workplace diversityLately, workplace diversity has been generating a lot of buzz. Countless studies have been done over the last couple of years. Every week, the blogosphere generates a ton of thought-provoking discussion about this topic. And it is all happening for good reason: Diversity could be the key to business success.

Today, businesses have greater access to global talent. To attract and retain the best of what the world has to offer, leadership teams need to become more understanding and sensitive on what it means for an employee to feel not only valued and appreciated, but also respected. And when leaders earn their respect, employees will do all that they can to encourage organizational growth.

They key is knowing how to manage workforce diversity and nurture understanding of – and even appreciation in – everyone’s differences. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) global study Value-based diversity: The challenges and strengths of many (sponsored by SuccessFactors, an SAP company), HR leaders echoed these top five strategies for fostering a workplace that embraces diversity:

  1. Mentor new and high-potential employees. Creating a leadership team that appreciates the diversity of its workforce starts on the ground floor. Companies that excel in diversity management use formal mentoring programs to identify and nurture high-potential employees. By developing a future pool of leaders that is representative of the diverse cultures, values, races, genders, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs of the overall workforce, the leadership team of the future will be able to influence the current leadership team to develop processes and programs that enhance employee engagement and loyalty.
  1. Expose high-potential employees to diverse business situations. According to the EUI study, diverse teams tend to be more creative, produce more solutions, and were far more adept at ‘thinking outside the box.’ It also found that diverse teams were more difficult to manage, requiring greater flexibility and cultural sensitivity on the part of leaders. Allowing high-potential employees to experience a vast array of business situations not only challenges their own beliefs, but sensitizes them to consider what employees need to feel appreciated and valued.
  1. Make working arrangements flexible. Flexible work arrangements and practices speak to our deeply held values of fairness and justice as human beings. Practices such as modified daily start and end times, part-time schedules, a compressed work week, telecommuting, and job sharing gives employees the choice of how they can accomplish the work they are hired to do and care for family members or nurture their talents in other ways. And if done well, the business benefits ten-fold – because an employee who is feel personally and professionally fulfilled is a productive employee.
  1. Provide opportunities for international career. Diversity is as much about the range of career opportunities offered within one country as the chance to develop an international career that involves living and working in multiple countries. Not only can it challenge the views of employees who decide to take this path, but it can be a life-changing experience that can be used later to help the overall workplace embrace differences never-before encountered or considered.
  1. Empower diverse teams to address strategic business challenges. Conflict is normal when working with diverse teams, especially when certain values are regarded as something that is detracting from the overall goal. In situations like this, HR leaders should provide the team with tools necessary to resolve any issues themselves. For example, the team lead should learn to understand other members’ conflict styles and help members understand and develop the use of more effective styles. By using principled negotiation and planning, the team’s ability to negotiate can support the current and future success of the team.

Click on the infographic below to see how businesses worldwide are incorporating workplace diversity in their DNA: