It may be the case that while ethnic diversity in the workplace has received the positive nod from the senior leaders, it hasn’t yet been truly embraced – only half of the Australasian workforce consider ethnic diversity as beneficial to the bottom line.
Key findings from the long-running Leadership, Employment and Direction Survey revealed the following statistics:
66% of leaders, 61% of managers and 58% of employees thought ethnic diversity is, and could be, a positive for their organisation “to a great extent/moderate extent”.
Just 50% of leaders, 50% of managers and 48% of employees thought that ethnic diversity was currently benefitting their organisations “to a great extent/moderate extent”.
The authors of the report noted that these results suggest that ethnic diversity in the workplace is more tolerated than truly embraced. “There’s generally a reasonably positive attitude towards ethnic diversity in the workplace, however, there is mixed feelings about the value of extending this diversity,” Grant Sexton from Leadership Management Australasia (LMA) said.
Where a diverse workforce was perceived to produce positive outcomes, increasing diversity was looked upon favourably, and the attitude towards future diversity was being driven by current experiences and outlooks, Sexton said. “Therefore, the big challenge for leaders and managers moving forward is how to create an environment that celebrates diversity and leverages and harnesses its potential rather than fearing it or resisting it,” he added.
Kiwi employers who embrace the challenges of an ethnically diverse workforce are already reaping the benefits – with lower staff turn-over and direct financial rewards – according to Mervin Singham from the Office of Ethnic Affairs. Whatever the size of an organisation, if it invests in actively managing workforce diversity it can add new skills and knowledge to their talent pool, generate innovation and tap into new segments of the market more successfully than before. “Embracing diversity just makes good business sense in our globalised and interconnected world,” he commented.
Singham listed some of the tangible benefits for organisations that do well managing diversity as:
Expanded business growth on the basis of language, cultural ‘know how’, business practice, market intelligence and networks
Increased rate of innovation and productivity in a workplace
Increased number of ideas generated as different perspectives are taken into account when solving problems or designing solutions
Increased level of motivation for staff; and
Increased profitability for shareholders of the business.
There are bottom-line benefits to effective ethnic diversity management in the workplace, according to Penny Smith from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. In her experience, business is operating in an increasingly multicultural marketplace. “A workforce that reflects those cultures is likely to do well in a variety of market segments. Likewise, if a company wants to export to a particular country, then having someone familiar with the language, customs and business protocols of that society will be much more likely to succeed,” she said.
Considering almost 45% of working-age Aucklanders are born outside of New Zealand, embracing ethnic diversity also gives employers access to a wider talent pool, Smith added. “There are large numbers of extremely skilled and experienced global job seekers and returning Kiwis that could add value to New Zealand businesses with their international expertise, particularly in a market where we have skill shortages in many areas.”
To best utilise workplace ethnic diversity, LMA’s Sexton suggested that leaders and managers should try to:
Identity and document actual benefits and outcomes from diversity
Audit levels of ethnic diversity to identify gaps, opportunities and avenues to derive greater benefit
Celebrate the impact that diversity has on the organisation; and
Look for opportunities to build appreciation and application of that diversity into the strategic, tactical and operational planning of the organisation, in concert with other aspects of diversity in areas like age, gender, experience.
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