Overcoming the Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace

By Katlin Walters
July 8, 2019
5 min read

Diversity matters. In a modern workplace, different views and opinions–often based on varying backgrounds– can make a major impact on business strategy and success optimization. 

And yet, it also presents challenges, particularly when it comes to internal communication. Different backgrounds and subcultures can easily lead to different expectations and interpretations, impeding productivity at best and endangering a healthy work environment at worst. 

Finding the balance between these two forces is absolutely key for any successful business. The benefits of diversity are too important to ignore. Addressing the accompanying challenges can help realize these benefits and maximize opportunities for your organization.

5 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Let’s begin with the positives. Business thought leaders have preached the importance of workplace diversity for decades. There are tangible reasons for this trend. In fact, a number of studies have highlighted just how important achieving a diverse workforce can be for the larger success of your organization. 

  1. Diversity Increases Revenue. In fact, a recent study found that companies considered diverse produce, on average, 19% more revenue than their counterparts who are not. The reason consists of many of the benefits below; innovation, creativity, and the avoidance of groupthink all contribute to that impressive number.
  2. Diversity Grows the Talent Pool. This one is simple. A company that is able to attract talent from a variety of backgrounds and cultures naturally increases its talent pool. Especially applicants from traditionally underserved cultures tend to feel empowered, bringing different skill sets and experience to your company.
  3. Diversity Drives Innovation. That skill set and experience mentioned above, in turn, has a major impact on innovation. In one survey, 85% of executives agreed that a diverse and integrated workforce is one of the core factors for driving innovation.
  4. Diversity Promotes Creativity. Experience in and exposure to multicultural environments is a great creativity driver. That was the conclusion of a recent study, which found that it tends to significantly increase idea flexibility and an awareness of the connecting point between these ideas. 
  5. Diversity Reduces Groupthink. You know groupthink as the death of creativity and innovation as well as a false feeling of invulnerability. One study found that the greatest weapon against it is the diversity of thought, often brought about by a diversity of backgrounds.

Combine these benefits, and you get to a simple conclusion. Diversity in your workforce and the different points of view and opinions that come from it are absolutely crucial to sustainable organizational success. At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore its challenges, especially as it relates to internal communication.

The Challenges of Communicating to a Diverse Workforce

The above benefits are only valuable when realized. Unfortunately, too many companies are not prepared to manage the challenges that come with the diversification of the workplace.

Communication is at the core of many of these potential issues. Different expectations, attitudes, and interpretations can make things difficult, especially once more than one audience is in play for the internal communication plan you’re building or executing. Examining each of them is an important first step to overcoming them.

First, it’s important to realize communication preferences for people from different backgrounds. Some cultures, for instance, place an emphasis on indirect communication. They might be used to a discrete way of conversing that talks around, rather than at issues. Any more direct note, direction, or comment could be considered an insult.

Attitudes towards organizational hierarchies make another major impact. Even within Canada, different subcultures have very different attitudes towards those in charge and the power they have over those underneath them in the org chart. A violation of these norms, even when it matches up with one subgroup, could lead to animosity or a feeling that leadership has overstepped its boundaries.

Finally, organizations may find challenges in the way teams comprised of different backgrounds and cultures work with each other. Different communication styles easily lead to different expectations when it comes to who speaks up and when. The result is again a situation in which every step could be considered a misstep in the eyes of one of the cultural groups.

How to Overcome Workplace Diversity Challenges in Internal Communication

All of the above challenges can be significant and have the potential to make a negative impact on your business. The correct decision, however, is not steering away from diversity altogether as a result. It’s finding a way to address potential issues head-on through a modern, integrated internal communications strategy.

Know Your Audience

As comprehensively as possible, make an effort to understand the various subgroups and undercurrent within your organizations. Background matter not just in terms of race or place of birth, but also background such as education level, upbringing, etc.

Clearly Communicate Organizational Norms

Just as every country has a culture, so does each organization. You likely have established norms and standards, from the flatness of your org chart to the way leadership communicates, that have established themselves over time. Avoiding misunderstandings in your workforce can be as simple as making sure that each of them understands these norms.

Build Customized Communications for Audience Segments

Don’t simply copy and paste messages across the entire communications. In fact, try to avoid sending too many messages to the entire workforce to begin with. Instead, build audience segments based on what you’ve learned above your employees above. Now, you can customize your communication according to each segments’ needs, expectations, and preferences.

Build a Feedback Loop

Never assume that what you’re doing works perfectly. Instead, make sure by asking relevant questions. The best internal communicators have built feedback loops that allow them to gauge how effectively they’re communicating to their various audience groups. The feedback loop should be open, and you should have the capabilities to respond where needed.

Implement a Comprehensive Communication System

Finally, it pays to have a communication framework in place that helps you accomplish the above goals and strategy. Ideally, that system is built for customization. That’s how you maximize the opportunities a diverse workforce brings, without falling into the pitfalls that come with ineffective communication to that diverse group. Contact us to learn more about our intranet solution, and how we can help you optimize your internal communication regardless of the audience.

By Katlin Walters

Katlin is a former IC team member.