Diversity, diversity, diversity. The word rings as a catchphrase in modern business circles. In Kenya we most often hear about gender diversity and inclusion followed by ethnic diversity. However, many additional types of diversity can occur in the workplace. Some differences occur due to biological influences outside of someone’s control just like someone cannot choose their gender or ethnicity they can also not choose their height, facial attractiveness, testosterone-induced aggression levels, sexual orientation, natural melanin degrees, and partially one’s weight gain propensity.
More sources of diversity can originate from differences in personality. While humans are not born with set personalities, the majority of our personality is locked by the age of six years old. Such personality diversity on a team can incorporate dissimilar people with varying degrees of extroversion, conscientious, neuroticism, agreeableness, or openness.
While some personality or biological-based diversity can really irritate us in society, especially if we do not belong to that grouping of individuals, people cannot change these factors even if they desire to do so. Personally, I wish with all my hopes that I was taller. Society confers many illogical advantages to tall people including higher employment rates and faster promotion times. But alas, my dreams and prayers cannot make me taller.
On the flip side, diversity can also occur in our human changeable factors including our perceptions, preferences, and affiliations. We hold different preferred work styles, leadership traits, interpersonal communication preferences, religious adherence, and political affiliations that can change over the course of our lives. These changeable aspects also add to the rich diversity of the human experience and the higher creative performance possibilities on workplace teams.
Nonetheless, research out of Harvard University shows the value of diverse workforces in developed and developing countries alike. Multinational firms with diverse workers, even in site offices in more homogenous or prejudiced societies, perform better and achieve higher returns on assets directly proportional to the team’s diversity.
Unfortunately, when certain people groups become marginalised or looked down upon as lower status than other groups in a society, then mixing in the workplace can become detrimental. New research from Lisa Leslie out of the prestigious New York University shows the unfortunate decline in workplace performance when diverse teams mingle lower and higher status groups.
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If, as an example, in a fictitious world where people with blonde hair are looked down upon as being stupid, unintelligent, and even immoral, then such biases, no matter how untrue in reality, can destabilise offices when workers must labour alongside those they perceive as lower class such as blonde-haired men and women. So, the reduction in workplace cohesion from specific diversity mixing leads to lower work unit performance.
Sadly, Kenyans from pastoralist communities often face erroneous negative biases against their mental abilities that lowers their perceived social status. Indians from higher castes sometimes refuse to work alongside lower castes who are viewed with lower status in society. Americans of African descent often encounter lower status perceptions about their professional capacity.
Lisa Leslie’s work also showed subgroups within downtrodden people groups exacerbate workplace cohesion issues. As an example, African Americans of lighter skin report higher acceptance rates within Caucasian-dominated workplace social circles than do African Americans of darker skin.
Researcher Michael Blanding delineates that in order to help solve workplace cohesion issues generating from cultural diversity factors, managers must be vigilant and intentional in managing friction in order to reap the creative benefits of multiculturalism diversity.
Executives should set clear boundaries and expectations for how fellow co-workers should be treated, communicated to, and included. Publicly proclaim the value of all employees. Incorporate transparent processes and fair procedures. Showcase the usefulness of each employee including those from societally induced lower status groups.
In short, diversity helps both society and businesses. Learn how to harness the power of diversity even in spite of broader societal biases and misconceptions.
Make your business a diverse haven that will enhance your company’s performance.