Celebrating Diwali, Celebrating Diversity: Managing a Multicultural Workforce

Diwali - Managing a diverse workforce

Diwali, the five day ‘Festival of Lights’ celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, is one of the most important dates in the Indian calendar. This year, it’s being celebrated today with tomorrow, November 12th, the Hindu New Year. The period of celebration commemorates the triumph of good over evil, and is marked by decorations, feasting and most importantly, light – most often in the form of fireworks.

Well over 2.5 million people in the US classify themselves as either Hindu, Sikh or Jain, with a million in the UK meaning Hinduism is the fourth largest religious group in Great Britain. As such, it’s safe to assume that some proportion of your workforce will be celebrating the Festival of Light this week.

From the large scale to the small, catering to the cultural needs and expectations of a workforce can take many different forms, and even the way in which something as simple as feedback is delivered can be impacted. In a CityAM article just this week, it was reported that a German finance director expressed his confusion at the ‘downgraders’, words that soften negative sentiment, often used in British speech: “my British boss ‘suggested that I think about’ doing something differently. I took his suggestion, thought about it and decided not to do it. Little did I know that his phrase was supposed to be interpreted as ‘change your behaviour right away or else’. I was pretty surprised when he called me into his office to chew me out for insubordination.”

It’s a comical example of what can, if not approached sensitively, be a serious issue. This is particularly true of today’s large, global workforces, where different religious practices, national holidays, legal requirements, tradition and attitudes are at play. Without proper management, employee relationships, performance and engagement are all put at risk – but if handled well, it is well documented that a multicultural workforce can be a massive asset.

The rapidly expanding global economy has only added to the growth of work teams comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds, and with different values, experiences, perspectives and skills. This greater level of diversity in the workplace can positively impact organizational outcomes, including performance, and can give businesses the competitive edge in a crowded marketplace.

Creating an environment therefore where inclusion is the expectation and people feel welcome, safe and able to contribute fully will only result in heightened innovation, increased productivity and organizational effectiveness; as McKinsey reports, companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. Similarly, a study conducted by Lu Hong and Scott Page showed that groups of diverse problem solvers will out-perform groups of high-ability problem-solvers.

As Stephen Covey famously said, “strength lies in differences, not in similarities”, and recognizing and embracing the benefits that diversity can bring to your workforce ensures it doesn’t become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, but really adds value to your business.

At the outset, managing such diverse and often distant workforces may seem difficult, but an efficient, fully integrated and global HRMS is something that can help organizations manage different cultural requirements. With the capacity to make modifications to a range of different functions, HR technology can help tailor workforce management to different national markets – ensuring that wherever your workforce may be, they receive a consistently great employee experience.

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