International business schools and multinational companies consider a work environment to be diverse when it joins people from different backgrounds. In other words, diversity is not the mere fact that people are different; but that they work in the same environment irrespective of their differences. I chose to write about the topic as the Middle East is increasingly witnessing diverse workplaces due to the combined effect of expatriate communities, international assignments, global projects such as Expo 2020 in Dubai and the World Cup in Doha, and so forth.
What amplifies diversity is primarily globalization, the changing labor pool, and the intensifying competition. However, organizations have the opportunity to reap the benefits of diversity and to transform challenges into a catalyst for innovation. Organizations are invited to foster inclusive environments: they can shape their culture by “celebrating differences” and transforming them into tangible opportunities such as easier market access through multi-language use for example.
A priori, diversity seems to be positive as it could nurture innovation. Nevertheless, it presents challenges related to misperceptions, fear, prejudices, stereotypes, unfair expectations, tokenism and marginalization to name a few. These challenges may have negative repercussions on organizations if mishandled.
Along with the diversification of the workforce in the Middle East, governments are enforcing nationalization initiatives primarily in the public sector and at a slower pace in the private sector. These programs do not intend to hinder diversity but rather aim at rebalancing the workforce by involving nationals in their countries’ affairs.
John F. Kennedy said that “if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity”. Inclusiveness crafts an environment whereby no one and no rule wittingly or unwittingly bars anyone from accessing growth opportunities such as promotions, trainings, lateral moves, international assignments, etc.
We are increasingly facing dynamic work environments, complex projects and business deals whereby identity-differences are shown. People have different approaches in carrying out the following activities: negotiating, communicating, building working relationships, resolving conflicts, making decisions, greeting one another, setting deadlines, etc. Diversity is an opportunity for organizations in the Middle East to reach out to higher levels of profitability. They can start by looking into the following questions:
1- What characterizes our population in terms of diversity?
2- What are the needs of different segments within the workforce?
3- What is best fit in leveraging diversity?
Organizations operate as well in an ecosystem that challenges or empowers diversity. Accordingly, it is interesting to look into opportunities or constraints within the marketplace, the network of suppliers and the community. Furthermore, as any other business initiative, diversity management programs must be linked with strategic objectives as well as championed by leadership. Diversity management challenges are easier to embrace when employees are located in one country. Nevertheless, the long-lasting global technology revolution, openness of markets, the rise of multinational and transnational businesses and economic interests in certain parts of the world such as BRIC and GCC countries increased risks and issues related to identity-related differences (e.g. race, religion, gender, etc.) between people working together.
People, organizations and their leadership are invited to look into ways to manage diversity in a proactive manner. It is confirmed: discrimination is neither legally nor morally accepted. Furthermore, diversity – if properly managed – may lead to enhanced effectiveness.
by: Joana Abou Jaoude, manager, Human Capital Consulting, Deloitte Middle East