South Africa is a melting pot of many different cultures, which not only consist of different races, but also different religions, languages, customs, and values. While this may in many instances be a recipe for disaster, especially considering South Africa’s turbulent past and the fact that we have 11 official languages (not including other minority languages such as Mandarin, Greek, Portuguese, Hindi, Urdu, etc.) and many different religions, there are many benefits that one can reap from cultural diversity, not only in everyday life, but in the workplace as well.
Having a culturally diverse workforce all working towards the same goal is good for social cohesion in a country where racial tension is often rife. Unfortunately, social cohesion is difficult when different cultures don’t mix in everyday life due to geographic and socio-economic differences. Social cohesion in the country therefore starts in the workplace, where people from different cultures work together and mingle. While this contributes immensely to the bigger picture of a better country and life for all, it also contributes positively to the success of an organisation. The following benefits are only a few examples of how cultural diversity benefits the workplace.
- More options to choose from
One of the most obvious benefits of a culturally diverse workforce is that there is a wide range of talents, skills, experiences, ideas, etc. People from all walks of life can bring different perspectives to the table. While one person might be more analytical, another person might be more creative, or more efficient in problem solving. Sure, this diversity is also present in individuals from the same culture, but the range is much bigger where different cultures are concerned. For example, people from different backgrounds would approach a specific problem differently, which increases the chances of the problem being solved efficiently. With more cultures applying for jobs, employers also have the luxury of recruiting employees from a much bigger pool of options, which can create a very strong workforce.
- Improved morale and employee relations
In organisations where cultural diversity is well managed, i.e. where everyone is treated equally and are provided the same opportunities, employees feel more validated. This leads to increased morale, which in turn benefits the company. High morale among employees creates a happy work environment, which leads to increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and a positive corporate image. Employees conversing with one another, learning about other cultures, and facing difficult situations together create a strong bond between employees. This bond positively affects teamwork, which in itself has a myriad of benefits for organisations.
- Better community relations
An organisation can benefit greatly if it mirrors the demographics of the community it serves. Having a culturally diverse workforce enables a company to better understand the needs of their clients/customers. This creates improved community relations, which will increase sales and positive word of mouth. Expanding the workforce by hiring employees from different cultures offers organisations the opportunity to expand their business to other parts of the world, or at least forge strong business relations with organisations from other cultures. Clients who can identify with the culture of some employees will feel more valued, creating return business, among other benefits.
- Increased innovation
People from different cultures have different ways of looking at the world. Bouncing ideas off one another will lead to new innovations, better strategies, etc. If people from different cultures work together as a team, the outcomes will be much more diverse than those presented by a homogenous team. This is because working with someone vastly different from yourself takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges the brain to think differently. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologyfound that a mock jury consisting of members from different cultures made less factual errors than members of a homogenous group. This study is applicable to the workplace, where thinking objectively has many advantages, among others a wider range of ideas.
- Healthy competition
A culturally diverse workforce is more likely to engage in healthy competition, where employees from different backgrounds try to outperform one another. While a homogenous group might be easier to manage, it might also lead to stagnation, whereas a culturally diverse group will continue to strive to give their best. As stated in the Harvard Business Review, “Working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it’s harder.” For this reason, the challenges of working in a culturally diverse team will actually lead to a higher sense of satisfaction, of a job well done and of personal and professional growth, which will benefit both the organisation and the individual.
Many studies have found that culturally diverse companies outperform homogenous companies. For example, a study by McKinsey & Co. of 366 public companies showed that businesses with the highest racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to experience returns beyond their industry average. A study by Herring (2009) showed a strong correlation between gender and racial diversity and increased revenue and greater profits. In a corporate context, there is a pot of gold at the end of our Rainbow Nation.
In nature, ecosystems with a large bio-diversity thrive. This is a fundamental characteristic of nature, and it applies to the corporate world. While it does have its challenges, diversity is the natural order of the world, therefore, especially in South Africa, we should all learn to benefit from it. If we are to become more culturally sensitive towards one another, and try to find the things we have in common, the workplace is the best place to start because it’s where people are necessitated to work together and leave their petty differences behind. After all, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Diversity Keynote Presentation: Alex and Renias
Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo have experienced firsthand the power of diversity in the workplace. They have worked together for the past 23 years presenting internationally and teaching wildlife tracking.
Listen to the two men tell their true story with humour, humility, and sensitivity. But it’s openminded yet practical people like Alex and Renias who will help to change the business sphere of South Africa.
These two formidable men have created a motivational presentation to share their inspiring story with others. Both South African and international audiences can take away key concepts of productively dealing with diversity in the workplace.
Learn how to build trust in challenging circumstances; how to create an environment that facilitates mutual understanding; how to get to know your diverse colleagues better; and how a multicultural workforce creates big benefits for everyone involved.
To book Alex and Renias, see https://www.motivationalspeaker.co.za/book-motivational-speaker.html