Managing Diversity In The Workplace: Age, Language And Culture
CEO of Season Group, a vertically integrated Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) provider, and SG Wireless, a full-stack IoT provider.
In the current age of globalization and social mobility, individuals from different cities, countries, regions, ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds converge across many social settings. The workplace is one such social setting, and diversity — in all its shapes and forms — becomes a characteristic part of the workforce.
Such a congregation of different individuals can be complex as differences could easily lead to misunderstandings and tension within teams. In turn, leading and managing a diverse group of individuals becomes a delicate matter that needs to be addressed to ensure that the people who make up a company and directly influence its performance are functioning properly together. The three aspects of diversity I will be focusing on are age, language and culture.
Understanding Your Crowd: Embracing And Managing Age Diversity
In my experience, one of toughest forms of diversity to manage within a company, and one that is often neglected, is age diversity.
We have all heard of the stereotypes associated with generational groups. Dr. Alexis Abramson, an expert in generational cohorts, outlined the different characteristics and communication preferences of each group — from the “disciplined” and “loyal” Silent Generation, all the way to the “confident” and digitally-savvy Generation Z. She emphasizes that understanding generational mindsets can be helpful, but it’s important to remember that everyone is an individual. I’ve found acknowledging differences across generations can help fulfill the needs of staff from various groups and ensure that they are working at their best as a team.
In turn, such differences can be capitalized on. Consider involving a mixed age group of individuals in your decision-making tasks to help improve problem solving and drive innovation. As with all forms of diversity, age diversity brings together various perspectives from each distinctive generational group that is conducive to complex decisions that require broad considerations. For instance, in my business, having a team of decision-makers from different generations helps when we want to estimate consumer or staff reactions toward new ideas or technology, such as UI design or the use of robots at work. Age diversity can help the team create age-inclusive solutions that have greater traction and uptake in the market or at work.
Finding The Right Management Talent: Linguistic Diversity In International Workspaces
In addition to age, language is another aspect of diversity that is not given enough heed in my view. While communication and interactions may be conducted in English, certain messages can be lost in translation for those who speak English as their second, third or even fourth language.
My own experience has shown that it’s best to accommodate workers in their native tongue. In other words, it can be helpful to hire bilingual or multilingual personnel, especially for management functions, to act as the middle-man or translator if it works with your budget. From more effective communication and higher levels of cultural sensitivity, to increasing trust levels between employees, multilingual individuals are undoubtedly assets within a linguistically diverse company.
Aditionally, try to be cognizant at all times of your audience. For example in China, we switch between Cantonese, Mandarin and English depending on who is in the meeting room. We want the speaker to be able to convey their message directly, but also to make sure (the majority of) recipients understand the message as well.
Aligning Differences Under A Shared Goal: Acknowledging And Capitalizing On Cultural Diversity
In some international companies, cultural diversity is not concentrated in one geographical location but occurs across multiple global sites, each with a distinct culture and character.
To bring together culturally distinct and geographically separate teams, make sure your company shares the same vision, mission and core values across all locations. Having a shared mission and vision can drive employees in the same general direction, especially when it comes to decision-making. Sharing common goals and values can help you get through difficult times. It is through the sharing of common goals and values that you can capitalize on differences and turn them into strengths.
For example, by recognizing individual strengths, my company can develop our customer service with colleagues who are more outgoing, and ensure the timely delivery of our services with colleagues who are more task-driven. Ultimately, diversity is about recognizing our differences, embracing them and utilizing them in a way that is meaningful to all.
Moving Forward Toward A Diverse And Open Work Environment
The world has always been a diverse place, but in our current age of digitalization and globalization, diversity — in all its richness, shapes and forms — can be found concentrated in smaller social settings as well, such as the workplace. I have covered three aspects of diversity, and we all know there are endless others. What is important is that diversity is recognized, respected and openly accepted, particularly in the workplace where interactions between diverse people are commonplace. With the right mindset, diversity in the workforce can very well be used to benefit your business in ways you may have previously overlooked.
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