Challenges of an international workplace – creating an inclusive world
All good things must come to an end. After walking through 100 years of cultural research history and understanding recent cultural frameworks together, we will end this three-part blog by taking a look into the future, presenting how latest research can help us to navigate a rapidly changing world.
Societies are becoming increasingly interconnected and the trend is irreversible, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Globalization has resulted in frequent interactions and influences among individuals on an international scale. Up to now, people could easily travel, work, and study anywhere they wanted and the effects of globalization were further strengthened by digitalization, which helped making information and communication become inexpensive and instantaneous. All of this has led to the high level of diverse interactions that we experience today. We do not know what the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all of these development is, however, global collaboration will not vanish but might continue with a different scope.
As we have engaged in more diverse interactions in our everyday lives, so have businesses and companies. Most large corporations today are either multinational companies or international companies with business units or operations all over the world. Companies are no longer restrained by national or cultural boundaries and are able to serve multiple markets at the same time. Moreover, companies are also sourcing talents globally to increase their competitiveness, which contributes further to the internationalization and diversity of the work environment.
Under the influence of globalization, a new global workforce trend has emerged. According to projections by the UN, the working-age population in developed nations will barely grow (United Nations, 2019). Immigration from developing nations might thus become inevitable to fulfill the working-age population deficit in these regions. There has also been a global increase of female participation in the labor force. In Latin America for example, the ratio grew from 30% to 50 % from 1980 to 2016 (Ortiz-Ospina et al., 2018). These are but two examples of global workforce changes resulting in more diversity. An increasingly diversified staff can benefit companies by bringing in new ideas and perspectives, but it requires a different management approach, which we will take a closer look at in this article: Workplace inclusion.
What exactly is inclusion and why is it important in the workplace?
Inclusion is “the degree to which an employee perceives that he or she is an esteemed member of the work group through experiencing treatment that satisfies his or her needs for belongingness and uniqueness (Shore et al., 2011).” The sense of belonging motivates one to form strong and stable relationships with the working or peer group, and at the same time, the individual should feel that his or her uniqueness is recognized and valued by the group. This feeling of group membership is essential for individuals. It offers members self-verification and power and enhances members’ social position and boosts feelings of self-worth (Correll & Park, 2005).
In the new global economy, companies should utilize the diversity of their human talents to become truly global. Employees should be able to perform their best regardless of their nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or age. Efforts of promoting inclusion will enable companies to better manage and harness their diverse workforce, lead to more committed and satisfied employees, and give companies a competitive advantage (Patrick & Kumar, 2012; Nishii et al., 2019).
To summarize, the inclusive workplace is one where individual differences are valued and productively utilized, cooperation with the surrounding community occurs, needs of disadvantaged groups are alleviated, and collaboration across national and cultural boundaries is a matter of course (Mor Barak, 2017). With this concept in mind, we will now explore the challenges of inclusion in the workplace.
The winding road to inclusion
First and foremost, the road to inclusion is not an easy one. This has various reasons.
All to often, employees from disadvantaged groups feel excluded, but why is that the case?
We can use the social identity theory to help us answering this question. According to Tajfel and Turner (1986), people tend to think of themselves and others as belonging to specific social groups. For example, people may use social group categories such as women, Asian Americans, supervisors, and seniors, which not only helps people to systematize the social world, but also provides orientation of their place in society. Every individual associates him- or herself with different social groups, which forms their own social identity. Simultaneously, individuals perceive other people as belonging to different social groups, which results in a categorization process, where some individuals are perceived as in-group members, whilst others are perceived as out-group members. In the end, this categorization creates in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination, as we tend to perceive in-group members more positively than out-group members. This has some major implications for the workplace. Employees belonging to certain groups will include and accept those who are similar to them and exclude those who are perceived to be different.
How do experiences of exclusion then influence employee attitudes, behaviors, and performance?
Because humans have a powerful need for belongingness, the acceptance in or rejection from groups has significant consequences for a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing and also affects their behavior (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). When employees are excluded from formal or informal processes because of membership in a certain diversity group, we can expect him or her to attempt reconnection, disengage, or even behave unethically. This illustrates the detrimental consequence of feeling excluded at the workplace as it not only has a direct influence on one’s self-esteem, but also influences the way employees behave.
Why is inclusion so difficult?
Few will doubt that promoting an inclusive workplace will be both beneficial and essential, however, many challenges arise when putting it into practice. For the most part, people hold stereotypes and prejudices against particular groups. For example, the traditional stereotypes of women being less suitable for management roles due to being more emotional or not assertive enough or of older workers being less motivated and less productive. Stereotypes are standard, oversimplified pictures of a group member, which fail to acknowledge individual differences, and constrain our understanding of an individual. Subtle stereotypical comments such as “you are quite independent for a woman” might result in unintended microaggressions with detrimental consequences for the target of these microaggressions.
Diversity without inclusion, will not lead to the desired results of an innovative, well-performing and growing business, and instead can have unwanted results (Sherbin & Rashid, 2017). Hence, we will explore next how one realizes the positive outcomes of inclusion.
How to foster a globally inclusive future?
As we have seen, creating inclusion is especially critical in a diverse workplace, and can promote positive results such as better job satisfaction, well-being, motivation, and innovation, and lessen negative sentiment, conflict, and withdrawal. We hereby introduce inclusive leadership as a tactic to address inclusion in the workplace.
Inclusive leadership emphasizes increasing group members’ feelings of belonging to the group and valuing their individual uniqueness (Randel et al., 2017). It promotes the effective functioning of diverse work groups in ways that other forms of leadership do not.
Three factors have been found to be positively related to leaders’ readiness to engage in inclusive leadership (Randel et al., 2017). Pro-diversity beliefs: The more leaders associate diversity with positivity, as value creating rather than conflict inducing, the higher their desire to find and create opportunities for diversity. Humility: Humble leaders make others feel more welcome and are not threatened by the differences and strenghts of their members. And finally, cognitive complexity. Leaders with higher cognitive complexity are more capable of processing social information of others in a multidimensional manner and see their strenghts, weaknesses, and social identities as distinct from each other. The higher individuals score on these factors, the higher their propensity to engage in inclusive leadership.
Inclusive leadership behaviors include ensuring that members’ perspectives are incorporated, signaling concern for the group and its members, establishing a common understanding of efforts towards inclusion, encouraging diverse contributions, and helping members fully contribute. Stipulating these behaviors, leaders are able to boost member perceptions of inclusion.
As the workplace becomes increasingly diverse, leaders and managers need to recognize the potential positive and negative outcomes of this change. By learning more about inclusion and incorporating it into business practices, one would undeniably be able to improve the experience and effectiveness for all in a work group.
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Sherbin, L., & Rashid, R. (2017, February 1). Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion
Shore, L. M., Randel, A. E., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., Ehrhart, K. H., & Singh, G. (2011). Inclusion and diversity in work groups: A review and model for future research. Journal of Management. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206310385943
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