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The 21st century American workforce is a melting pot of different races, genders, ethnicities, ages, nationalities and religions. The modern workplace is a mosaic of different ideas, beliefs and opinions, which taken together create an atmosphere of cultural diversity. Companies that embrace and value these cultural differences can not only reduce conflict and increase regulatory compliance but also transform cultural diversity into a competitive advantage.
Greater cultural diversity in the workplace can sometimes lead to intercultural conflicts. When different ideas and beliefs collide, the results can range from hurt feelings and increased tension to outright hostility and even violence. In order to minimize conflict and promote understanding, businesses must encourage respect and create an atmosphere of tolerance. According to workplace management consultants Katherine Etsy, Richard Griffin and Marcie Schorr Hirsch, fostering cultural diversity can reduce conflict and improve workplace morale.
Local, state and federal regulations prohibiting discrimination and promoting workplace diversity are forcing businesses to come to terms with issues of cultural diversity. The Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations contends that efforts to promote cultural diversity complement non-discrimination compliance initiatives and create a workplace environment and organizational culture in which difference is allowed to thrive and boost performance and productivity.
Although cultural diversity can be a source of tension, it can also bolster workplace productivity. As Etsy, Griffin and Shorr Hirsch point out, embracing and encouraging diversity allows businesses to create an environment in which workers learn from one another's differences, discovering in the process new ways of thinking about problems and finding solutions. By respecting cultural differences, businesses can open new pathways to innovation and promote better problem-solving across their organizations.
By promoting cultural diversity, companies can attract and retain new customers, identify and develop new markets, and develop new products to capitalize on business opportunities that aren't available to culturally homogeneous enterprises. For example, as Etsy, Griffin, and Shorr Hirsch note, federal agencies and municipal governments exclude from consideration prospective suppliers and clients that refuse to show a commitment to diversity. Moreover, organizations that embrace their employees' cultural difference open the door to culturally differentiated markets that otherwise would remain invisible.
As the American workforce becomes more culturally diverse, businesses that actively promote respect for diversity and foster an atmosphere of inclusion will be in a better position to compete for highly skilled and highly sought-after talent. Women and minorities make up an increasingly large percentage of the pool of available workers, and businesses that are able to draw their workers from the widest range of available talent will have a competitive advantage over culturally homogeneous companies.
Based in Austin, Texas, David Breshears is a writer and consultant specializing in online communities, e-commerce and social media. He holds a Master of Arts in communication studies from the University of Texas. Breshears' work has appeared in "Journal of Law in Society" and "Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies."