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BLOG: Managing a multi-cultural workforce

Roy Magee | Sept. 1, 2011
How businesses can benefit from diversity.

Over the last 30 years, Singapore has grown to become one of the most modern, successful, stable, and sophisticated economies in Asia. Today, the country stands as the fourth largest financial centre in the world1, propelling it to one of the top destinations for international companies and talents to sink their roots, creating a melting pot of global citizens and a dynamic and vibrant multicultural workforce.

With numerous cultures now working side-by-side across the nation, this poses a new challenge for business leaders, one which was highlighted during the recent General Elections - how to better integrate and leverage the benefits of the multi-cultural workforce.

For Singapore to elevate or even maintain its position among the cream of global economies, it must learn to embrace diversity and appreciate the benefits that a multi-cultural workforce can bring. For example, diversity drives innovation which can propel businesses further by enhancing creativity and understanding of customers, leading to larger profits, growth and survival. Cultural connections can also be critical to understanding what drives purchasing decisions and brand loyalty across different market segments and help drive international expansion.

With globalisation revolutionising the way businesses work, organisations with a workforce that contains wider diversity will be even better positioned in connecting with an international audience and competing in the global arena. Multi-culturalism also bridges cultural gaps and increases the level of acceptance of global business norms.

The primary challenge for business leaders in engaging a multi-cultural workforce is overcoming stereotypes. Success in work environments means first abandoning cultural stereotyping by employees across all organisational levels. Stereotypes are dangerous as they limit the contributions of people of different nationalities and damage collaboration, productivity, relationships and individual self-perception. Fostering a healthy environment for a diverse workforce is crucial in creating a more harmonious atmosphere, leading to greater productivity and efficiency.

In combating stereotypes and improving cross-cultural collaboration, employers should begin by examining their own ideas about other cultures. They can then help employees recognise when cultural stereotypes hinder collaboration. To challenge stereotypes, business leaders should encourage staff to treat everyone as an individual, assess how cultural stereotypes may colour views and encourage others to reject them.

In the face of evolving workforce demographics, business leaders play an integral role in effectively managing a multi-cultural workforce. Here are four ways that business leaders can improve cross-cultural collaboration and develop productive work environments.

 1.       Find common ground

Individuals are unique, but share more than you may think. Staff must therefore spend time talking about needs, goals, interests and points of view with individuals from other nationalities. What's shared and learnt can strengthen the human connection and sense of community that support collaborative work relationships. To find common ground:

  • Ask respectful questions;
  • Listen with an open mind; and
  • Connect on the human level shared by all.

 

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