According to a report by McKinsey & Company, in recent years, more diverse businesses have financially outperformed their competitors.

While the global pandemic and subsequent job losses have had an adverse impact on the drive for improved diversity, businesses must continue to prioritise their I&D (inclusion and diversity) efforts. In fact, as we enter a new era for the workplace, with companies migrating to remote and hybrid structures, a strong focus on diversity could have a much bigger impact than we could ever anticipate. The Globalization Partners’ Global Employee Survey, 2021 for example found that over half (58 per cent) of respondents identified team diversity as the top benefit of working in a global team.

Modern business leaders must address cultural bias and open their eyes to the possibilities presented by a more culturally diverse team.

Diversity in a post-pandemic environment

The global health crisis has changed the workplace as we know it. As businesses make pivotal decisions as to the future of their office space, many take to remote or hybrid models, employing cloud technologies that allow greater flexibility for their teams to work from anywhere in the world. But many businesses haven’t yet acknowledged or optimised the full potential of a remote workforce.

Before the pandemic took hold, the hiring process was restrictive, with businesses limited to candidates based within a commutable geographic radius from their head office. Now businesses may take the opportunity to hire talented individuals, completely unhindered by geography. This means, taking advantage of a global, rather than regional talent pool. Breaking this down, that in turn means leaders can now seek out, and hire the best possible candidate for the job regardless of their global location.

Now, by hiring from a global pool of talent, companies can truly secure the best possible team and improve the efficacy, engagement levels, productivity, and ultimately, profitability of that team.

Promoting diversity: how leaders can make a change 

The global research firm Gartner recently found that inclusive teams can improve performance and productivity by up to 30 percent in high-diversity environments. What’s more, promoting and implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace is not only beneficial in terms of productivity and profitability but it also improves mental health and wellbeing, meaning you’ll have a talented, hardworking team that is happy to stick around for longer.

So, with such a vast and powerful opportunity at our fingertips, how can business leaders and managers make steps towards better diversity in an evolving workplace?

Implementing cultural competence

Simply put, and according to the dictionary definition of the term, culture encompasses the collective ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a specific group of people or society. Cultural competence is the ability to effectively comprehend, interact and communicate with individuals regardless of their cultural background. Cultural competence comes about from a deeper understanding and better integration with new cultures, which often comes about from a richer awareness of one’s own cultural views. Leaders wishing to better implement cultural competence must take steps to practice self-awareness when it comes to cultural bias first and foremost.

Confronting and contesting cultural bias

There are three progressive phases of relating to a new culture which can be broken down into what we at Globalization Partners call ‘the three C’s’.

Confront: Consciously or unconsciously, we believe that our way of doing things is the right way or best way. It’s natural. But stepping out of this and assessing what values we have and why we have them can be a first step in identifying our own cultural bias.

Contest: Before addressing culture bias, we might naturally feel at odds with other cultures, meaning that the levels of integration and assimilation with other cultures are minimal.

Connect: In this third phase, we might observe, learn, and gain a better understanding of the behaviours and social norms of another culture, leading to an adaptation in your own behaviour to accommodate both cultures.

Understanding individual vs. group-based culture bias 

National and regional cultures and religions can have a big effect on the way employees communicate, respond to different management styles, prefer to work, set goals, and place value. Refusing to acknowledge this can lead to miscommunication, missed potential and tension.

For example, some cultures tend to emphasise individualism whereas others are more geared towards collectivism, and this can lead to working styles that are either more independent or more collaborative. Employees in different countries may have different attitudes to work-life balance, be used to different levels of directness in communications, may prefer more authoritarian management rather than a more egalitarian style and may be more, or less, comfortable about speaking up at work.

Team members must learn to understand one another, become more focused on their own self-improvement and more mindful of the mutual, team-based goals. For business leaders, the key is to be aware of and identify the intrinsic characteristics of each type of culture that we can learn and grow from.

Why does this matter?

There’s no denying that inclusive leadership begins with cultural competence. Cross-cultural understanding can help to drive better interactions and communication in the workplace as well as productivity, efficiency, and ultimately a better capacity for creative and collective problem-solving.

Not only will leaders see better financial results from taking steps towards cultural competence, but they will also nurture and better retain a happier, healthier workforce for the long term.