The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace

Australia is increasingly becoming more multicultural. According to the most recent census, just over 50% of the population was born overseas or have at least one parent who was. This means just under half of the population have connections to other nations in the world — over 300 ancestries to be more precise...

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What’s encouraging is that more people are supporting diversity in the workplace too. According to Diversity Council Australia, approximately three out of four Australian workers support or strongly support their organisation taking action to create a workplace that is diverse and inclusive and only 3% of Australian workers oppose or strongly oppose their organisation taking action.

While there’s clear progress and a strong appetite to promote diversity in the workplace, some statistics reveal there is still a long way to go. For example, one in two Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander workers report experiencing some form of discrimination and/or harassment in the past year and workers from a non-Christian religious background (48%), workers with disability (45%) and LGBTIQ+ workers (45%) also report significantly higher levels of experience of discrimination and/or harassment, compared to Christian workers (28%), workers with no religion (23%), workers without disability (22%) and non-LGBTIQ+ workers (23%).

So, how can workplaces reduce these numbers? And why is diversity in the workplace important not just for the individual, but for the health of the organisation too?

What is Harmony Week?

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Before we go through the whys and hows, it’s important to understand how this week began. Created in 1999 to coincide with the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the week traditionally runs for seven days in mid-March ending with Harmony Day. This year, Harmony Week begins on Monday the 20th and ends on Sunday 26th March.

Since its first year, more than 80,000 Harmony Week events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia. Each year, the event is geared towards a celebration of Australia’s multicultural heritage and diversity.

The week is a reminder that multiculturalism is in Australia’s national interest. It is about inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians, regardless of cultural or linguistic background, united by a set of core Australian values.

Why is a culturally diverse workplace important?

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You can probably guess that a multicultural workplace means that the employees in an organisation come from a variety of backgrounds. But what you may not know is that this includes not only race, gender, ethnicity and religion but also things such as age, education and disability. What you may not also know is just how much of a positive impact this cacophony of diversity can have on an organisation…

1) More ideas and creativity 
When you have a group of diverse cultural backgrounds, everyone is looking at situations through a different lens and provides unique perspectives. The wealth of viewpoints brings in a wide array of ideas that benefit any team.

2) Improves productivity 
Embracing multicultural concepts at work helps people feel appreciated for who they are and the unique skills they offer. Valued employees tend to be happier, and happier employees tend to be more productive.

3) Improves customer service  
Having a multicultural workforce provides a more inviting environment for the public. Customers have a chance to speak with someone who knows their native tongue or understands certain customs.

4) Improves reputation  
It stands to reason that high employee satisfaction, engaged and innovative thinking, and an interesting and thriving work environment all lead to an excellent company reputation. This benefits the organisation in two key ways — not only are clients more likely to engage with your brand or service, but it will also lead to favourable results when it comes to recruitment and turnover. According to Glassdoor, two-thirds of job hunters consider diversity to be an important company trait!

5) Improves profits  
According to consultancy company McKinsey, companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits. At the board of directors level, more ethnically and culturally diverse companies were 43% more likely to see above-average profits, showing a significant correlation between diversity and performance.

Ultimately, workplace diversity and inclusion allow businesses to build teams that bring different viewpoints and talents to the mix, increasing innovation and driving higher revenues. For individuals, we become more socially and emotionally healthy with a feeling of overall wellness within the workplace, community and our environment.  

How to make the workplace more multicultural

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Simply saying diversity is a priority and that team members should respect cultural differences may not be enough. Unfortunately, you can’t simply tell people to eliminate their bias — some may not even be aware of their bias!

A classic go-to for organisations looking to improve cultural diversity in the workplace is to force managers and employees to undergo diversity training. However, research compiled by the Harvard Business Review has found that most diversity training doesn’t improve things. It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can actually activate bias or spark a backlash.

So, ease up on the control tactics. It’s more effective to engage managers in solving the problem, increase their on-the-job contact with female, LGBTIQ+ and minority workers, and promote social accountability. That’s why interventions such as targeted graduate recruitment, mentoring programs, self-managed teams, and task forces have boosted diversity in businesses.

If you do want to offer diversity programs to employees, that’s okay, as it can be another example of how the organisation aims to promote a diverse workplace. But ensure that they are voluntary. Participants who sign up to these feel committed rather than coerced. Talking to team members from minority groups about whether the organisation’s initiatives are helpful can also be beneficial, while arranging social events can make it easier for people to get past their differences.

How can your workplace get involved in Harmony Week?

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Harmony week provides the perfect time to begin a social event that celebrates multiculturalism and, if you’re reading this early in the month, there’s still time to create your own event at work. From a photo competition to a food festival, here are some ideas for events that require little planning:

Photo competition
In the lead-up, or during Harmony Week, encourage your staff to capture images from around your workplace that represent the concepts of diversity, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging. You could provide awards or certificates for the best pics, and display them throughout the rest of the month.

Food festival
During Harmony week, or on a specific day that week, ask people to bring in food that represents their culture or heritage. Nothing brings people together quite like delicious food! A Taste of Harmony provides various free activities that brings people together through food.

Games from around the world
Ask your colleagues to share games from their cultural backgrounds, like Mahjong from China or Bocce from Italy. They could share a short video on a Teams channel, or via email. Showing these games are a simple way to have fun and teach people about activities from around the world.

Go orange
Since 1999, the colour orange has been associated with Harmony Week. The colour orange represents social communication, stimulating two-way conversations. So, ask colleagues if they would like to wear orange on a specific day, or drape the office in orange banners or flags to represent  celebrate the week.

Remember, Australia’s success as a multicultural nation is underwritten by our values, our mutual understanding of our rights and responsibilities as citizens and our respect for each other. These values can not only benefit our country as a whole, but the individual organisations where we work. Visit for more information.

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