The culture at any company should be one of inclusion and acceptance but, at times, people fall short on the soft skills needed to communicate with each other respectfully and be mindful of the differences in people.

A diverse workforce is a strong workforce, but with diversity comes with its own challenges. Diversity allows a better understanding of how individuals and groups act and how sensitivity to their differences can work towards a positive goal. Read on to find out how to handle diversity at work.

Diversity Explained

Diversity is not only related to race or ethnicity. Diversity encompasses the individual differences in each person. Diversity can include, but is not limited to; race, gender, religion, age, disabilities, socio-economic status, political beliefs and social status.

When weighing up all these differences, you can see why diversity can become a minefield within the confines of a company if not managed effectively. Most companies will run an orientation programme for new employees that include a diversity module. These modules have been specifically designed to educate and equip employees with the skills needed to operate in a diverse environment as a team.

If your company does not have any diversity programmes available, perhaps it is time to approach your Human Resources department and suggest introducing diversity training.

Diversity Courses

Diversity or sensitivity training should be offered to all employees either upon request or offered automatically to equip individuals with soft skills needed to integrate better.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that all federal laws relating to diversity, equality and discrimination are adhered to in the workplace. It is crucial that managers and HR personnel understand and are equipped with the skills to handle any problems that may arise from conflict due to diversity within the workplace.

The best way to equip employees is to offer courses that can help them not only understand diversity properly, but to be more conscientious of their conduct in the workplace and how it affects others. Soft skills such as listening, conflict management and sensitivity do not come naturally to everyone, and the people who lack in these skills can improve on them through diversity training.

What to Expect From Diversity Training

With facilitators onsite at a company, diversity training is conducted as information sessions, groupwork, practical exercises and feedback sessions. Because diversity training is so sensitive, it is best conducted with a knowledgeable and professional trainer. This is not a soft skill that you can learn online adequately.

The core of diversity training is to work within groups, be given a task and to see how each individual would approach the task and then conferring as a group on a solution. These activities foster awareness and understanding of the differences in people and how to respond to these differences.

Diversity and sensitivity training can no longer be considered as a 'nice to have' module in the workplace; it has become an essential part of any company. Formal regulations and employment law conditions must be met within the workplace, but at times this may need more attention, as diversity can be tricky to practise. Equality and tolerance must be enforced so that employees understand the importance of diversity as well as how to cope with differences experienced in the workplace. It is up to the HR department to ensure these needs are met.

Promoting Diversity Internally

There are ways companies can promote diversity besides only offering sensitivity courses. A culture of acceptance should be created within the workplace for everyone to benefit.

The best tactic to achieve this would be to appoint mentors that employees would feel comfortable approaching for one-on-one sessions. Ensure this mentor has the appropriate training and attitude to accommodate their peer's questions or problems and encourage employees to choose to work with these mentors from time to time. Mentors do not have to be HR people; they can be someone who is likable and sensitive to the differences in people and culture.

Encourage open communication within the office - if an employee is struggling with diversity, they should feel comfortable enough to say so. There should be an atmosphere of 'I am different and that is okay,' for everyone to feel accepted.

Diversity and sensitivity skills should not be limited to a select group of people, but the entire workforce. Management should be on board with the strategy too, as leaders, they should set good examples of what diversity can do for the company. It is easier to adjust to the culture of a company if the director is setting the benchmark than if it is perceived that management simply does not care. No one wants to feel like just another number at work - employees who feel valued and heard are happier and more productive.

Companies can also encourage self-evaluation; employees should be allowed to answer questions on themselves that may challenge their belief systems. The trick is to do this in a way that is private to avoid embarrassment of the individual. A good litmus test would be to ask employees to evaluate their connections on social media and figure out if they have a diverse group of people they can connect with.

Another great way to encourage diversity is to set up workshops or brain-storms to overcome certain problems within the company by being as inclusive as possible. Pick a variety of individuals to come together and pool their skills when solving a problem. Place a mentor in the room to encourage the process and applaud the outcome. The more time employees spend with those who are different to them, the better they can connect and overcome their problems with diversity.

Diversity at Home

Teaching the future generations about diversity is a sure-fire way of encouraging acceptance and tolerance at home and work. Raising your children to be open-minded and sensitive to friends, family and peers can prepare them for work-life better with an opportunity to thrive.

Perhaps taking stock of your own beliefs from time to time can be useful too. It is important to understand that you do not have to be friends with work colleagues, but you do have to be tolerant and accepting of them in the workplace. Mutual respect and inclusion are traits each person can practise and reap the benefits thereof.

Younger generations who are entering the work market think very differently to the baby boomers that statistically still make up a large percentage of executive management in today's climate. Younger people are looking for companies that include a culture of diversity to their benefits because it has become increasingly important to them. Inclusion and respect are very high on the younger generation's agenda, and thankfully they seem to automatically be more tolerant due to better education models.

Harnessing the talents of different individuals can elevate a company to better product offerings, services or engagement which all affects the bottom line. The positive benefits stemming from a diverse company culture are endless, which is why diversity should be a priority for every manager or business owner that wants to succeed.