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What it Takes to Build and Successfully Manage a Diverse Team

Mar 11, 2024
A close-up of a tossed salad and a pot of melted chocolate x-ed out.

One of the questions many leaders are grappling with today is: What does it take to build and successfully manage a diverse team?

In today’s increasingly diverse workplaces, teams are no longer homogeneous. Women, people of color, and immigrants now represent well over 50% of the workforce.

We also see more individuals with disabilities, less hiding of sexual orientation, and multiple generations working alongside each other. Since 2020, baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z are all sharing the same conference room.

Given that each of these groups brings their expectations, priorities, and beliefs to the workplace, leaders today have to adopt new strategies for every single aspect of their organization—from recruitment to retention to professional development opportunities, and more.

The new reality is that, in most organizations, individuals with different cultural norms, values, ages, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, and languages are all intermingling.

Diversity is the norm, and the success of a company will likely depend on how successfully you manage the diversity of your teams.


Diversity Management: Then and Now

In the traditional management style, assimilation was key. Employees were expected to come in and conform to existing company norms. Their goal was to “fit in.”

In this so-called “melting pot,” all employees had to dissolve themselves into the company’s culture-- one that, most certainly, was established by white men, thus making the prevailing workplace culture much more challenging for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups. This no longer makes sense in today’s diverse workplaces. Today, a “tossed salad” approach is more likely to yield better results.

Successful leaders value the contributions of diverse employees, and they welcome, appreciate, and support diversity. They understand and operate with the knowledge that there are multiple ways of thinking, behaving, and acting. For them, these differences are seen as a “value-added” to the organization.


Diversity Leadership: Overcoming Key Challenges for Optimal Team Performance

Leading a diverse team presents leaders with unique challenges that require careful navigation. Successfully addressing these challenges is essential for fostering a cohesive and high-performing team. Below, you will find a few of these challenges and what you can do about them.


  1.  The need for dealing more effectively with differences

Leaders need to contend with human nature. As human beings, we tend to relate better to those individuals who are most like us. In fact, “otherness,” for some, can be puzzling, frustrating, and challenging to deal with. Conversely, “sameness” is familiar, comfortable, and relaxing. Couple that with our ethnocentric tendencies, that is, the tendency to think that our way is the right way, and we can easily see the challenges those trying to lead a diverse team are facing. Because of that, leaders need to work harder to reach the stage where they are no longer threatened by differences.


  1.  The need for a new management style

The way we lead others has also changed. In the past, the “golden rule” prevailed and leaders treated everyone the way they wanted to be treated. In today’s environment, though, leaders need to learn how their employees wish to be treated and adjust their behavior accordingly. there is greater emphasis on meeting employee’s individual needs.


  1.  The need for building strong relationships

The expectation that workers simply come in, do their job and leave no longer applies. Relationship building, both in formal and informal settings, is essential in high-functioning teams. There needs to be ample opportunities for teammates to learn about and from each other, as well as opportunities for difficult, polarizing conversations to take place. This is important because employees don’t operate in a vacuum. They do bring the challenges of the outside world with them into the organization and these outside challenges need to be addressed so employees have the peace of mind to do their best work.


  1.  The need for addressing unconscious bias in the organization

Unconscious biases present a huge problem for leaders because they lead to prejudicial thinking which, inevitably, results in a lack of diversity for the company. Leaders today need to make sure search committees are properly trained to bring diversity in. They can ensure search processes are enhanced by sponsoring training focusing on topics such as the importance of valuing diversity, developing cultural competence skills, and understanding the impact of unconscious bias in candidate selection.


What Inclusive Leaders Understand and Do

Every single member of a team will have commonalities and differences. These differences will be a reflection of not only their traits but also of their cultural background. Leaders today need to ensure a workplace that challenges and supports individuals of all backgrounds.

Inclusive leaders relate well to all types of people and make sure they establish an organizational culture that allows team members to operate successfully in a diverse world. In doing so, they can reach a diverse market, boost their company’s profits, and ensure they will continue to attract diverse employees.

Most importantly, inclusive leaders understand differences and can work effectively across those differences. They recognize, for example, that both men and women today value and expect a personal and family life, and they make sure employees, especially those in the numerical minority, no longer feel they have to leave significant portions of their identity at the door.

Inclusive leaders are committed to culture change and ensure no one in their organization feels like an outsider.



👉 👉 Mastering Cultural Differences offers interactive workshops for organizations interested in implementing successful DEI+ initiatives. Contact me if your team could benefit from this training.


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