GLOBALISATION, the widespread use of modern and newer technologies, the advent of inexpensive travel, migration across borders in search of work and the changing business needs are making organisational pluralities a growing reality.
Diversification, better customer service, changing organisational structure and the increase in global trade and interconnectivity have all contributed to increasing diversity in the workplace.
If you want to manage your career successfully, you need to develop skills and an attitude that addresses all aspects of diversity.
Aptitude and attitude in understanding diversity is not simply about dealing with many cultures or multi-ethnicity. Diversity means an ability to understand and respond positively without bias or prejudice to issues as diverse as gender, mixed ethnicity, religious diversity, differing sexual orientation or habits and mannerisms traditionally "unacceptable" to people.
It also means accepting the physically challenged and economically disadvantaged as part of the workforce and working alongside them.
Organisations are increasingly realising the detrimental effect of prejudice, bias and discrimination: the waste of valuable human resources when employees face unfair and unjustified barriers to advancement, cooperation and progression.
Organisations are acknowledging that fostering full participation of all employees will enjoy the sharpest competitive edge in expanding the global marketplace.
As a result, this growing number of enlightened companies are embedding into their recruitment policies and appraisal systems, checks on a candidate's and employee's ability to function proactively in a diverse workplace culture.
As part of their career development, individuals need to seriously explore how capable they are in coping with diversity and adapting to colleagues in a diverse workplace.
For a start, ensure you are connected to different networks of colleagues, friends and associates. When going out for lunch or a coffee break, avoid sticking to the same people. Look for individuals who may be diametrically opposite to you in terms of culture and beliefs.
Try to understand and empathise with their point of view and view issues from their perspective. It is part of the learning process in understanding diversity. Learn to wear their shoes, stand where they stand and see the world as they see it.
Imagine you are a 32-year-old Chinese single male project executive with a Western education from a middle-class family and a limited understanding of Chinese culture talking to a 57-year-old married Indian who has grown up in an Indian culture with a colonial influence but who has studied Chinese culture and history.
Bring into the conversation a 47-year-old single European woman with a "women are superior" attitude. Throw in a third-country national as their boss, a middle-aged man of Chinese-Japanese descent who has grown up in several South-East Asian countries. Imagine the no-holds barred discussion with sparks flying everywhere!
This was an actual role-play and observation exercise in a diversity and cultural management workshop conducted for senior supervisors and managerial staff of a large global organisation.
The participants had to discuss and analyse the work issues, conversation, relationship and body language. Many at the workshop felt challenged. Many of the participants had to discard stereotyping each other.
The entire group concluded at the end of the workshop that developing diversity management skills is indeed a challenging task. They also recognised that diversity management skills are integral to career success in a globalisedworld where talent is valued! It was an eye opener to many at the workshop as they learnt to be sensitive to others in a diverse setting.
Making it work
Diversity management skills require a detailed study and appreciation of human behaviour and culture. They require emotional and cultural intelligence.
If you are thinking of an international or global career, it is imperative to take a course that encompasses international business, effective human relations and interpersonal skills in diverse organisations.
Even if you are not contemplating an international or global career but are working in an organisation that employs a multicultural staff, you will inevitably need at least a limited knowledge of dealing with people from diverse backgrounds.