If IT had not happened to India, we would still be called a land of snake charmers and every other Indian would still be doing the rope trick.
The Indian psyche has been exposed to ideas of Diversity since the time man walked on the land that we today call India. The meaning and importance of Diversity has been taken to a whole new paradigm in terms of business interaction in today’s fast-paced and flat world. As technology brings people closer, it also brings about an interaction of unimaginable proportions among the cultures and ideologies of the people of this planet. And as people interact, there arise opportunities and fallacies.
The quality of human capital defines the future and the face of an organization. It forms the foundation on which the organization grows and becomes a name to reckon with, the world over. An organization might attain great heights, but it would fall like a stack of cards with the blink of an eye, if its foundation is laden with bubbles of discontent and layers of insipidity.
When we look at a global organization, we look at employees from varied cultures and backgrounds, working together, as a team. Unity in diversity, some might say. And as with all things human, conflicts and issues are bound to raise their head.
We are witnessing the worst economic slowdown in the past 75 years. The challenge of the day is to tackle the issue of economic slowdown and create an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the diverse workforce.
To a manager with a keen eye for spotting opportunity, diversity in employee mix is a blessing, that too without the ubiquitous disguise!
What does diversity bring to the table?
Diversity is probably the best thing that could happen to a global organization. People from different cultures bring with them wisdom that has been a cornerstone of their respective civilizations. They bring to the table different perspectives and varied analyses of situations at hand. They bring with them working styles which might be alien to many cultures. And at the same time, they bring a plethora of knowledge that a one-culture-organization can only dream of.
An employee working with colleagues from varied cultures would be considerate to their customs and cultural nuances. He would be a perfect choice for facing customers from a country, whose customs and rituals he is well acquainted with.
A diverse working environment imbibes in an individual, a sense of mutual respect for different cultures. It provides an opportunity to look at issues from a different perspective, and identify the shortcomings of the task at hand. It breeds and nourishes creativity.
An apt example is the bottle of Coke in ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’. That bottle was just trash for the white guy in the plane. But for the poor bushman, it was a curse on his tribe, which was brought upon them by the ‘flying bird’. Different perspectives.
How will the economic downturn hurt diversity programs?
In the eventuality of an economic downturn, the first focus of organizations is on cost trimming. In this process, the diversity programs in an organization are usually the first scapegoats. This is a perilous, if not a suicidal mistake that most organizations commit.
As stated in a study at the George Mason University, instead of identifying the opportunity, these short-term measures eventually result in long term cost escalation. The study rightly identifies and highlights the fact that in times of economic hardships, diversity programs take a back-seat and factionalism is visible all across the organization.
The fact of the matter is that when people from the same cultural background work on rectifying fault in an issue, they would have more or less, a similar solution. On the other hand, a person from another culture would analyse the issue according to his way of thinking, and might come up with a different and better solution.
What opportunity does the economic downturn bring with it, in terms of diversity?
People going overseas to work are usually the top brains in their respective countries. Tapping into this vast pool of talented individuals from all over the world makes sound business sense. A potpourri of talent from across the world would give an organization a goldmine of grey matter, at lesser cost, in times of a slowdown. Since budgets are going to be trimmed and revenues would be hard to come by, it certainly would be an ace up the sleeve to have brilliant minds analysing issues from their own perspectives and pointing out the pitfalls in the pre-conceived solutions.
How do we promote diversity in an organization?
Promotion of diversity is a long drawn affair, with certain, but slow results.
- Create a level-playing field for employees
An employee must not feel threatened because of his background. He must not suffer from acts of nepotism and factionalism that are directed against him. Establish a communication channel where the employee can bring such issues to notice of the management.
- Have an open environment
People-to-people interaction must be encouraged. The organization must not function in a stiff-collared manner, where the manager wields an iron claw over his subordinates
- Organize cultural awareness meets
Until and unless people from different cultures interact with each other, the adages and misconceptions will stay in their minds.
- Organize food festivals
Food breaks barriers that only wine can!
The world is truly a village, a constantly contracting and intensely interactive one at that. In such an interactive world, it is up to the managers to spot the right opportunity and work on it to yield dividends that would last beyond the current economic slowdown.
The need of the hour is to identify the shortcomings of the organization’s human policies and iron out the rough edges that might be an eye-sore at a later time in the organization’s existence. The focus on human capital is both, inevitable and indispensable.
This article was written for submission to the Global Diversity Conference in 2009 by the author.