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Multiculturalism is becoming a business mantra

11 February 20140 comments

diverse_workplace_shutterstock_170532026-resizedBusinesses across the globe are increasingly becoming aware the financial and other benefits of adopting multicultural policies and embracing cultural diversity, according to a raft of new research reports and positioning papers.

The research says multiculturalism in the workplace can open up new markets for companies, stimulate innovative thinking and new approaches as well as build problem-solving cultures. And it comes as political parties, governments and business groups across Australia are incorporating multicultural components into their economic growth strategies.

The South Australian Liberal Party this month launched a Growth Action Agenda which includes an expansion of the state’s multicultural grants scheme.

Peak business body the Australian Industry Group recently called for the federal government to boost Australia’s immigration intake by 15% from 190,000 to 220,000.

A recent United Nations report said that the globalisation of business operations and the increasing inter-connectedness of people around the world meant business had a stake in the state of cross-cultural relations.

The report ‘Doing Business in a Multicultural World: Challenges and Opportunities’ said that to be successful in an inter-connected world, “businesses of all sizes in all countries must be able to compete effectively in diverse, multicultural environments”. The study says the ability to manage diversity is increasingly recognised by companies as a business imperative.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace can determine a company’s ability to attract, retain and motivate the best talent, helping to ensure that each person can contribute his or her skills, knowledge and perspective to the success of the business,” it says.

“A capacity to recognise and respond to the diverse and changing needs of customers in the marketplace is fundamental to the creativity and flexibility that fuel innovation, ensuring continued demand for a company’s products and services.

“The ability to manage critical relationships with government authorities and local communities is necessary to ensure that the company has a ‘license to operate’ in diverse markets around the world,” the report says.

It says the failure to recognise, respect and effectively reflect cultural differences in the workplace, the marketplace or the community can be a source of wasted talent, missed market opportunities, failed business deals and a reduced ‘license to operate’ in the community.

“One trend that reflects the growing need to effectively manage diversity is the emerging concept of “inclusion”. With the aim of creating more effective, high-performing organisations, more and more companies are focusing on creating “inclusive” workplaces, in which the diverse skills and perspectives of all their people are recognised and valued as a source of business insight and creativity,” the report said.

Writing in Forbes Magazine, leading strategic management expert Professor Yvez Doz said a multicultural approach can make a positive difference to the success of projects and processes.

“Many multinational companies have hidden, unrecognised multicultural gems within their ranks. To find these and get the most from their unique skills, means taking the time and trouble to carefully develop and deploy multicultural managers in critical positions,” Professor Doz wrote.

He said the unique features of multicultural minds enabled them to play several critical roles better than their mono-cultural counterparts. “They are able to better make creative associations and draw analogies between geographical markets, allowing companies to build global brands while remaining sensitive to local market differences,” Professor Doz said.

He said they can better interpret complex knowledge especially where much of understanding is tacit and culture-dependent. They can also anticipate cross-cultural conflicts, and address them – something critical to the effectiveness of global teams. “In short, their ability to be creative, to share complex knowledge across locations, contexts and cultures and to manage global innovation and product development teams effectively is precisely why multicultural people in integrative roles in the innovation process do make such a positive difference,” he said.

Josh Greenberg, president of Human Resource consultants AlphaMeasure Inc, says multiculturalism allows workers to all contribute based on their own cultural background, experience and qualifications. “When a variety of viewpoints are thrown into the problem-solving mix, new and innovative solutions can be reached,” Mr Greenberg said.

“Multiculturalism in the workplace can create a sense of cultural awareness among workers. Employees who are exposed to others’ ideas and points of view will learn to think outside the box when faced with a problem,” he said.