Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

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Achieving cultural diversity can require a nuanced level of understanding of your employees and your surrounding environment.

Regional culture differences in the workplace can present interesting challenges for U.S. businesses. Cultural diversity in the workplace can shape how employers operate. By understanding nuances in different cultures and backgrounds, you may be able to help your business better meet the needs of your employees and candidates.

While generalizations of American populations are just that — generalizations — it's important to consider how people in different regions may respond in vastly different ways to anything from a new corporate policy to a change in legislative requirements.

What Is Culture?

"Culture is a dynamic web of mainly taken-for-granted beliefs, practices and traditions to which groups of people ascribe and within which they participate," says Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP. Because culture is often "taken-for-granted," it can be challenging for organizations to anticipate and understand how things operate and how people will respond when the organization begins operating in a new location. Even asking locals to elaborate and guide the organization may not help. Asking people about their own culture is like asking someone to describe how their workplace is different from others' when they have never experienced another working environment.

Culture is the set of underlying values that govern, whether overtly or not, the way that people act and behave. And cultural diversity in the workplace, while valuable, can sometimes lead to challenges if employers aren't aware of the key aspects of the culture and how to address them.

Defining Cultural Values

By defining key cultural values, employers can better understand their workforce and what their expectations might be. For instance, if the local culture is heavily family-oriented, then family-friendly policies may provide more value to employees than additional compensation. "Unraveling the cultural codes of a given area — whether a corporate, national, ethnic or a professional one — tells us about what is valued and what is not," Bird says.

By focusing on what employees are asking for in their location, employers can tailor their approaches and offerings to meet their unique needs, traditions, and practices. As Bird points out, it's not about forcing adoption of a different set of beliefs, it's about unraveling the existing foundation so that it can be understood and catered to.

Meeting Unique Cultural Needs

Bird believes populations can perceive the same topic in different ways and that employers have to be clear about how their work is perceived by employees. "As an HR leader, reflect deeply on your organization's stated mission and whether or not the culture you are trying to build — technical, physical and interpersonal — supports these stated goals," says Bird.

By ensuring that the mission and approach are aligned to the extent possible with local cultures and customs, employers may be able to build stronger relationships with their workers and minimize challenges associated with upending cultural norms and beliefs.

Want to learn more? Download the ADP report: Keeping Pace with the Evolution of Work: Creating a New Employee Experience

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