Diverse Workforce: The Master Key To Organizational Success

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 1507 , Published on 24 December 2012

Visualize of a gathering in a prominent Indian Business school, the auditorium being jam packed with the future managers or now a days so called business leaders sitting in their inspiring formal attire. All eyes are fixed on the stage which has three reputed multinational organization’s business heads enthusiastically discussing some complex business problem faced by Indian startups today. All three of them are from different cultural background one of them being an Indian Parsi, the other one being an Indian Hindu and third one an American.

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The crowd is highly appreciating each one of them for bringing in creative and unique thoughts (partly because of their cultural upbringing and partly because of their experience in different environments) with thundering claps and praises. In midst of the conversation when the flow progressed towards discussing the role of local government in supporting new projects, disagreeing with a point made, the American on a lighter note remarked “ ohhcom’mon Buddy, (addressing the elder in age Indian Hindu)  most of the local government here act like ‘Indian-giver’”. Suddenly the crowd was shocked first by the way Indian manager was addressed. Since in India buddy is not expected to be used in any formal event more so if you are addressing an elder and ‘Indian giver’ is a racist term used to describe the act of giving a present and asking for it back later. Whatever the American origin manager said was not with the intention of hurting local sentiments in fact the terms he used are very common in American vocabulary. Similar problem is quite common in modern organizations which vie for getting the benefits from a highly diverse workforce but somehow find themselves on the wrong side when question comes of managing the same to guarantee mutual respect, understanding and acknowledging differences for the creation of a healthy working environment. This vignette gives one a sneak peek in to the world of managing advantageous yet highly ‘volatile’ workforce diversity.

Introduction and Drivers

The industry dynamics is experiencing a very fast and significant change from a complete seller’s market existinga few decades ago to a more distinct buyer’s market. Today’s customers have more number of options to choose from and hence want a product or service customized to their needs, at the right time, within budget and at a place convenient to them. Balancing so many wants is not an easy task especially in the wake of threat that your competitor might snatch away the opportunity from you if you don’t hurry up. Any organization which has to survive today’s cut throat competition and emerge victorious will have to rely on innovative products/services and strategies to communicate them. Not only this, it will have to be the first to the market in all these aspects. To achieve all this organization will have to rely on its talented workforce which can think out of the box and come out with something new each and every time it is expected out to do so. One way to accomplish that is through a carefully handpicked and well nurtured diversified workforce. That very well explains why top organizations like Google, Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte to name a few have got a separate section on their website marketing the distinct edge that diversity in their ranks give them.

Another major driver that pushes organizations to go for diversity is consolidation in modern day industries fueled by frequent mergers and acquisitions. Here merging entities have different culture formed after years of operations which are not only hard to change but also represent a vital source of their core competencies. The alliance can survive only if all the parties involved are well prepared to embrace the uniqueness each one of them will bring to the table. The third important driver signaling towards incorporation of diversity is globalization. Fast expansion in different geographically located countries and increasing ‘boundary less’ business has made global MNCs come face to face with different set of customers which increase complexity and challenges of doing business with them. For example an American firm doing business with Japanese clients will never be able to satisfy them with their proposals unless it incorporates respect for local culture and sensitivity towards ‘way things are done there’. Now one way to solve this puzzle is to go for all locally hired Japanese employees but then the American firm will lose its uniqueness and personal touch for which it was selected to do the business in the first place.   Such problems can best be tackled through a diversified workforce for example in the above case by having a good blend of Japanese and American executives.

Link to Inclusion and other Benefits

Managing Diversity doesn’t just include managing employees having ‘visible’ differences in terms of social class, religion, gender, education and values but also include catering to ‘invisible’ differences in deeper sense which could be in the form of different personalities, mental capabilities and work style. Although in most cases the former leads to latter differences. By considering all this diversity management helps in the overall development of the society as a whole. The emphasis towards diversity leads to social inclusion as equal opportunities for representation are provided by the corporation to people from different culture, caste, ethnicities despite of a country/region being a particular caste or religion dominated. This also leads to social harmony which is reflected in workplace also as by working together as team, distinct individuals from different social backgrounds get an opportunity to better understand and respect each other’s culture. Once established, this understanding has a very high probability of being passed down the generations.

Well-coordinated diversity leads to radical enhancement in tacit knowledge of the employees and more importantly in explicit knowledge, which if accumulated and documented properly could be a source of long term advantage for the organization even after the employee who contributed it leaves the organization.Employer branding is again an important aspect which diversity caters to. Workforce diversity of an organization appeals to a much wider talent pool by creating a very positive and desirable image as the caring employer for all sections of the society. Hence the quality of recruits and cost effectiveness of the whole recruitment drive increases.

Diversity not for everyone

Diversity is not just about the goods it brings. Various intricacies involved in its successful implementation makes it is a high risk high reward prospect. The most important point worth considering while going for diversity at workplace is that ‘having it just because everyone is having’ is quite analogous to playing with fire. It results in disaster when imposed on corporations by the local governments just for the sake of their vote bank politics as it affects overall national wellbeing negatively. Numerous researches ( like the one done by Liff in 1993) have shown that workplace diversity has been most beneficial to the organization when it is driven by business needs and implemented at its own willthrough a well thought of holistic strategy with the focus on ‘individuals’ for the development of a unique but cheerful workplace environment. On the contrary organizations have failed miserably when they have tried implementing diversity under any legal compulsion or for social or moral good with focus on ‘groups’ and ‘numbers’. As in this case there are hidden frustrations within the organization towards individuals/ groups who were recruited under obligation. This is vented in form of directed personal anger which sometimes results in violence and disturbs workplace harmony as well as lowers employee moral affecting productivity.

Respecting 'differences'

The second big grey area is how to bring a diverse workforce on the same platform. That means how to create a common set of attitude, values and beliefs that reflect the values of the organization. In  quest for the same HR managers usually develop compliance systems and policies that hinders the individuals from displaying their true behavior for the fear of being reprimanded which ultimately kills their individuality, ironically the quality for which they were selected to be a part of the organization as being ‘different’ from others. The solution lies in going for dual system approach one that rewards employee for bringing in a whole new perspective to the team and as a result ‘gold’ valued creativity in complex business scenarios. At the same time another set of system needs to be developed to inculcate broader organization values like respect for individual, integrity, honesty, sharing and commitment. Tried and tested solution for this is to use either of workshops or training courses for the employees depending upon the time and resources at hand.

It needs to be made sure that the HR department follows it up with some supplementary online/offline situational quizzes (or other means of measuring effectiveness) after definite time gap may be 15 days or so. This will help in determining what is the gap between desired behavior and actual one which will define the future course of action (if required) in terms of more training or workshops to rectify the same. The change programs should focus more on creating artificial situations where employees are made to think from the perspective of others through role plays or something of similar kind. After all the voice which says what is right or what is wrong should come from within the individual rather than being forced upon him by external policing.To avoid any adverse effect and ensure increased probability of success three things should be kept in mind before implementation any such programs. First is guaranteed support from top management, second is to make sure trainer expertise is present in such sensitive domain and thirdly enough follow up sessions have been planned in advance to clear confusions and monitor post training behavior. While unavailability of any of these three coupled with things like focusing only one aspect of diversity (for example only racism or only sexuality) or avoiding the ‘uncomfortable/controversial’ issues will render the training ineffective.


Workplace diversity is all about recognizing, valuing and rewarding differences and has proven to be a source of strategic advantage for the selected few who have been able to develop appropriate internal systems to support it in long run. For the remaining majority others who have been implementing this concept in a haphazard way without understanding the implications it brings in, diversity will continue to remain an unsolved puzzle in the coming future.  An organization's strength is not in its diversity but is in its strength to unite people of different backgrounds around common principles.

This article has been authored by Vibhav Kardam from IIM Shillong


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