The modern workplace generally presents unique leadership challenges due to racial, age and educational background differences. As a result, senior executives have to find ways of effectively managing their employees. Fortunately, with the right leadership skills, senior executives would be able to address diversity challenges and improve performance at the workplace.
An Overview of Workforce Diversity
In order to provide effective leadership, one must accept, understand, acknowledge, celebrate and value the differences inherent among employees with respect to race, age, ethnicity, mental capability, social class/standing, gender and physical ability.
Workplace Diversity by Gender, Ethnicity and Age
Across the U.S., men constitute 69 percent of labor force participation by gender. Women, on the other hand, constitute 57 percent of workforce participation by gender. If you breakdown the U.S. workforce by ethnicity, Caucasian men and women account for 70.5 percent and 56.9 percent of labor force participation rates. In the same vein (workforce participation by ethnicity), African-American men and women account for 63.5 percent and 59.2 percent of labor force participation rates. Male and female workers of Asian ethnicity constitute 73 percent and 57.1 percent of workforce participation rates. Finally, Hispanic males and females account for 76.3 percent and 55.9 percent respectively.
It is noteworthy that up to 81.4 percent of the entire U.S. labor force is made up of workers who lie within the 25 to 54 year age bracket. Out of these, 81.7 percent are 25 to 34 years old. It is worth noting also that 40 percent of all new employees across the U.S. come from minority groups, which means the American labor force will remain ethnically diverse for decades to come.
Workplace Diversity Challenges
- Authority. Creating a workplace environment where staff that differ by age, race, income, religion and ethnic background are subject to workplace authority is not easy.
- Single work ethic. Inspiring employees to subscribe to a single work ethic in a work environment split along racial or cultural lines can be difficult.
- Communication. It can be hard for a leader to foster seamless communication between senior management and low-level staff in a diverse workplace.
- Trust and commitment. Diversity may cause trust and commitment challenges because employees tend to have varying career and life goals, lifestyle choices, as well as personal demands.
- Socialization. Workers from diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds may face difficulties socializing with others because they are likely to live in different neighborhoods and communities.
- Managing different personalities and multiple egos. Managing and massaging the egos of workers with differing cultural values and employment experiences can present a serious challenge.
- New work configurations. New workplace technologies and configurations, such as collaborating virtually with workers in another state or country, are bound to breed managerial challenges at some point.
- Human needs versus business objectives. Striking the right balance between fulfilling employee needs and achieving organizational objectives can be problematic.
Tips for Becoming A Successful Leader
- Understand cultural stereotypes. A good leader must have a good grasp of stereotypes associated with different cultures. This is in addition to an open-minded approach to stereotypical attitudes.
- Power gap management. A leader must seek to bridge the power gap between senior executives and rank-and-file staff. In other words, senior executives should strive to narrow the social distance between themselves and their subordinates.
- Self-awareness. You have to develop self-awareness in order to thrive as a leader. This means developing a keen sense of personal strengths, weaknesses and behavioral tendencies/
- Brush up on communication skills. Focus on improving your verbal and nonverbal communication skills especially the art of bridging cultural divides.
- Diversity alignment. Base your leadership on aligning strategic operational decisions and business objectives.
- Cultural competence. Cultural competence refers to a leader’s ability to draw on learned and ingrained cultural knowledge to function well in a culturally diverse environment.
Benefits of a Diverse Workforce
First, diversity offers an organization different skill sets and talents. At the same time, an organization can create an inclusive work environment thanks to diversity. Moreover, diversity simply mirrors a company’s customer base that is in most cases highly diverse. A fourth diversity benefit is empowering a business to compete globally. Finally, diversity can boost a company’s competitive advantage by improving employee retention rates, employee morale and the company’s ability to attract new talent.
According to a Forbes study, 85 percent of 321 large corporations surveyed globally say diversity fosters innovation. As such, organizations that promote workplace diversity attract and retain highly skilled staff and boost customer loyalty. Studies have also shown diversity improves creativity, job satisfaction and employee performance. Furthermore, diversity translates to better gross revenues, shareholder value, market share, productivity and profitability. Thanks to diversity, the U.S. female workforce accounts for 47 percent of total GDP.