Multiculturalism – an approach to organisational diversity and culture

Diversity

“Diversity” and “culture” have become business buzzwords the world over. Most companies have aspects of their strategy – vision, mission, purpose, and goals – aligned to managing and leveraging diverse workforces, and most companies speak of culture in one sense or another.

According to the ACCA report, Channelling Corporate Behaviour – Review of the Academic Literature, “a strong company culture influences behaviour in a number of quite specific ways; by controlling delivery and reward, giving direction, determining priorities, reinforcing a sense of common identity, protecting common values, determining how emotions will find expression, promoting (or preventing) ambiguity and fragmentation, reinforcing taboos, precluding (or encouraging) critical examination, and encouraging (or discouraging) relationships across social boundaries.

But why are these two issues important? To answer this question we first have to understand what diversity and culture mean within the business sense.

dictionary.com defines diversity as “the state or quality of being different or varied.” The World English Dictionary defines culture as “the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action.”

Diversity in the workplace refers to the bringing together of people from diverse backgrounds – people of different races, ages, genders, religions, and socioeconomic standings. On the other hand, culture in the workplace refers to the culture of the organisation itself – to paraphrase the World English Dictionary; the organisational ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of day-to-day business action. Diverse backgrounds essentially mean diverse cultures. So within an organisation, within its own culture, are many different cultures. Caleb Rosado, PhD, Professor in Sociology at Connecticut State University, defines this as multiculturalism: “Multiculturalism is a system of beliefs and behaviours that recognises and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organisation or society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural context which empowers all within the organisation or society.”

When assessing diversity within the context of multiculturalism, the focus starts to shift from managing diversity to leveraging diversity, through an organisational culture of inclusion. An inclusive company culture will seek to understand the different cultures that exist within its workforce – their strengths, weaknesses, and mind-sets – and align cultural behaviour and attitude to organisational strategy and culture, as well as operational procedure to increase productivity and manage talent, which ultimately leads to increased organisational performance. Add to that an understanding of multiculturalism and the resulting ethos of inclusivity and the sky could really be the limit.

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