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Addressing cultural diversity: The leadership challenge

by Katia Alegre

College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University LDR 1203: Assess & Build Leadership Cap.

S. Hence. creating potential benefits and challenges for their leaders. challenges managers to be creative and flexible when it comes to leading employees. and Hispanic Americans. identifying the roots of diversity in the U. This statistic highlights the fact that the U. . people that once were considered minority of the population. population is becoming more diverse and that to remain competitive in today’s world companies need to embrace diversity as a strategic initiative. which is a fact constant in mostly organizations.S.S. No doubts. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY Leaders in public and private organizations are searching for and experimenting with various approaches to more effectively deal with increasing workforce diversity.S. seems to be an important step to understand the benefits of diversity and to learn how to well manage this challenge. Bureau of Labor Statistics. diversity in the workforce is becoming an organizational reality and is proportional to our expanded global economy. addressing possible issues associated with increasing diversity is important in the expanding global marketplace. a significant number of the new entrants to the workforce today are African Americans. Thus. Therefore. organization success and competitiveness depend on the ability of leaders to manage cultural diversity in the workplace effectively. According U.INTRODUCTION Change. One of the most important changes these days is the diversity of many work groups in the U. Asian Americans.

S. religions. Fortunately. centuries ago and built the Americans culture – the frontiers. the purposes of this study are (1) summarize the leadership challenges (2) identify how cultural diversity challenges leaders today. there are many example of how organizations are training leaders to be able to handle the diversity and also make them aware of how their actions regarding cultural differences influences other employees. managers must learn the managerial skills needed in a multicultural work environment. will produce new hybrid social and cultural forms. (3) describe the challenges of diversity in . the “multicultural society” seems to be the term that better represents the cultural integration facing the nation. The “melting pot” term fitted well to the first immigrants that arrived in the U. One view is referred to "melting pot. the management of diversity can be considered a response to the need to recognize. respect and capitalize on the different backgrounds in our society in terms of race. Leaders must be prepared to teach themselves and others within their organizations to value multicultural differences. end ethnic groups. While today." the idea that societies formed by immigrant cultures. As result. The other view is designated as the "multicultural society" and suggests those of different ethnic groups should retain their cultural patterns and coexist with each other. Thus. ethnicity and gender.There are two points of view about the cultural integration of the diverse population of the United States according Ivancevich JM and Gilbert JA. PURPOSE OF THE SUTDY Since managing diversity represent a significant organizational challenge.

Today. as it’s understandable that these variables are presented on mostly organizations all around the world. age. This diversity encompasses race. However. LIMITATION It is important to mention here that workplace diversity refers to the variety of differences between people in an organization. (4) present the tools required for managing diversity. Further examination is recommended to evaluate diversity on gender. the focus of this study is to identify how leaders are trained to handle cultural diversity on their organizations. culture. Effective leaders influence and direct the performance of their group towards the achievement of common goals. cognitive style. and (5) analyze how different industries are overcoming the diversity challenge and training their leaders to handle it successfully. There are several challenges that leaders must deal on organization. gender. LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES Leaders inspire. and race to draw a better understanding of the diversity on organizations in general. leaders are constantly challenge by many issues that arise from a dynamic society. guide. and other. background. and encourage their teams through challenges and uncertainty while remaining serene.the workplace. strong and focused. religion. personality. support. Among many dictionary definitions. Thus. challenge can be . age. education. it’s important to define here what is challenge.

this study identifies five challenges most leaders face during their period as leaders. As Whetten and Cameron (2011) defines. and every challenge is solved with change of behavior as well. As we all know communicate effectively is the key to achieve the desired goals. Undeniable. it is the role of a leader to ensure that every member of their team and the organization share a common vision. is how leaders should think and take actions to encourage creativity and innovation in organizations. As a second challenge faced by leader. This is essential to any successful business. Thus. every change represents a challenge. an opportunity to perform your best to achieve the goals. Communicating the evaluative conditions to the followers should help them understand the critical issues at hand consequently will make them understand the reasons and priorities of the company. And this appears to be another challenge for leaders. This challenge can be solved with effective communication. Therefore. Shipman. and more specifically. “empowerment means providing freedom for people to do successfully what they want to . promoting open and clear communication among all team workers represents a constant challenge in all organizations. whether working for a corporation or for themselves. & Mumford (2011). On this context. 2004). Other issue is related to empowering. anything that differs from the routine of the organization represents a challenge for leaders. (Reiter-Palmon & Illies.defined as a stimulus. how leader cognition and social behavior are likely to change throughout the innovative process. it is easy to identify why diversity represent a challenge for leader today. One of the challenges according Stenmark. And it is directly related to the word “change” in organizations. clear and concise communication is essential leader’s success. Although many are the challenges.

they want to feel inspired and the best way to inspire employees is by empowering them to excel and achieve. Motivation appears as a leadership challenge because workplace motivation is very complex. Leaders must motivate employees to achieve outstanding performance. employees don’t want just to receive order and follow a According studies. Communicating with someone from other culture can be difficult if leader doesn’t understand one’s limitations and ways of thinking. That means including employees in the decision making process so they become part of the organizational team. All the challenges mentioned previously are doubled when leaders deal with a diverse workforce. Today. A leader’s role includes providing employees the ability to make proactive choices. global leaders often fails to perform at expected level because of their inability to change their leadership approach to fit different cultural context (McCall & Hollenbeck. respecting and understanding cultural diversity is not only “politically correct” but is the way that society can move forward a free civilization and share the benefits from navigating in this constant changing world (Graham. leaders must deal with people with different motivational factors. rather than getting them to do what you want them to do” (p 443). 2002). Another common challenge observed in many organizations is the motivating others. and the word “different” lead us to the main focus of this study – diversity. 2006). Thus. .

the world shrinks. Many are the challenges faced by leader on a diverse workplace. values. People are coming together and have to learn how to interact in an acceptable manner for all. beliefs.DIVERSITY AT WORK Organizations are in constant transformation and consequently leaders must adapt to these fast changes. What is important to a member of one culture may not be priority to a member of another culture. Communication diversity Recent data shows impressive number of speakers of a first and second language in the United Stated. Speakers of English and Spanish are rapidly increasing in consequence of immigration and also because people now realize the importance of a second language. Therefore.appreciation and understanding of cultural diversity means not just tolerating differences among individuals but supporting and nurturing them. people are increasing their interesting in communicating well with people from different languages. While English remains the business and international language. the benefits are rewarding . but if leaders are ready for it. As technology expands. The language differences represent a challenge for leaders today as they create a variety . Because cultures are so diverse. leaders have to be ready and learn the right set of leadership skills and the right attitudes to success or even to remain alive in this new reality. and standards for behaviors differs drastically from person to person.

stereotyping. According U. These negative behaviors. the number of suit filings alleging national origin-based discrimination is increasing substantially. and discrimination become barriers to organizations diversity.S. issues of cultural diversity may arise when individuals engage in negative behaviors toward others from different background. As observed. such as prejudice. American companies pay high prices for its inability to deal successfully with diversity. Implementing a proactive strategy to avoid issues related to diversity would save companies money and certainly increase profitability and performance. slangs. People are diverse in infinite ways. creativity and productivity increase where organizations value this interaction. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. avoiding jargons. . but when people accept and learn to live with them.of communication problems if the leader is not read to handle it. The key to handle any diversity successfully in the workplace depends of the one’s ability to adapt behaviors and take actions to support the differences. Interacting with people from other culture can be challenge but to avoid misunderstandings leaders need always to communicate clear and as formal as possible. and idioms that are not appropriate to the work environment. Although positive behaviors toward differences are always desired. Barriers to diversity The importance of cultural diversity for humanity is now being increasingly recognized by numerous international organizations.

When leaders see the cultural differences as an important advantage. And that represents a challenge for leaders today. ideas. . building employee engagement and fostering creativity and innovation as vital for an effective leader. they actively engage employees to share experiences. healthy. On this context. projecting an attitude of caring and inclusion about diversity developing a plan to promote and improve team’s performance. Leaders must be the first one to perceive and change employee’s views to avoid offensive behaviors. and high-performing organization or community in which all individuals and their contributions are valued. leaders have to learn how to handle the diversity in a proactive way. The term “inclusion” is well defined by O’Mara and Richer (2006) as how differences and similarities are respected and create an equitable. As someone committed to diversity and inclusion. and suggestions to promote teamwork.INCLUSIVE LEADERS Working effectively with diversity means recognize that every single individual is different and respect the fact of people have their own strengths and weaknesses. To create an inclusive environment both individual diversity awareness skills and effective organizational systems are required to support diversity and inclusion. understanding that building and sustaining an inclusive environment is key to attracting and retaining top talent.

Assessing the work environment and the employee’s needs refers to evaluation of organizations necessities regarding cultural diversity. It mainly depends on the manager's ability to understand what is best for the organization based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace. A draw from cultural diversity must be draw to engage employees and avoid resistance. Still. American Express was one of the first companies to implement a strategy for assessing the work environment. there are not set formula to implement diversity policies.MANAGING DIVERSITY Unfortunately. Building a Winning Culture: Accountability Counts. diverse workforce. According research. These elements are communicated to the workforce in a variety of ways” (Nikravan). but also helps retain current talent throughout the employee life cycle. Anca and Vazquez (2007) categorized the tools to manage diversity into three categories: assessing the work environment. specific human resource policies. and diversity support systems and structures. Effective leaders are aware that certain skills are necessary for creating a successful. but rather a set of tool that leader must learn and combined them to turn organization into a flexible and inclusive environment that is better adaptable to all differences. As an example of successfully management of diversity. . the company’s initiative. “The goal to build a truly inclusive workplace is managed through workforce transformation. has created an environment in which leaders are not only encouraged but also expected to integrate diversity into their business objectives. which not only attracts new talent to American Express.

A good example of that is Kellogg Company. many organizations with intuit to provide support and training to leaders develops and implements diversity support systems and structures. instead of engaging in activities that make the workplace a hostile environment for others. retain and develop talented people. Kellogg Company’s diversity and inclusion strategy is designed to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive work environment.Another category regards human research policies. drive understanding. The strategy includes four “building blocks”. Kellogg believes on the potential and benefits to support cultural diversity. they must create an inclusive environment where all people can contribute their best work. have . and work hard to preserve it through responsible leadership and action. but also how to promote diversity in the workplace. According research. In addition to these strategies. education and awareness. Training meetings where employees are not only made aware of the importance of diversity in the workplace. helping to create a more inclusive environment. Leaders throughout the organization. Diversity training should be required for leader and employees of all levels of the organization. directly related to new hiring inclusive policies and training of the organization. recruit. and create an environment where diversity can be promote. That means valuing the diversity of employee. and putting a framework in place to support people and business strategies. Employees need to learn how to behave at work so they promote diversity. customer and consumer base. which outline objectives for action as follow: build accountability for diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. The company knows that having a diverse work force is the right thing to do and makes good business sense but simply having diversity in work force is not enough.

this groundwork is essential for any company hoping to succeed in the marketplace. as part of that. In clearly analyzing their views on diversity and investing in deliberate diversity strategies laid the groundwork for their futures. . those restored competencies included ensuring employees have a deeper level of cultural intelligence and the ability to collaborate and lead across the globe. In 2008. embracing people of all backgrounds and cultures. revalidating our diversity competencies. and understanding that the success of any international organization depends of its capacity to work effectively across those differences IBM is another example of corporation that focus in training for its leaders to help them handle cultural diversity effectively. leaders across IBM developed a company diversity strategy to help safeguard the continued viability and growth of IBM on a global scale. At Kellogg. Given the speed and diversity of global market. integrating them into every development and evaluation process. “The “community” of the 21st century is a global one. and restructuring programs. (IBM. consequently engage employees to act in accordance with the company’s diversity What became apparent to the organizations researched on this study is that leaders understood the necessity to a more proactive stance on diversity in order to change the course of a company toward a dynamic future. Furthermore.performance measures in place to ensure the execution of the diversity and inclusion strategy throughout the company. it’s just the way we do business” (Kellogg.

broad collection of skills and experiences. it is difference that must be understand by all. to succeed in this new multicultural society. and positive returns. The sooner leaders understand the advantages of cultural diversity in the workplace. variety of different points of view. promoting diversity in the workplace give companies undoubtful advantages since work teams become more diverse. develop and implementing diversity plans. As discussed on this study. When organizations actively access their handling of workplace diversity issues. Thus. And as discussed. An organization’s success and competiveness depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and realize its benefits. Handling diversity is not easy. the sooner it can leave it behind and move toward to put talents and differences to the higher and best use in this diverse world. consequently more effective execution of projects. profit. leaders in the organizations must value the differences and maintain a climate in which individuality of all nationalities are treated equally. Leaders must be the first ones in the organization to show a commitment to diversity in the organization. resulting in productivity. any change can .CONCLUSION Diversity is literally changing the face of the country. must be accompanied by a change of behavior. diversity alone is not really a skill or something people can be trained. Although many organizations are now training leaders and employees regarding diversity challenges. multiple benefits are identified such as increased adaptability. ideas and discussion improves and help leaders to achieve creativity and high performance.

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