UAE and wider region fortunate to benefit from diverse workforce

The Arabian Gulf has a huge number of expatriate workers, creating a rich, multicultural environment. That’s good news because research shows that companies with a diversity in the workforce perform better than companies that don’t.

Ursula Burns, the chairwoman and chief executive of Xerox, explains to the Crown Prince’s Court that ‘diversity is the driver of innovation’ during a lecture ahead of Emirati Women’s Day last year. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi
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Ahead of Emirati Women’s Day 2015, Ursula Burns, the chairwoman and chief executive of Xerox, told the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court: “Diversity is the driver of innovation”.

Diversity spans not just gender, but diversity of culture and background. It drives new and innovative thinking, challenges the status quo and drives better results and performance. The Arabian Gulf is home to a huge number of expatriates from all corners of the globe, making the workforce an undeniably multicultural environment. This diversity creates a dynamic workplace that stimulates performance and innovative thinking.

In 2015, McKinsey & Company published research that looked at the relationship between the level of diversity and company financial performance. According to the research, companies in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity were 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. Companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median.

Benefits of diversity have a clear financial impact, and the UAE and wider region is fortunate to benefit from a diverse workforce. But how does a leadership team unify a group of diverse individuals with different mindsets and cultural background, to one common cause – the business objectives of a company?

Here are four strategies that employers can use to engage a diverse workforce:

Create a culture of shared values

When presented with a combination of conflicting backgrounds it can be valuable to use the organisation’s fundamental values as a unifying ideal. People are attracted to company values because they create a common ground and bridge gaps between individuals. It is essential to find a way to make these common factors universal and create a culture of shared values that your workforce believes in.

If a company aims to deliver a service with community at the heart of its operation, it could pool together everyone’s differing opinions on what they consider community values to be. Combining the ideas of a blend of cultures will create a work ethic that everyone is comfortable with.

For example, Adobe doesn’t use ratings to establish employee capabilities, feeling that these inhibit creativity and harm how teams work together. Managers take on the role of a coach, more than anything, letting employees set goals and determine how they should be assessed. Employees are also given stock options so that they know they have a stake and reward in the company’s success.

Take a personalised approach

Diversity of cultures and backgrounds brings with it a range of individual views on issues. Therefore it is important to treat your employees as individuals when problems arise. The HR team must be perceptive and engaged with the workforce, to recognise problems before, or as they begin to develop, and come up with a tailored solution. If two people are unable to work together because of conflicting cultural opinions, organise a way to educate them on each other’s varying backgrounds. This will provide them with the knowledge that they need to work in a way that is respectful to one another’s cultures and can help to prevent problems in the workplace.

Remember that your own customers or clients will also come from diverse backgrounds. Today, several companies are taking diversity differences into consideration; at the beginning of 2016, Pinterest announced its first head of diversity. A week before that, Twitter hired a vice president of diversity and inclusion. In July last year, Facebook made public a training programme that it provides to employees to help manage unconscious biases that may lead to prejudiced hiring practices.

Engage with your employees

Regular interaction with employees is essential to understanding and engaging with your diverse workforce. It is also important to communicate in a range of ways. For example, using technology-based interactions such as emails, questionnaires and surveys can generate large amounts of data quickly, but a face-to-face discussion can be more constructive and yield more insights.

Knowing the backgrounds of your workforce is necessary to maintaining a healthy workplace culture and taking individuals’ needs into consideration. Make an effort to be aware of everyone’s cultural holidays, not just Eid and Ramadan, and ensure that they are all celebrated in an office environment. This means you can make sure that everyone’s heritage is appreciated equally.

Culture is about “how things get done” and should not be left to chance; it is too powerful a force to not take control of. Google has done this well. Google asks its employees to spend 20 per cent of their time doing something outside their normal work function, thus facilitating a creative culture.

Lead from the top

The actions of a leadership team drive the behaviour of a workforce, so helping your senior executives to understand the issues of diversity and giving them the tools to manage tricky situations is essential. Since its Supplier Diversity Development programme began in 1978, Ford has pledged support to minority, women and veteran-owned businesses.

By economically empowering diverse communities and supporting diverse suppliers, the company creates opportunities for fresh ideas, perspectives and experiences. The car maker aims to continue this initiative by allocating at least 10 per cent of its US purchasing budget annually towards it. Ford works with more than 300 diverse suppliers, 30 of which have been doing business with the company for more than 20 years.

Through the range of experiences each employee brings, diversity allows businesses to think laterally, become global players, have a wider audience appeal, a more substantial knowledge base and enriches a workplace, ultimately driving future performance.

Sanjay Modi is the managing dir­ector of in India, the Middle East, South East Asia and Hong Kong