In an increasingly connected world, cultural diversity in the workplace has been a growing trend in many developed countries. According to the United States Department of Labor, foreign-born workers “constituted nearly half the net increase in the U.S. labor force between 1996 and 2000.” Not only is rising cultural diversity in U.S. work environments a fact, it is also a positive development that can benefit businesses in a variety of ways if properly embraced.

Build Global Relationships

If the global population was proportionately reduced to 100 people today, only 26 would be from Europe or the Western hemisphere, and only seven would speak English as their first language. In diverse regions of the world, people also have different philosophies and approaches to business. This heterogeneity noted, businesses competing for manufacturing, supplier, and consumer contracts abroad benefit from a diverse work force that can raise the organization's awareness of and sensitivity to different cultures.

Raise Awareness of Marketing Opportunities

A diverse work force can raise an organization's awareness of the concerns, demands and trends within dissimilar communities at home and abroad, and help identify market opportunities. Perhaps there is a product or service in high demand among a particular ethnic community that has yet to be provided, or maybe there is a promising investment opportunity developing overseas that is only getting exposure in foreign newspapers. If you employ workers from different cultural backgrounds, they can keep an organization current on these developments.

Avoid Marketing Mistakes

Cultural diversity in the workplace can also help limit marketing mistakes arising from a lack of awareness of local customs, traditions and business practices. As Dr. Jeffrey Gandz notes, Chevrolet could have avoided the marketing mistake of launching the "Nova" in Latin American in the 1960s--"Nova" in Spanish means "doesn't go"--if the company had consulted with Hispanic managers. Similarly, Gerber's marketing executives might have thought twice about putting black baby faces on food jar labels distributed in Africa had they known that in Africa the norm is to put what's inside the jar on the label; the product didn't sell.

Expand Customer Base

Hiring employees that represent diverse cultures and speak different languages can also help a business expand its customer base, especially when client service and face to face sales are the foundation of the business. For example, the Bank of Montreal has been able to expand its Chinese client base in Canada by hiring hundreds of new Chinese-speaking employees; these employees are able to build a rapport with Chinese clients whose first language is not English. Over the course of five years Chinese business at the bank increased 400 percent.

Encourage Creativity and Innovation

A diverse work force can provide dynamic solutions to business challenges. People from different cultural backgrounds will often see challenges and think of solutions in different ways, and bringing them together to work toward a common goal can produce creative results. Product design, manufacturing processes and the development of marketing and sales strategies are three business processes that can benefit from the contributions of a dynamic team.