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Communicating in a Diverse Culture

By Amber James, Annette Patterson-McLaurin, Rodney Hall, and Tracy Kidd (TNU 2007)

People bring many differences and similarities to the workplace, as well as to every other aspect of their personal lives. Diversity is the condition of having distinct or unlike elements. Examples of diversity include the variety among people related to factors such as age, culture, education, employee status, family status, function, gender, national origin, physical appearance, race, regional origin, religion, sexual orientation, and thinking style. (1) An advantage to diversity in the workplace is the range of different people can reduce lawsuits and increase marketing opportunities, recruitment, creativity, and business image. (2) Though there are advantages to diversity in the workplace, it can also present its challenges.

Diversity issues are important to any organization for a number of reasons. (3) Diversity can create a communication barrier amongst people in the workplace environment. It is important to acknowledge that there are differences between individuals as well as groups of people. Though major barriers interfere with individuals from the diverse culture ability to appreciate and accept both commonalities and differences, it is essential to effective working relationships to better understand and begin practicing effective communication. (4)

It is important for companies to face communicate barriers when faced with the challenges of diversity. As you read further, you will read the positive effects of diversity on corporations in the Nashville business area as well as tips on how corporations can include diversity in its benefits. You will also read in detail how diversity in Nashville has changed in recent years and how corporations need to recognize the change

How Corporations Can Include Diversity:

Language issues are becoming a considerable source of conflict and inefficiency in the increasingly diverse work force throughout, the world. Communication is essential to communicate effectively within the work place. Such barriers can interfere with any process or production of the work. Learning and understanding the differences will help everyone appreciate the differences and be more functional. The U.S. is a diverse and multicultural society. Cultural competence hinges on understanding the importance of language diversity and being able to communicate effectively in the face of language diversity.

Here locally in Nashville, we have experienced in the last decade an explosion of immigrants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the year 2000 in Davidson County, 10% of the population spoke a language other than English. Out of the 51,429 that said they spoke a language other than English, only 51.58% spoke English well. Other data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the Davidson County shows the influence and growing number of people from other regions of the world living in Nashville. (5)


Population Davidson County



Increases or Decreases







African Americans





American Indian and Alaska Native










Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander





Some other Race





Two or More Race





Hispanic or Latino





This table demonstrates in four years, the population in Nashville not only increased, but the culture has diversified, with the largest increases with Asian and Hispanic.

The reality is that language and cultural barriers and misunderstandings can get in the way of effective communication and create complications in the workplace, including problems with safety. An increasing number of companies are establishing English as a Second Language (ESL) courses within the workplace. By offering such classes, companies can build strong partnerships amongst stakeholders. As it is becoming increasingly clear by offering these types of programs, it can save lives, save money and is a good investment for an increasing diverse workplace. These programs are not the same as taking an ESL program in school, the purpose to help individuals learn English to communicate effectively specifically for the job. Even when the workplace does not have workers from foreign countries, some of these programs can be beneficial as a tool to bridge gaps among a variety of. (6)
Language barriers often go hand-in with cultural differences, posing additional problems, and misunderstanding in the workplace. When a person speaks little English, he/she can be intimidated and frustrated trying to communicate with English-speaking supervisor or co-workers and visa versa. Workers may act as if they know what is said, but in fact, may not know. In some jobs, this can be dangerous. According to Business Journal article in the rising number of Hispanic workers in the construction industry pointed out that workers who speak little or no English are at much greater risk of having an accident on the job because of not having a full grasp of safety standards (7).

There are some companies developing internal programs to help employees understand and embrace differences, creating an inclusive environment. Cummins, Inc head quarters in Columbus, Indiana, has developed and implemented an in-depth diversity program for its employees. The program allows employees to form diversity councils at each location. The councils are responsible for promoting diversity awareness amongst the employees focusing on both visible and invisible diversity. Further more Cummins, Inc is also developing affinity groups so specific diverse groups can develop groups that focuses on the issues and challenges of that specific group.

Cummins has been recognized for numerous awards in diversity. In June of 2005, Diversity Inc recognized Cummins, as the top company for Asian Americans and one of the notable companies for Diversity. Cummins Chairman and CEO Tim Solso responded on receiving this recognition “Our experience around the globe, and in China and India Particular, shows that diversity is good for business. And it’s the right thing to do.” (8)

Diversity’s Impact on American Corporations:

According to a study done by Workforce 2000, “workforce diversity has become a reality in organizations today.”(9) However, companies’ diversity management teams are still evolving. Michael Carrell, Everett Mann, and Tracey Sigler suggest within the last five years organizations have written workforce diversity policies and programs to better-define diversity in the workplace.

Peter Galuszka, author of Diverse Issues in Higher Education states in “mid-January, corporate America sent another signal that it is paying more attention to diversity issues, and business educators are taking notice.” (10) Galuszka points out American International Group Inc., one of the nation's largest insurers, announced the appointment of its first chief diversity officer, who will oversee diversity initiatives within the company and advise the company's top executives of situations among its suppliers, vendors, and customers. (10) While American International Group's announcement was decidedly low key; the naming of another CDO at a powerful U.S. company suggests that diversity is becoming more of a factor in the corner offices of corporate America.

Bea Y. Perdue, the executive director of Bennett College's Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute, says ignoring minorities could be a big mistake. As the United States labor force shrinks over the next 50 years, Perdue says companies will increasingly need to hire and retain minorities to keep pace with global competition. (10) Galuszka points out business schools across the country are working to revise their curriculums to take advantage of the diversity-conscious work place. Galuszka suggests Perdue's program at Bennett College has been especially effective. The institute grew out of a March 2004 forum for CDOs and now holds workshops and offers research into business diversity issues. (10)

According to the August 7, 2007 issue of the Nashville Business Journal, Nashville's Metro Transit Authority has hired the Nashville-based public relations firm, Communications Strategies, for diversity outreach. MTA states as the population of Nashville and its daily riders increases and becomes more diverse, so should the MTA staff. (12) “MTA staff has become much more diverse and planning to address these matters is simply good management," says Peter Woolfolk, president of Communications Strategies, in a release. (12)

The Nashville Business Journal, May 25, 2005 issue reports, “Diversity in the workplace goes far beyond the basic numbers of women, seniors, disabled and minorities on staff. Forward-thinking managers recognize the multiple benefits this inclusiveness brings to company advancement.”(11) Gov. Phil Bredesen has established the Governor's Office of Diversity Business Enterprise, which reaches out to woman-owned, veteran-owned, small and other disadvantaged businesses to become certified to do business with the state. Locally, Nashville Electric Service and Fleetguard are among those companies seriously engaged in inclusiveness through both personnel and procurement policies and practices. (11)

Corporate Diversity:

Encouraging Diversity in the workplace is necessary for a corporation to be competitively successful. We speak different languages, eat different foods, practice different religions, different schooling, different social views, and the list goes on. All of these differences can affect how we communicate with individuals of different backgrounds, especially in the workplace. Most people will not be offended if you are genuine in your desire to be more sensitive to cultural issues. Training and communication are two vital tools in which corporations can utilize to accomplish this goal. Making certain that the employees are provided with diversity training, and development opportunities that spotlight on the needs of individuals. Fragment (14)

As we converge on communication, one way to improve this tool is by avoiding jargon, slang, and other culture-specific expressions in company wide communication. Using metaphors may be problematic with people from other cultures, since they do not necessarily use the same metaphors. Slang and colloquialism are specific challenges in all areas of communication, so for this reason we should keep spoken and written language very simple. (13) The best way to create an environment that people of all cultures and ethnicities can participate in is to ensure that the company’s mission and goals are communicated clearly. Embrace the idea of an open-door communication policy as it helps to curtail the communication gap, as well as, encourage cohesiveness within the company. Make certain that the workplace is driven by business requirements through communication rather than personal preferences. (15) Ethnic and cultural diversity can augment our lives if we are open to reaching out and learning new ways of communicating, this can be accomplished through courtesy and goodwill.

A company’s training environment can be a major factor in how communication is perceived by all involved parties. Many of the pitfalls of misunderstanding reflect upon inadequate training early on. It is very important that incoming employees be taught during orientation what the company’s expectations are. Training programs that inform the employee of the significance of diversity in the workplace help alleviate future legal issues. (16) The biggest mistake made by individuals, is to look at diverse issues only through their eyes. Tunnel vision allows for a bias view of the entire picture, which results in a negative perspective of the real issue. There are major and minor cultural differences, and we cannot be effective in our area of business if we do not understand and embrace them. Incorporating a complete training package will help support the foundation of the company. (13)

The benefits of enhancing diversity in the workplace are well worth the investment. Creating an environment where all employees feel included, represented and valued help to produce greater employee commitment and motivation. (17) It also means fewer resources spent on additional training and turnover. Company’s that are more diverse have more customers, greater market share in their industries, and greater profitability. Having a diverse workforce unites people of assorted ideas, attitudes, and life experiences in working together to make a company grow. (14) Diversity maximizes productivity, inventiveness, and trustworthiness of employees.


The face of the workplace is increasingly becoming multicultural. The workforce is now covering a wide variety of cultures. Individual’s differences have the advantage of creating a competitive edge in the workplace and ultimately increasing productivity. In today’s marketplace, it is a challenge of employers to make certain that diversity is a source of strength, rather than conflict. Communication is an essential part of the success of any organization. Effectively communicating allows the better understanding of differences among individuals or a group of people. Diverse culture in the workplace represents with changing world. Therefore, it is important for organizations to create a fair environment allowing all employees the access to opportunities and challenges. Organizations must learn to adapt to the changes in order to be successful. (2)

Works Cited

  1. What is Diversity? (2007) Retrieved from the World Wide Web August 28, 2007.

  2. Esty, Katharine., Griffin, Richard., and Schorr-Hirsh, Marcie (1995). Workplace diversity. A manager’s guide to solving problems and turning diversity into a competitive advantage. Avon, MA: Adams Media Corporation.

  3. Green, Kelli., Kepner, Karl., López, Mayra., Wysocki, Allen, “Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools.” Retrieved from the World Wide Web August 28, 2007.

  4. Archer, Thomas. Hague, Carla. Miller, Ann., and Smith, Bill. “Ohio State Fact Sheet: Working With Diverse Cultures.” Retrieved from the World Wide Web August 28, 2007.

  5. US Census Bureau 2007. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on August 26, 2007.

  6. Hiester, Cheryl 2003. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Language learning in the workplace. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on August 25, 2007.

  7. Barbara Thiede, “Push for Greater Safety Stymied By Language Barrier,” The Business Journal, August 17. 2007.

  8. Williams, Janet 2005. Diversity Inc, Cummins recognized for commitment to diversity. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on September 3, 2007.

  9. Carrell, Michael, Mann, Everett., Sigler, Tracey. Defining Workplace Diversity Programs and Practices in Organizations. Labor Law Journal; Spring 2006, Vol. 57 Iss 1. 

  10. Galuszka, Peter. Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Fairfax: Mar. 22 2007. Vol. 24 Issue 3 p.14.

  11. Woolfolk, Peter. Diversity Delivers Promise and Profits. Nashville Business Journal.  May 25, 2005.

  12. Nashville Business Journal. MTA Hires from Diversity Outreach. August 6, 2007.

  13. Ribbink, Kim, “Seven Ways to Better Communicate in Today’s Diverse Workplace.” Harvard Business School, 03 Feb 2003.

  14. Benefits on Diversity Articles, “The Importance of Recruiting a Diverse Workforce.” 22 Aug 2007.

  15. Roosevelt, R. Thomas, Marjorie I. Woodruff, Building a House for Diversity, AMACOM, 1999.

  16. Wolf, Dave, “Communication in a Culturally Diverse World.” Simplicity. 03 Sept 2005.

  17. Simma & Lieberman, “Generational Diversity Articles.” 31 Aug. 2007


Insight into Cross-Cultural (Diversity) in Today’s Work Force

by Gina M. Lindsey, TNU 2008

Diversity is the human characteristics that make people different from each other. Rodney Hall, Amber James, Tracy Kidd, and Annette Patterson-McLaurin wrote:

Individual’s differences have the advantage of creating a competitive edge in the workplace and ultimately increasing productivity. In today’s marketplace, it is a challenge of employers to make certain that diversity is a source of strength, rather than conflict. Communication is an essential part of the success of any organization. Effectively communicating allows the better understanding of differences among individuals or a group of people. Diverse culture in the workplace represents with changing world. Therefore, it is important for organizations to create a fair environment allowing all employees the access to opportunities and challenges (Hall, James, Kidd, and Patterson-McLaurin).

If an organization is to survive and prosper, companies must use diversity as a competitive advantage.

Good Diversity Link 


Diversity Information Found By Anthony Couch (TNU 2008)

Diversity in the workforce is necessary. “Diversity is about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and age.” 

“In order to achieve a truly diverse workforce companies must:
1. Comply with legislation. Last year the legal cost of discrimination to British businesses was ₤ 320 million.
2. Think opportunity. Diversity is about innovation and creativity. Different perspectives bring creative solutions.
3. Look at how diversity can benefit your business. Diversity is about marketing and recognizing changing demographics.
4. Measure it. Data helps to identify places for needed action.
5. Get out of your box. Examine your recruiting and advertising practices if your workforce and customer base is under-represented.
6. Be holistic. Today, diversity is about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and age.
7. Share responsibility. Diversity needs support at the top, and embracing throughout the organization.”

CRASH COURSE IN... DIVERSITY IN THE WORKFORCE Alexander Garrett. Management Today. London:Jun 2007. p. 24 (1 pp.) ProQuest. EBSCOhost. Trevecca Nazarene Univ., Nashville, TN. 11 Feb 2008

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