The virtues of workforce diversity

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
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Most companies seem to boast the slogan that “employees are our strength and asset”, but what does this really mean for those that have a more diverse work force that creates both opportunities as well as problems for meeting corporate objectives? Are these slogans empty or real?

The biggest obstacles confronting modern organizations relying on many different national workforces, is getting leaders to think about diversity and inclusion as anything than a short term gimmicky issue , backed up with superficial commitments.

This might create a veneer of change and a feel -good factor for senior management while beneath the surface things remain pretty much the same, leading to built up frustration and resentment by employees. Given the diverse nature of many Gulf companies today, the issue is not an academic one but is important to companies performance and sustainability.

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The basic concept of managing diversity in the work place is to accept that the workforce consists of a diverse population of people with visible and non-visible differences which includes age, background, race, religion, gender, personality and work style given that some nationalities have differing work style than others ,but despite this, the final outcome is more important than how fast things are done.

Managers are not categorized as being biased or not being biased but divided between those who recognize they are biased and those who believe they are always even-handed

Dr. Mohamed Ramady

Valuing true diversity is founded on the premise that management harnessing these differences will create a more productive environment in which everybody feels valued, where their talents are being fully utilized and where final organizational goals are met without friction.

As noted above, diversity is both visible and non -visible. While obvious visible differences such as race, color or gender attracts our immediate attention, the invisible ones should not be ignored. These can include mental health, and home related stress problems. Empathy and genuine care is the best medicine here.

However, diversity can lead to different paths- improvement, no change in performance or a decline, and it depends on other factors.

Organization culture

One of these is the culture of organizations as some of the most famous globally diverse companies like bankers Lehman Brothers or accounting firm Arthur Anderson did not stop them from going out of existence.

This is where real as opposed to token inclusion plays an important part, whereby an inclusive workforce effectively incorporates differences without eliminating them to a homogeneous group. It is one in which workers can flourish individually but unite as a high performing team , as this will unleash greater creativity and innovation drawing upon different diverse backgrounds.

This improves individual wellbeing, resilience and courage to speak up when one disagrees with prevailing views ,as one of the factors leading to mega company demise was the difficulty to criticize the senior management strategies which contributed to a climate and culture of ‘group –think’ and conformity.

It is fine to advocate diversity but another is putting it into practice. It starts with company leaders to look at their own style of leadership and ask the question of how inclusive are they in reality? They need to look at how they work with others, examine their network and reflect on the fairness of decisions being made, especially when it involves different nationalities. The real world is often categorized into black and white but it is not.

Managers are not categorized as being biased or not being biased but divided between those who recognize they are biased and those who believe they are always even-handed. Starting with increased transparency of how decisions have been made improves diversity in areas of hiring, performance appraisal and promotion.

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When managers do not have to be open about such decisions, the greater the bias that creeps into an organization leads to disillusion, and an invisible harboring of grudge against the company then takes over.

To overcome some of this, management need to be held accountable for their decisions which is different from target setting. Managers can be requested to explain what is happening to diversity under their control and if it is not progressing, to say why. In this way sincerity of action, as opposed to vague well meaning intentions can be assessed.

For large or small Gulf companies, honest and real diversity matters, as the alternative is to create different and parallel diverse sub -groups who protect each other , try to impede other competing groups, with the consequence that all will fail in the end.

Given the multitude of Missions and Visions that the Gulf economies are embarking on, not heeding the diversity aspect will only hinder their successful outcomes.
Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. His latest book is on ‘Saudi Aramco 2030: Post IPO challenges’.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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