What competency does one need to lead a diverse workforce?

culturally competent leaders

Leaders have long recognized that a diverse workforce gives a competitive edge. Experts say that diverse teams often perform better. They are more creative and innovative. Thanks to remote work and virtual workplace, more and more companies are tapping into the global talent pool. Organizations and teams now have greater diversity than ever before.

So, how do leaders navigate this rising workplace diversity to reap its advertised benefits?

  1. Develop an understanding of how to interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds effectively. 
  2. Appreciate the effect of cultural background on team dynamics and communications.

In other words, leaders need to be culturally competent. They need to value diversity and stay aware of others’ cultural identities and their own. They also need to be the role model of authentic inclusion.

Many organizations have established diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies. But when the declared values are inconsistent with leaders’ actions, it can erase the advertised benefit of having a diverse workforce.

So, how do leaders become culturally competent?

  1. Have deep self-awareness of their own cultural biases.
  2. Able to manage these biases and strive for inclusive action at work.

That would require developing the following essential skills:

  1. Active listening
  2. Ask open and curious questions
  3. Display empathy without judgment

These essential skills would help leaders to:

  1. Develop rapport, trust, and clarity with their own teams
  2. Raise their interpersonal and intrapersonal awareness
  3. Identify options and skills for inclusion
  4. Take targeted actions 
  5. Align DEI policies with leadership cross-cultural practices

A side note: “political correctness” (PC) in the workplace has shown to inhibit cross-cultural interactions. Under the pressure of PC rules and regulations, leaders tend to limit their contacts with diverse staff for fear of causing any unintended offense.

In summary, to navigate the diversity waters with ease requires culturally competent leaders. They walk the talk and bring DEI policies and procedures to life. In turn, that helps their organization retain talent and become an employer of choice.

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