Today, diverse employee populations are becoming commonplace. Though such diversity is positive in many ways, it can also create problems. Differences in culture and language may create tension among your employees or communication difficulties on the job site. Minorities may feel unwelcome or misunderstood and may perceive a strained relationship with site foremen or the company. Make the worksite a welcoming environment for all employees by keeping an open mind, learning about your employees and avoiding over-generalizations.
Understand that Diversity Exists
When gathering information about the ethnic and cultural makeup of their workforce, many employers are surprised to learn the number of identifiable culture groups and subgroups within their company; each of these groups may gather and process information differently, and they may have different needs and expectations from their employer.
Learn about Different Employee Groups
Research the various cultures and ethnicities represented in your company to gain a better understanding of each group; also keep in mind that any females you employ represent a minority in your typically male-dominated profession. Though research is a start, the best source for information is your employees themselves. Ask them about their values, preferred communication methods and how your workplace could better fit their needs.
While it is true that certain characteristics or preferences can be common among a gender, ethnic or racial group, you should never assume that all employees of one group feel the same. It is important to learn about broad cultural differences, but always think of employees as individuals with unique feelings and needs.
Employers often make mistakes when communicating with bilingual employees without even realizing it. You may assume that since your workers have an English vocabulary sufficient for them to function on a daily basis that communicating everything in English is adequate. However, for many workers, English is a second language and they still feel more comfortable communicating in their native tongue. This is especially true when it comes to safety rules, company policies, HR forms and other essential and potentially confusing information.
One way to solve this problem is to use bilingual forms of communication (whether written or spoken) when providing health and safety information. Also, be sure to post federal and state compliance posters in the language in which your employees are fluent – in some states, this is required.
Communication may prove to be a problem on your job site. If you have bilingual employees, make sure you have someone who can fluently translate back and forth if needed, and encourage all workers to be patient if problems arise with the language barrier.
A multicultural workforce can cause tensions among employees. This may be due to underlying prejudices, discomfort or unfamiliarity with other ethnic groups or displeasure with changing established policies and procedures. In order for everyone to have a comfortable and pleasant working environment, you need to address these issues:
- Create company-wide nondiscriminatory policies, and distribute them to all employees
- Consider implementing diversity training or learning seminars for all employees to open their minds to other cultures and raise their self-awareness
A Simple Approach
While there are many resources available that can help employers develop, promote and value a multiethnic or multicultural workforce, it really all comes down to four simple actions. By encouraging the following, you will be well on your way to creating a more welcoming environment for all of your employees:
- Work to understand all your employees and their unique needs so the workplace is comfortable and accessible for everyone
- Promote open and honest communication within the company between employers and employees
- Encourage acceptance and respect among all employees
Establish a commitment from top management to promote and support diversity and equal opportunity as a core value of the organization.