How To Foster Diversity In Your Organisation Across Borders

p058-061-ABS#32-International-Business-1By Barry Thomas.

In an innovative world, where a company’s resources are constantly under scrutiny and the smallest error can be the difference between success and failure, many businesses are now identifying that the diversity of its people is just as important as technology, finance, manufacturing and so on.

Diversity essentially defines what is different; a variety of choices and opinions. However, when we talk about people, diversity becomes an attribute and it is how a company can utilise this diversity in its people that can make dealing across borders a more successful experience for those involved.

When it comes to human diversity there are two parts. First there are the obvious differences including nationality, age, sex, ethnicity and spoken language. Then there is the more detailed and often more difficult to identify, this includes religion, sexual orientation, marital status, education, life and work experiences, socio-economic background and personality. All of which contribute to a diverse workforce and have a significant impact on workplace culture and how employees interact and work with each other.

Workplace diversity is embracing the differences in your staff and selecting the best people for the task, regardless of their location. Indeed, according to a Forbes study conducted in 2011 amongst 321 large global enterprises, companies with at least $500 million in annual revenue agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.

A diversified organisation also has the ability to ensure it remains cutting edge and competitive. It is advantageous to harness the talents of people from all backgrounds and locations so they can make contributions.

Diversity must be actively embraced by the organisation for the benefits to be realised. The self-imposed boundaries that may exist within one country or part of your organisation may be non-existent in another. Through exchanges of knowledge a host of ideas, innovation and creativity can flourish and higher levels of cooperation can be achieved. If your employees are not equally understanding of the person who sits beside them and the person with whom they interact with on the other side of the world, the misunderstanding will reign and your business will be hampered rather than helped by diversity.

A strong corporate identity will provide your staff with a common ground on which they can embrace their differences. It is the mechanism that removes the boundaries subconsciously imposed by cultural norms and local business practices, and provides the platform for innovation.

In order to address such issues and to ensure that you foster diversity in your cross-border organisation, it is necessary to create and encourage a workplace culture that appreciates the contributions and values of all employees. Here are some key learnings to consider:

Best Practice: Conduct Your Research

First and foremost, when looking to develop a strategy to foster diversity in all of the markets that your organisation has a presence in, it is worthwhile conducting your own research to identify companies that are successfully managing this process. Local HR awards may highlight the achievements of businesses that have worked to diversify their workforce. From this, you will be able to assess if any strategies can be replicated in your organisation and what specific markets can benefit.

You may also want to establish a plan which gathers information about your organisation’s current environment. It may include an assessment of the prevailing culture in each market, a demographic profile of staff and an assessment of existing human resources strategies.

Cultural Sensitivities: Watch, Learn And Adapt

We are increasingly witnessing staff working across borders and interacting with colleagues in foreign teams. Therefore, it is imperative that employees are sensitive to cultural differences and are open to observing market nuances and adapting their behaviour in order to respond appropriately.

When visiting another country it is important to observe local etiquette. For example, in some cultures it may be acceptable to greet a familiar colleague with a kiss on the cheek, whereas other markets would consider this to be inappropriate. In Asian markets, pointing with a finger can be considered rude and instead an entire hand would be used. In western culture, eye contact means you are being attentive and honest, yet in Native America or the Middle East, this would be considered disrespectful.

The key consideration is to be receptive to visual and non-visual clues and to be open to learning about cultural differences to ensure that offence is not caused. It is worthwhile sharing cultural awareness about local business etiquette so that all employees, no matter where they are located, are prepared when travelling.

Lead By Example: Encourage Diversity

To successfully diversify your organisation, senior management needs to lead by example. Cross-border training programs are a way to educate staff in the corporate identity resulting in a consistent and collaborative approach. This will promote a sense of unity which encourages colleagues to respect everybody’s opinions and varying outlooks.

Managing Diversity

Like all well-built structures, diversity requires a solid foundation. Organisations need to develop strategies to identify areas that embrace employee differences. Workplace diversity principles should be integrated with all human resource strategies, including: training and development, evaluations, planning, recruitment, and health and safety.

Maximising Diversity

Innovation is the key to maximising diversity in any workforce – throw the rule book out the window. Let your imagination run wild and establish programs where employees can embrace and immerse themselves in different business cultures. For example, a market exchange program so employees can visit other regions, learn foreign languages and learn about different business cultures.

Information sharing is key to maximising diversity and ensuring employees are educated about what is happening in other markets. An interactive intranet system can be a useful tool for publishing content that all markets can universally access. 

Barry Thomas is the Vice President of Cook Group and Director of Cook Medical APAC and Managing Director of Cook Australia. Barry has more than two decades of international leadership and expertise in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries and he currently spearheads the world’s fastest growing region for Cook Medical. His current position sees him working to expand the opportunities for people in Asia to access Cook Medical’s advanced and minimally invasive medical devices.




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