Productivity, creativity, profit, motivation, reputation – diversity in the workplace seems to be a real bonanza for companies, and its benefits are undisputed. It sounds pretty simple at first, doesn’t it? We just mix as many attributes as possible and have a heterogeneous team.
But we know that diversified staffs also have a high potential for conflict. That’s not surprising when you consider that an increasing number of perspectives, views and experiences complicates the decision-making process and coordination in groups.
So how can we deal with these “differences” so that we can actually get the most out of them?
What Is Meant by Workplace Diversity?
First, it seems important to be clear about what dimensions diversity has and to understand that the roots of the concept lie in the protest movement against racial discrimination.However, we are now no longer talking only about the obvious, usually immediately recognizable differences, such as age, gender, ethnicity or nationality. Rather, psychological diversity, i.e., differences in values, attitudes and convictions, is the one that only becomes “visible” in communication and can thus directly lead not only to advantages but also to disruptions in cooperation. Perceived diversity, as opposed to actual diversity, also makes an important contribution. Stereotypes and prejudices in particular come into play here.
The fact that these are much more important than the frequently observed symptoms, such as poor working relationships, is often overlooked. But if you really want to benefit from diversity, it is essential to get to the bottom of precisely those symptoms and conduct root cause research in order to implement suitable interventions.
Ultimately, this is also the answer to the question of why we actually need diversity management. After all, it is not quite so simple to use the advantages of diverse teams; instead, it is a matter of design and support so that the benefits prevail.
And, this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. I have often asked myself whether companies actually recognize the advantages of (I like to call them old-fashioned.) heterogeneous teams and therefore consciously design them that way or actively work on them in order to ensure more diversity? Or is it external circumstances that lead to the fact that we are confronted with more diversity, e.g. through different socializations in a society, more internationality, and last but not least, a lack of skilled workers?
If you are really serious about it, you cannot avoid differentiated diversity management and will be rewarded in the end with the benefits from the constructive interaction of diversity.
Therefore, it is not enough to simply ensure compliance with legal requirements, even if this is done in writing. Quota regulations also end where the real problems begin. While this prevents various forms of discrimination, especially in the selection of employees, we are still far from benefiting from it.
After all, it is not quite so simple to use the advantages of diverse teams; instead, it is a matter of design and support so that the benefits prevail.
Modern Workplace Diversity Management
Modern diversity management must therefore work on a suitable corporate culture that includes appropriate rules of conduct based on humanistic values and integrates every employee.
The idea behind this is to “find the potential in people of all types, including older employees, people with disabilities, people of all religions, cultures and nationalities, people who are not heterosexual, minority groups and women…” *.
1. Attend to Diversity Faultlines
But diversity management also means putting together targeted teams and not just mixing them arbitrarily according to the motto that a lot (of difference) helps a lot. In this context, I found the concept of the diversity faultline exciting, because it describes the danger of the formation of subgroups in a team.
The concept of the diversity faultline is exciting, because it describes the danger of the formation of subgroups in a team.
In this case, team members with similar “characteristics” come together and suddenly form a team within the team, which under certain circumstances declares the other members to be enemies or opponents. Thus, if the development of “ingroups” becomes apparent due to similarities within a team, be it due to age, gender or ethnicity, the diversity faultline is strong, as is the explosive power in the team, so to speak.
Resolving this means working with the most diverse profiles possible when putting together a team. For example, instead of three female business administration graduates around forty and three male IT specialists around twenty-five, it is better to mix age, gender and qualifications in such a way that no microcosm can develop in the team.
In this respect, the job market is seldom a dream come true, and we can hardly afford to reject a qualified applicant because his or her age or gender is not suitable for the team in which he or she is to work.
2. Embrace a Transformational Leadership Style
In order for a team to work successfully, even if the diversity faultline is quite strong, leaders with a transformational leadership style and a strong diversity conviction are needed.
On the one hand, this means that managers must have the ability to act as role models and thus gain the trust and loyalty of employees. At the same time, they must achieve a high level of motivation, which leads to behavioral change (hence transformational leadership) being encouraged. If the manager has a strong diversity conviction, he or she will strengthen cohesion by emphasizing commonalities.
This requires good self-reflection in order to recognize one’s own weaknesses with regard to diversity approaches, to expose prejudices and stereotypes in oneself and to dismantle them.
3. Establish Clear Corporate Norms & Rules
More pragmatic, but not to be neglected, is to establish clear corporate norms and rules of conduct. On the one hand, these serve as orientation, but at the same time, they help to point out discriminatory behavior. However, this must then also result in consequences if such misconduct occurs. To the same extent, it helps to establish guidelines and criteria for personnel decisions that counter discrimination in both personnel selection and personnel development.
When these several strands are pulled together at the same time, the various potential benefits of diversity can be effectively exploited. This goes far beyond compliance with legal requirements, contributing not only to the implementation of corporate values, but also generating competitive advantages in attracting new employees. Plus, it improves employee and customer loyalty through a positive image.
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