be created and implemented to create a culture of diversity that permeates every department and function of the organization.

Once workplace diversity is implemented, companies must effectively manage the changes in policies. This presents a challenge for many organizations. Challenges in managing workplace diversity can stem from several reasons, such as taking the wrong approach to solving diversity issues. For example, a company may adopt affirmative action policies in an attempt to solve diversity problems. Affirmative action is about giving opportunity to previously disadvantaged workers. Hiring based solely on race may not solve diversity issues. According to Lawrence Herzog, managers face challenges when new employees from diverse backgrounds interact with long-standing employees. Many companies offer training programs to managers to help them effectively manage their newly diverse departments.

6)      Understanding why people behave differently than expected

Most of the managers who participated in the survey have been managers for several years before they had to manage a culturally diverse team. They have been used to mange a group of people who shared the same norms, values and basic assumptions in life. Our behavior is always an expression of our values, so when you are managing people from a different culture you have to their norms and values in order to understand their behavior. Developing that understanding is the most challenging task managers of cultural diverse teams are facing according to Gugin’s survey.

7)      Avoid getting frustrated and angry

We always compare other people’s behavior with our own norms and values. If the behavior makes sense we accept it but if it doesn’t, we reject it. Sometimes that rejection leads to frustration and hostility. As a manager you should of course avoid showing frustration or hostility towards your employees behavior. It is however a challenging task according to our survey.The reason why we end up frustrated and hostile is because we often interpret other people’s behavior incorrectly.

An example: If you value always being on time you will get frustrated if some of your team members are notoriously late. Because they are usually late for appointments you might start adding attributes to their personality which are not rooted in reality but solely matches your perception of people who are always late. Instead of building a tower of prejudges try to mobilize curiosity with the purpose to uncover the underlying norms and values. When that has been achieved you might be able to reconcile the opposing views on time orientation.

8)      Motivating a cultural diverse team

What we regard as motivation is closely related to culture and it is often the case that what serves as a motivation factor in one culture is de-motivating people from another culture. Very often companies have a single-threaded motivation and reward systems based on the norms and values from where the company was originated. When you expand to other cultures and you bring along your motivation system you might experience a decline in efficiency and employee satisfaction because other people might feel de-motivated by factor that you find extremely motivating.

An example:
Some people find it highly motivating having a huge influence on how to organize their own job. They like to know what to deliver and enjoy the freedom to figure out themselves how, when and where to get the job done. Other people however will feel extremely uncomfortable with that “freedom”, because they will expect their manager to tell them how to do their job. In extreme situations nothing will be done until a detailed roadmap and job description has been provided.

9)      Achieve the desired level of efficiency

A great deal of the respondents felt that it was difficult to reach the desired level of efficiency in their multicultural team because too much time is spent on sorting out misunderstandings, setting expectations and make everyone on the team pursue the same goals.
The reason why this issue ends up on this list is because we initially only see one definition of efficiency.

An example:
Some people value to make decision fast and move on, while others value to take the time to analyze the situation thoroughly, consult their team and then make their decision. People who like to make decisions fast regard the consensus-oriented people as slow and inefficient. But research has shown that people who take individual decisions more often have to have to re-do their decisions than people who opt for collective decision making. So the collective decision making might take longer time, but it has a better quality. In reality we need to do both types of decisions, so reconciling the two views will lead to increased organisational effectiveness.

10)  Lack of proper training on managing a cultural diverse team

And finally the cross-cultural managers feel that they need the right tools to manage and lead a culturally diverse team. Managing diversity is an important add-on to the management skills they already have.