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
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
Population Davidson County
Increases or Decreases
and Alaska Native
or Other Pacific Islander
Some other Race
Two or More
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.
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.”
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)
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
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)
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