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Multi-cultural workforce-an imperative

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DQW Bureau
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For most of human history, “work” meant the use of strong backs and dexterous

hands. Further, with the industrial revolution, labor became specialized,

monotonous, and often mechanized. Where as, now in our information- and

services-centric economy, work increasingly means applied expertise. The value

this delivers is not primarily a physical product, but know-how. And the wealth

it builds up is not merely physical capital, but intellectual capital as well.

Delivering this value, and creating this wealth, depends on access to

world-class expertise. And this is just the beginning. An organization needs to

be able to apply, combine, and evolve its expertise, and that of its partners,

suppliers, and even its clients, in a constantly changing marketplace and

business ecosystem.

With the advent of globalization, having a workforce that closely mirrors the

marketplace enables organizations to better understand and serve the needs of an

increasingly diverse customer base. A diverse workforce also allows a broader

view of the world and to identify issues that truly matter. And the unique

perspectives that diverse employees bring to the organization enable creative

approaches and innovative solutions for its customers and communities besides

helping themselves.

According to Lloyd C Blankfein, chairman and chief executive officer, Goldman

Sachs Group, one of the leading investment banking, securities, and investment

management firm, “diversity is at the very core of our ability to serve our

clients well and to maximize return for our shareholders. It supports and

strengthens the firm's culture, and reinforces our reputation as the employer of

choice in our industry and beyond.”

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The need is far greater particularly for organizations whose brand is

reflected in its employees' expertise far more extensively than in its products.

As organizations increasingly realize that their business is only as strong as

the people who comprise it, there is emphasis on creating a dynamic and

challenging environment that maximizes employees' productivity and connection to

the enterprise on a global scale. Hence, diversity is seen as an obvious choice

to engender the challenging environment. Take the case of IBM that has

innovation as its core value. The company believes that difference is what

drives innovation, and creativity flows when diverse minds meet; when people

with a broad range of experiences work together to find a solution.

having a workforce that closely

mirrors the marketplace enables organizations to better understand and serve

the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base

Organizations like IBM ensure they extend diversity beyond the traditional

realms of race, gender, religion, disability, or sexual orientation by aligning

diversity with globalization so that it becomes a natural extension of the

organization's strategy. The ability to draw upon a truly diverse workforce is

fast becoming a key differentiator of truly global companies, as diverse

representation in the workforce has been identified as a factor enhancing a

company's bottom line as well as top line-globally.

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As the composition of the workforce continues to change and the growing need

for professional and cutting-edge management skills at all levels increases, it

is critical for organizations to focus on creating an inclusive and diverse

workforce. An organization's philosophy on diversity should be based on respect

for one another and recognition that each person brings his or her unique

attributes to the corporation. The 21st century globally integrated enterprise

truly believes that employees have commitments outside work and that they must

help manage these responsibilities along with their work obligations.

The Tata Group, one of India's largest and most respected private sector

conglomerates, on the occasion of women's day announced the 'Second Career

Internship Program' for women professionals. The program seeks to provide an

opportunity and explores the expertise of talented women professionals who have

opted to take a career break after some initial years of work.

The goal of an organi­zation's diversity and inclusion strategy should help

increase the innovation and creativity of an increasingly diverse workforce and

successfully build market share in several new markets. To this end,

organizations today have multicultural resource networks where employees from

varied backgrounds and experiences can work together and develop professionally.

The network holds special events including guest speakers, receptions, art

exhibits, fund-raisers, and even cooking and dancing demonstrations showcasing

the rich cultural heritage of the community. In addition to this, members are

active in the organization's recruitment efforts and volunteer with a number of

community organizations building the organization's brand equity.

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The demographic, geographic, and competitive challenges facing today's

organizations have made it imperative to standardize and harmonize HR processes

with diversity and inclusion as a vital component. Understanding both the

internal and external supply and demand for labor is critical in effectively

allocating resources across the globe, determining current and future sources of

talent and expertise, and identifying workforce trends that will have a direct

impact on corporate strategy.

For example, a company that recognizes it will lose certain skills due to the

aging of its workforce may consider to dip into a secondary labor market for

retirees who will work on a part time basis or tap into the expertise of a

strategic partner. At IBM, the professional marketplace gives project managers

access to information about IBM professionals, their expertise, and availability

to work on projects. Other managers monitor the database and serve as

matchmakers between jobs and people.

There has also been a growing importance of communities in decreasing the

learning curve of new employees, responding more rapidly to customer needs,

preventing “reinvention of the wheel”, and spawning new ideas for products and

services. By making it easier for individuals to display their areas of

expertise and receive feedback on their ideas, these communities help foster the

development of connections, relationships, and common context that are critical

to the flow of knowledge across traditional boundaries.

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One also needs to keep in mind that diversity goes beyond the concept of

people who just look different; it is equally important to think about it in

terms of experience bases and backgrounds, and diversity of thought-the idea of

bringing people into business who will question and challenge what the

organization is doing.

Cisco Systems says that it likes to hire 'wild ducks', a process that they

build into their selection process, so that they hire people who challenge the

way they think. It has been critical to its success.

To sum it up, I will quote, “Just as an entire forest can start with the

planting of a single tree, we recognize diversity is a work in progress, one

that takes time, commitment, and being open to fresh perspectives,” says Carmen

Baker, vice president, Enterprise Diversity, Carlson Companies in the company's

brochure on diversity.

Rajesh Nambiar


The author is GM and VP, Global Delivery, IBM India

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