What does cultural diversity mean and why are people so concerned about it currently? This article discusses the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce. Additionally, the article explores ways for organizations to increase workforce diversity. It is written for individuals interested in cultural diversity and matters related to it. The article is also relevant for organizations wishing to learn about workforce diversity and potentially integrating it into their corporate culture.
Authors: Isabella Härkönen & Tarja Ahonen
Cultural diversity can be defined as “the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole” (Kerwin 2010, vii). Because of the broadness of the concept, the study and the article applies a narrow category-based definition, which limits the concept to cover only cultural background.
Cultural diversity can bring many benefits to an organization’s workforce. From the organizational perspective it can improve the organization’s image as an employer and expand the applicant pool. (Leopold & Harris 2009, 129-132.) It also suggests that an organization is socially responsible and provides equal opportunities for all current and future employees (Hofhuis et al. 2013, 180). Moreover, with a diverse workforce organizations can learn more about different markets and potentially increase product awareness (Leopold & Harris 2009, 129-132). Workforce diversity has also been proven to add new perspectives to the problems at hand, increase innovativeness and problem-solving skills (Adler & Gundersen 2008, 102-104; Galinsky et al. 2015, 742).
Increasing workforce diversity can be challenging, but extremely beneficial for organizations in the long run. Theory suggests that the key for increasing workforce diversity is taking advantage of the gap between the number of personnel leaving and the number of new hires. Generally, like any workers, diverse employees can only be retained when there are vacancies in an organization, leading to a slow process. However, a speedy increase can be applied if organizations enter a stage of growth and need to employ additional workforce. (O’Brien et al. 2015, 11-12.)
The study was done in collaboration with Lahti University of Applied Sciences (LAMK). Twelve people working and studying at LAMK were presented questions related to cultural diversity and the case company. (Härkönen 2019, 22, 25.) The answers of interviewees were expected to be very general and noncommittal, but surprisingly interesting perspectives were gained. Revelations were made on different aspects related to the university that were not know beforehand. Sadly, many of them could not be used in the study, because they were slightly off topic.
The study revealed that 50 percent of the participating interviewees felt that LAMK’s workforce is not culturally diverse, 33,3 percent of interviewees answered that LAMK’s workforce is to some extent culturally diverse, and 16,7 percent stated that the workforce is culturally diverse (Härkönen 2019, 26). The results for this part were not as expected. It is clear that workforce diversity is very low at LAMK, yet some find that the workforce is culturally diverse. Reasons behind the answers of the participants who perceive LAMK’s workforce as culturally diverse could be due to the large amount of diverse students, foreign guest lecturers or foreign visitors at the university.
The majority of employees affirmed that a culturally diverse workforce is especially important for organizations nowadays. Moreover, most of the students felt increasing the amount of culturally diverse teachers would be beneficial and could help them learn more about different cultures. (Härkönen 2019, 26-28.) From a student’s perspective, having a diversified teacher base would make the learning environment more interesting. It would bring new teaching styles to the classrooms that do not rely only on PowerPoint presentations. Additionally, having more teachers who speak English as their native language would help students get a custom with the different dialects of the language. This is especially important in business studies, because you will come across several different styles of English during your career.
Various benefits were expressed in the study concerning a culturally diverse LAMK. It would be a competitive advantage against other Finnish universities of applied sciences and increase the amount of foreign students applying to LAMK. Additionally, foreign students would be able to get better support from teachers who have been in the same situation and it could increase the amount of foreign students staying in Finland after their studies. (Härkönen 2019, 28-29.) Other mentioned benefits were very similar to the collected theory, which was a disappointment for the study results. The research could have been more interesting if more new views on the benefits would have been gained.
Two concrete ways were suggested for increasing LAMK’s workforce diversity: Changing LAMK’s official working language to English and increasing the amount of teacher exchange. First, even though being a big undertaking for LAMK, changing the working language to English would be a positive investment for its future. It would increase its competitiveness and increase the amount of foreign students and employees wanting to be a part of the organization. Second, increasing the amount of teacher exchange would be an easy way to gain different perspectives and increase the amount of diversity in many aspects. Teachers going abroad would gain international knowledge and potentially new teaching styles. At the same time, LAMK’s students and employees would benefit from interacting with foreign teachers working at the university. (Härkönen 2019, 31, 35-36.) At the moment, the Universities of Applied Sciences in Finland are not very culturally diverse. This is why it is especially important for LAMK to take advantage of this gap and use it to their advantage. When performing the interviews, very little was known on the ways LAMK could increase its workforce diversity. The results were pleasantly surprising. Such concrete suggestions were not predicted beforehand. It is rewarding to see that the study provided real recommendations that the university can potentially use in the future.
To answer the opening questions, the concept of cultural diversity is an integral part of tomorrow’s business. Organizations must adapt to the changes brought by globalization and embrace cultural diversity. A culturally diversified workforce has been proven to be beneficial for organizations, making it a major trend in business. Therefore, future organizational focus should be on creating efficient diverse working environments and not playing it safe with a fully homogenous workforce.
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Härkönen, I. 2019. Culturally Diversified Workforce: A Benefit or a Challenge? Bachelor’s thesis. Lahti University of Applied Sciences Ltd, Business and Hospitality Management. Lahti. [Cited 21 May 2019]. Available at: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2019052812395
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Härkönen, Isabella. 2019. Fourth-year International Business student. Lahti University of Applied Sciences. Finland.
Ahonen, Tarja. 2019. Senior Lecturer. Lahti University of Applied Sciences Ltd, Business and Hospitality Management. Lahti.
Cover image: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1436885 (CC0)
Reference to this publication
Härkönen, I. & Ahonen, T. 2019. A Culturally Diverse Workforce: Is it really worth it? LAMK Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: http://www.lamkpub.fi/2019/05/29/a-culturally-diverse-workforce-is-it-really-worth-it/