How to manage diversity in the workplace - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

How to manage diversity in the workplace

Simply put: Diversity management recognises individual differences and demands respect for all cultures, gender, sexual orientations, age, religious/political beliefs, physical abilities or ideologies and races. We all are different and come from different backgrounds. Managing a company’s diversified workforce, should be part of the entire management approach and culture of the company. Through this happy employees can help achieve a healthy bottom line.

Thinking about your business as a whole, you need to see that your workforce, customer and your entire target market are increasingly becoming more diverse, especially in South Africa. Nothing explains the diverse South Africa better than the term “Rainbow Nation”. But you as a business should not be scared of it, you should embrace it and welcome diversity through managing it effectively and efficiently.

When managing diversity within a work environment, top management/owners or shareholders need to create a safe place. There should be a strong emphasis on communication. When people can communicate, it means that they can solve problems and understand each other better. From a business point of view, you as a managerial team need to ensure that all your employees understand your policies, procedures, safety rules and other important information. Your HR department needs to look at strategies to overcome language as a barrier and have some key signage and issues translated. By doing this, the employees immediately feel important and can understand the information provided.

If you start viewing your employees as unique individuals, you avoid both the negative and positive stereotypes. It is a mind-shift that needs to happen. Don’t generalise and make assumptions about certain groups. Simply see and judge success or failures within the job specifications individually. As manager, it is your responsibility to encourage this type of outlook amongst your co-workers. Remind them constantly that each person should be evaluated and judged on their work and not on their personal dynamic. Act promptly and firmly towards employees if prejudices or stereotyping occurs.

When you encourage work in diverse teams, you will be able to assure that work teams reflect true well managed diversity. This gives team members the opportunity to reflect on themselves and also focus on getting to know and value each other as true individuals. You will be promoting friendships and well balanced relationships.

Remember to keep all evaluation criteria the same for all the different groups. No one is allowed to make excuses for poor performance or shortcomings. Employment actions should be focused on job-related issues and nothing personal – make sure employees understand and see that your managerial style focusses on fairness, discipline and performance within the workplace.

An open mind, recognise and respect differences as individual strengths. Encourage your workforce and work teams to think in a way that they understand that their own culture, background and various experiences are not the only ones. Everyone needs to understand that to work together, we must respect each other. The way forward is to look for ways to integrate a variety of perspectives and talents so that the organisation create a harmonious workplace that as a whole can achieve the goals and the outcome should be perceived as a positive for all parties involved. Everyone in the business is supposed to sit back at the end of the day and appreciate the differences amongst each other, they should co-exist peacefully and promote everyone so all could maximise their potential.

Elmarie Pretorius is a International speaker, trainer, author and owner of The Mindspa Institute.

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