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Employee diversity – a stumbling block vs great opportunity. What does inclusivity really mean?

Diversity management is usually driven by legislative necessity, but many organizations realize benefits that can come from hiring people of different backgrounds (Lillie, Nathan et al., 2014).
Studies demonstrate that increased cultural diversity is a boon to innovation; diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective (Rock & Grant, 2016) . However, diversity can also entail potential drawbacks such as conflicts between individuals, or, if poorly managed, create hostile environments with racism, sexism and ageism (Lillie, Nathan et al., 2014).

So, how can you avoid these mistakes?

HR managers tend to look at the diversity issue from the outside. All HR efforts are focused on creating conditions, through the regulation of company norms and rules, where people with various backgrounds and characteristics have equal opportunities for development and productive work. But this method often doesn’t work. Why?

We suggest looking at this problem from the inside, from the point of view of the employees themselves. It is crucial to give your employees an opportunity to share their stories about any difficulties in communication they may experience. Our approach would be helpful to multicultural teams as well as to organizations with cross-generational staff, as people of different generations can face the same problem of cultural misunderstanding.

Classical sociology repeatedly addresses the question of a “stranger.” According to Schuetz, the stranger is characterized by both objectivity and dubious loyalty (Schuetz, 1944) . By analyzing the stranger in a workplace from the point of view of Schuetz’s phenomenology, we can identify several reasons why intercultural communication is often tied to the issue of misunderstanding:

  • Following a certain cultural pattern.
    This might explain why a newcomer acts in a certain way (in a business meeting, talking to superiors, etc). The problematic nature of the established rules and norms within the local social context may not be immediately apparent.
    Individuals may encounter these difficulties both in their job-related responsibilities and in everyday interactions with coworkers. These challenges can damage building trust among employees.
  • A system of relevance.
    People from different cultural backgrounds might adhere to their own value system that is not obvious to others, and they may incorporate these values into their career strategy. This value system directly influences how they engage in their job responsibilities. On the other side, we organize our social world in terms of relevance to our actions. From this perspective, relevance correlates with the engagement. Once the situation or environment changes, individuals stop thinking as usual, previous habits are interrupted and new conditions of consciousness and practice start to form.
  • Language.
    It is not just a set of linguistic symbols and grammar, there is a more important connection between words and connotations. Nearly every element of our speech might have a special secondary meaning that derives from the context or the social environment (Schuetz, 1944). The same words spoken in the same language can have different connotations. This may be related to the problem of misunderstanding between employees.

At first glance, these complexities may be indistinguishable. However, when a worker communicates poorly with colleagues and misinterprets seemingly obvious messages, the problem might have deeper roots.

Corporate culture aims to bridge disparities by constructing its unique value system. Usually, this encompasses inclusivity, innovation, mentoring, teamwork and collaboration. However, these terms may carry distinct meanings within different cultural contexts. Therefore, it is crucial to describe them with maximum clarity at the early stage of introducing these value categories.

Peer-to-peer communication and transparency are equally critical. As we emphasized in previous articles, productivity in teamwork cannot be achieved where communication is limited, and transparency is essential for cultivating trust among colleagues. Moreover, the benefits system should be personalized to cater to the specific needs of each team member.

A practical solution to these problems can be implemented using one IT solution, AlbiCoins. Within this system, we have incorporated peer-to-peer recognition and a bonus coin-sharing mechanism. AlbiCoins allows you to demonstrate employees how corporate values can be reflected in their daily work life.


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