Friday, November 24, 2017

LOVE LETTERS TO TANZANIA: Why diversity in the workplace matters



By Sabine Barbara

Generally, economists refer to a workplace culture as “diverse” if it includes male and female employees of various ages and from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and races. Recent studies confirmed that well-managed workforce diversity offers organisations productivity gains and numerous other benefits, so the number of Tanzanian employers whose recruitment policies foster diversity is growing.

More traditionalist employers may wonder if efforts to increase staff diversity may upset established structures which served their organisation well in the past. They may be hesitant to take productive employees or business partners out of their comfort zone. Harmonious, single-culture teams may resent having to adapt to colleagues who do not reflect the homogenous group’s shared characteristics or dominant values.

Psychologists believe that this reluctance is natural, as human beings best establish trust with others with whom they have a lot in common. In other words, it can take time to get accustomed to and establish rapport with new team members who we see as not fitting in. So, why push for more diversity in the workplace?

Modern markets are multicultural and diverse, offering lucrative niches with room for expansion. Therefore, to develop products and marketing strategies which speak to a wide range of target groups, a company needs to tap into the potential a diverse workforce offers. Modern consumers, be it of products or services, want to see that people of their own kind are valued by the company whose products they are supposed to buy. The more diverse a marketing team is, the more likely it is that a wide range of potential customers’ needs is understood. Speaking to diverse niche markets – and, as a consequence, establishing a broader range of clients, translates into increased revenue.

Another benefit of employing workers from many different backgrounds is the ability to attract diverse contributions to the company effort, especially in areas which require creativity and innovation. A diverse team can look at a problem from many different angles, benefitting from the multitude of viewpoints, languages and skills brought to the table. The discussions involved in this process enhance employees’ flexibility and ability to communicate with a variety of stakeholders. Where mixed groups of people negotiate strategies to pursue a shared goals, collaborative skills development is an inevitable and desirable side-effect.

Competitive edge

If a company favours one type of employee, it could miss out on truly gifted individuals with particular talents which may be prevalent in specific minority groups. An organisation that embraces diversity can tap into a much larger talent pool and strengthen its competitive edge.

Instinctive exclusion of employees perceived as dissimilar does not necessarily always reflect prejudice. Often, it is just about maintaining the status quo with which the current workforce is content, or seeking to avoid the inconvenience dissimilar employees are assumed to cause. An all-male board of directors may fear they have to change the way they interact, joke or make small talk, if a woman joins their team. Surveys show that some old-fashioned executives even believe that female executives may not be taken seriously by clients in more conservative societies who they believe resent negotiating with executives of the opposite gender. The reality, however, is different. In pleasing a small group of conservative associates, such companies are locking themselves out of new, highly lucrative market segments.

Therefore, enlightened employers do not let trivial concerns impede their businesses’ progress or long-term viability in increasingly diverse business contexts. Instead, they invest time and effort to educate employees about the benefits of diversity and create inclusive, tolerant workplaces which lift morale and give their organisation a competitive advantage. A flexible and diverse workforce not only enhances such organisations’ reputation, but also benefits each individual’s capacity to profit from a range of future employment opportunities, both in Tanzania and overseas.

The author is a freelance writer, working in Australia as a programme leader in education and expert teacher