Effective intercultural communication is critical to conducting business in a global economy. Collaborative business partnerships develop through a mutual understanding and respect for each other's cultural norms, feelings and beliefs. To establish mutually beneficial relationships in today’s increasingly diverse corporate community, we must have international knowledge and demonstrate sensitivity to the varying values, attitudes and behaviors of others. Diversity training helps professionals enhance their interpersonal communication skills and improves cross-cultural relationships in the workplace.
Recognizing the components of diversity, including culture, gender, age, race, religion, disability and national origin, is essential to doing business with a diverse workforce. A lack of sensitivity to these differences can erode morale and detrimentally impact productivity. Diversity sensitivity encompasses many facets of work life, including meetings, social gatherings, negotiations and correspondence. The benefits of diversity sensitivity training programs may include higher employee retention rates, reduced harassment incidences and discrimination lawsuits, and a more tolerant workforce that demonstrates increased respect for self and others.
Diversity sensitivity training in the workplace aims to counter issues of racism, sexism, exclusion and ethnocentrism by making workers aware of different cultures, backgrounds and personality traits. Participants receive the necessary skills to understand inherent prejudices and combat natural barriers to effective workplace communication. Essentially, diversity sensitivity training teaches people how to get the most out of their relationships with people across a broad spectrum of differences, such as race, gender and age, to name a few.
Many educational institutions, from major universities to community colleges and professional learning organizations, offer diversity sensitivity programs. Some organizations bring diversity trainers in house and develop customized training programs tailored to their business model. Individuals may learn about diversity sensitivity on their own through online training seminars, and mail-order videos, DVDs and books. Regardless of the delivery method, diversity sensitivity training explores how differences between employees can cause workplace tension and impact productivity and morale. Participants learn how to practice cultural sensitivity and work more effectively with others.
Professional diversity experts use a number of methods and techniques to promote diversity sensitivity in the workplace. The overall purpose of these exercises is to explore dimensions of diversity and build an appreciation and understanding for how people interpret and value their own identity. Some trainers use games, such as Discovery Hunt, that focus on cultural differences and similarities. Other diversity experts lead cross-cultural simulation activities, where participants have to work out ways to communicate and solve tasks using different cultural norms.
Many companies offer diversity sensitivity training programs, but they cannot mandate that employees attend the diversity training. Some workers may object to the concepts presented during diversity training. According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), legally, if a company's diversity training violates an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs, the employer can not force them to participate. Because of the nature of the content, companies must give its employees a choice whether or not to attend the training. Companies that mandate diversity training, irrespective of their employee's beliefs, undermine civil rights and liberties.
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- Photo Credit good work team image by Leticia Wilson from Fotolia.com
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