The Dilemma of Ethics and Cultural Diversity
By Emad Rahim, DM, PMP, University Dean of Business and Management
Diversity Day is April 10, 2013 and in honor of the day, CTU is presenting a blog series from faculty in various program areas to highlight the importance of understanding diversity. In our this post, Dr. Emad Rahim shares how leadership, business ethics and diversity go hand-in-hand in influencing your organizational environment.
Ethics and diversity are two major dynamics that influence the environment of modern organizations. Diversity is present when there is a mixture of differences in age, religion, culture, gender, ethnicity, education and more amongst a group of people within the same environment. Increased workplace diversity is connected to large rises in the number of women, minorities, older employees and the disabled in the workforce. In support of the diverse workforce, legislative rulings require organizations to ensure equal opportunity to these workers.
There are numerous approaches to managing diversity, whether on an individual basis or a whole organizational approach. An individual approach can include learning and practicing empathy. At the organizational level it may be training, mentoring or implementing other types of programs for employees.
It is important for organizations to establish a code of ethics in order to foster and support an ethical business culture. Ethical codes, along with management’s practices, can either promote or derail effective management of diversity. Business ethics involve right and wrong behaviors or actions taken when moral issues and choices arise within an organization. A number of cultural (family, friends, community, education, religion and media), organizational (ethical codes, role models, policies and practices, and reward and punishment systems), and external forces (political, legal and economic) determine ethical behavior. All of these influences acting interdependently serve to help identify and shape ethical behavior in organizations.
There are many variables to consider when managing a multicultural workforce. In a “melting-pot” society such as ours, organizational leaders must learn to adapt to an array of cultural differences. What one culture perceives as an ethical action, another culture may not. Actions that are misunderstood and mishandled by leaders in matters of questionable employee conduct can result in legal problems for corporations. To avoid costly lawsuits, organizations need to invest resources and time to help train their leaders on diversity management and ethical decision-making.
When deciding on the content of a diversity training program, it’s important to consider your audience. One of the primary problems encountered in diversity trainings provided by organizations is that they predominantly target one group. Diversity trainings rarely include the topic of ethics, which are affected by culture, value, faith, education, race and economic influences. Many of these diversity training initiatives focus their attention toward embracing cultural differences, but avoid the topic of embracing ethical differences. Many sociologists believe that this is where the real dilemma stays dormant.
When deciding on the type of diversity training to provide to your employees, consider the following:
- 1. For an effective diversity training program, foster an inclusive environment. Participants are the solution to effectively managing diversity in your organization, so it’s important that they feel included. Diversity shouldn’t be a one-sided discussion, but an inclusive conversation where everyone feels that their ideas and experiences matter.
- 2. Create a collaborative space that provides employees opportunity for teamwork. Diverse workforces need experience collaborating as teams. Set up program opportunities for members to discover new things about each other and share their feelings and values in an open environment. Engage them in meaningful projects that go beyond their work responsibilities. Think of projects outside the company like volunteering for local nonprofits, working with youths or community action projects. When people experience something firsthand they’re more likely to remember and learn from it.
- 3. Explain the benefits of diversity management to employees. We know that diversity is ‘right,’ but few people know why it’s necessary for the company. Discuss why they should involve themselves even if they’re not a minority. Ask them how the company and its employees might benefit from effective diversity management. Don’t assume your employees know the answer to these questions. Your company’s leadership should know the benefits of their investment in diversity support and education, and should be confident in their approach. More than annual training, it should be a long-term investment in shaping the culture, attitude and behavior of your company.
- 4. Get your leaders involved in the training. Leaders shouldn’t necessarily facilitate training, but should engage in the training along with everyone else. Too many companies make the mistake of having supervisors facilitate entire trainings without participating in the activities or engaging in the conversations themselves. Employees may see leadership as the source of their diversity issues. They’ll be more invested if they see leaders directly participating alongside them.
As a leader within your organization, both ethics and diversity should be high on your list for developing and managing teams that work effectively within your company’s culture. Successfully starting with your own education on diversity, as well as educating your employees, will create a more proactive future for your organization.
Emad Rahim, DM, PMP is a PMI Certified Project Management Professional® and the University Dean of Business and Management at Colorado Technical University. Connect with him on Twitter @CTUBusiness or read more on diversity from Dr. Rahim’s book “Leading Through Diversity: Transforming Managers into Effective Leaders.”
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