Published 26 September, 2020

Managing a Diverse Workforce (5 min)

“Unity in diversity” means oneness in the varieties. You can very clearly see the oneness in diversity when you see that the people of many religions, race, cultures and traditions     working together in a company, all for a common cause. Diversity at the workplace is taking the world by storm. Leading organisations are recognising the benefits of a diverse workforce. In our earlier article, we discussed about the various benefits of having a diverse workforce.

However, it’s not without it’s challenges. With employees working for more than 40 hours a week, in close proximity of each other, conflict will inevitably arise and without a little due diligence on your side, workplace diversity can cause a lot of flames. While workplace diversity sounds intuitive, it can be quite challenging to put it into practice. Decision makers must be aware of the potential issues that they face, so that they can be prepared with strategies to combat against them and ensure diversity initiatives which can take care of the challenges.

Let’s first see the challenges in Implementation of Diversity

Creating a diverse workforce might look good on paper, but it can be challenging to effectively implement it. Although there’s plenty of diversity guides out there, there’s no one-size-fits-all diversity pla n that works. That is because diversity means different things to different people.

For many established organisations, implementing a diversity initiative can be a gigantic task. A lot of people are resistant to change, so don’t be afraid if you come across some initial hostility. Human beings are creatures of habit; they wouldn’t want to change their way of doing things, especially if those are deeply ingrained in their minds.

SolutionIt is of utmost importance that you communicate to your employees the value of pursuing workplace diversity. Once the employees understand the various benefits that diverse employees could bring to the organisation, they’ll be much more willing and supportive during the implementation process. Arrange diversity trainings so that employees can learn about the benefits and respect their colleagues. Remember, diversity plans shouldn’t be rushed. You must spend quality time crafting them to ensure that you achieve your goals and always be prepared to resolve challenges as and when they arise.

Here are some of the challenges that can arise with diverse workforces:

Language and Communication

When you have a diverse workforce, communication between the team members can become challenging. Often, companies hire people whose first language is not English, so employees and managers sometimes have difficulties in getting their message across. Language barriers could mean that the team members communicate ineffectively and have difficulties in understanding each other. A failure to fully comprehend instructions would lead to a significant loss in productivity and would impact the team synergy.

Employees may find it challenging to understand each other if their differences encourage them to use a slang or a particular kind of language. For example, female employees may talk more politely, avoid swear words than male employees, which could lead to misunderstandings. Further, younger employees may use different terminologies and slangs which people from older generations are unfamiliar with. These kinds of communication issues can crop up any time, not just in the workplace, but outside too.

Solution: Providing language training to the non-English speakers can prevent this from happening. Hiring multilingual or bilingual employees can also help to bridge the gap. Encourage your employees to ask for clarification, if they are not sure about what they’re being asked to do. As it’s always better to clarify things at the outset than to rectify the faults later.


Difference of opinions

Diverse employees have different ways of approaching the same scenario as they are from different backgrounds and experiences and put forth their ideas which are different from the others. Employees who do so are invaluable to your organisation; as they will keep driving innovative ideas and identify issues. However, an excessive number of opinions can lead to a failure in reaching a consensus. Too many opinions can compromise the organisation’s ability to stick to tight deadlines as it may cause a reduction in the overall productivity.

Solution: Select a group of top performing executives who will hear out each and every opinion and make the final decision themselves. If a consensus can’t be reached, then the committee can evaluate all the options and identify the best option. Once a majority has been established amongst the committee, then you can make your final decision.

Physical and Mental Disabilities

We see that the disabled employees have a difficult time at their workplace because proper accommodations as simple as wheelchair ramps are not available. Some special need employees also have service dogs and some office buildings don’t allow them inside.

Solution: Should make arrangements for service dogs to be permitted in your place of work.
Have procedures in place for people with physical or mental disabilities. Some companies have a “quiet room” so that when employees start to feel anxious they can use that room to get rid of their anxiety. Be supportive of your disabled employees and avoid discriminatory or derogatory remarks. Ensuring a fair and comfortable work environment for employees with physical and mental disabilities helps create a more diverse and successful workforce.

Respect and Acceptance

The most fundamental value that contributes towards a successfully diversified workplace is the respect among the workers or the employees. When there is a lack of acceptance amongst each other due to the diverse culture and beliefs of the employees, conflicts may arise. Sometimes, this conflict may turn into animosity and may even lead to situations of violence.

Solution: Diversity trainings will help employees understand, accept and respect each other’s differences. When employees accept the differences between each other, it results in a sharing of ideas and effective collaboration. Acceptance fosters mutual respect and prevents conflicts.

Gender Equality

In a recent survey it has been found, 40% of people believe that both men and women will hire men over women. This is supported by another study that shows that men are 30% more likely to be promoted to a managerial position than women. In addition to it, men earn an approximately 24.1% higher basic pay than women.

Solution: In the past, women were paid less than men but the Equal Pay Act has changed that significantly.  In recent years. there has been a huge influx of women in the workplace. Employers need to prevent gender discrimination by maintaining equality regarding hiring, salary, opportunities and promotions.

Ethnic and Cultural Differences

A University of Wisconsin study found that people with African-American sounding names are 14% less likely to get a call back. Moreover, according to a New York Times report, there are only 5 African-American CEOs in all of the Fortune 500 companies. Sadly, the issues from ethnic and cultural differences are still prevalent in the workplace. There are still many individuals who hold prejudice against people who have different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds from their own.

Solution: Internal company policies with clear and objective regulations should be put in place in order to prevent the employees from demonstrating prejudice. This prejudice and discrimination should never be tolerated at the workplace. Cultural sensitivity and diversity awareness training programs can help in addressing this issue.

Generation Gaps

By the year 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the entire workforce and they are changing the work culture very fast. Employees from other generations may have difficulties adapting to the rapid changes in the workplace and the work culture that the younger generation brings about.

In larger companies, there are more diversified age groups, from teenagers to senior citizens. As a result, cliques and social circles may be formed and some employees may be isolated from the team. There may also be times that workers from different generations may disagree with the way how things should be done.

Solution: To maintain teamwork and collaboration, create an open communication culture within your organization to help bridge the gap between generations.


Humans make decisions based on biases, rather than on facts and logic. Very sadly, this is no different in the workplace too. Employees will base their decisions and judgements on unconscious biases despite their best intentions. Distrust can arise as employees doubt each other’s ability to do their jobs. For example, many a times we may hear things like “They’re different to me so I can’t trust them” or “They don’t know what they’re doing”. These are some common thoughts.

SolutionHiring managers need to be able to recognise the signs of hostility. Diversity training for employees can also help to educate them and mitigate any bias. With awareness training, employees will understand that differences between colleagues are beneficial and nothing to fret about. Communicate the company values clearly; resistant employees will eventually realise that their values no longer align with that of their employer and leave. If you’re concerned about losing  a star employee, always remember that quality employees who align with your values are more beneficial to your mission and vision.

Retention of Bad Talent

In order to maintain the diversity in your workforce, you might be forced to hold onto many employees that currently work for your organisation. Simply, because they boost  your diversity figures.  However, due to the poor performers, there comes a reduction in productivity, morale and innovation too.

SolutionIt’s counterproductive to hold onto employees who are unable to do their job effectively. If an employee isn’t performing and no amount of additional training is helping, you should consider letting them go. The ideal replacement could be just round the corner. Don’t sacrifice the success of your organisation for one underperforming employee, regardless of their diversity.

Way Forward

Diversity in the workplace can bring positive changes to your organisation, but it also has the potential to introduce challenges. While these challenges can be extremely inconvenient and damaging to your entire organisation, they can be avoided. Be prepared to combat the challenges listed above before your diversity initiative is implemented. If you rush your diversity plans, you risk causing even bigger challenges that are harder to resolve.

Increasing diversity in the workplace will benefit your company in the long run. In fact, companies with a more diverse workforce perform 35% above the national industry average. Encouraging diversity is the way out for organizations. Businesses that can successfully manage diversity in the workplace definitely have a competitive edge over others.

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