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How to manage staff diversity in an NGO.

Posted on 01 June, 2020 at 09:22

By Epaphras Chinyakuza

Workforce or staff diversity means similarities and differences among employees in terms of age, cultural background, physical abilities and disabilities, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Diversity makes the work force heterogeneous.

In addition, diversity in the workplace refers to acknowledging and valuing of differences among people with respect to views and approaches. Employees with the same gender and cultural background may have diverse thinking and approaches. It is therefore the appreciation that people are different cognitively in their approaches, perception of things, doing, as well as relating to one another that is important. The challenge is how to manage diversity whichever way we define it.

Most NGOs depending on size has a staff compliment from five people to one hundred people. Despite the associated benefits of diversity in creating an exciting, flexible and creative space through synergistic blending of individuals with different backgrounds and perspective, most managers have challenges managing multicultural workforces. With the world now a global village, there is more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs and backgrounds than ever before. Organisations no longer exist and operate in insular environments, they are now part of a worldwide economy and competition is coming from nearly every continent. Members of the Senior Management Team (SMT) need creativity in management and openness to change.

Challenges to managing diversity come when decisions makers only value individual who are similar to them in attitude, beliefs and values. Henceforth organizational selection need not be based on undefined concepts of fit and chemistry, tribal or racial stereotyping which guides behavior towards a group.

The objective is to encourage mutually beneficial interactions among diverse employees by promoting an inclusive culture in the organisation. To attain diversity, managers should avoid discrimination which limits progress due to stereotyping. To be successful in a multicultural environment it is key to manage the differences than ignore them or allow problems to fester. Heads of Departments should make a conscious effort of ensuring all employees understand the organisational and project goals and are willing to attain them. These teams will be a mix of individuals with different skills but sharing two things - passion for what they do and the wish to get things done. This must come first. Conflict may result thus affecting production among people who do not understand one another. Very often though, managers value employees with a variety of thinking and approaches but at times they do not understand how to manage them. Yet, respecting these differences is the key to maintaining a successful innovative culture.

Focus need to be on diversity and looking for ways to become more inclusive if diversity is to become a source of competitive advantage. It is indeed a key component that organizations cannot afford to ignore as well as a good practice of effective people management.

Managers need to understand their own cultural conditioning so that they see how their conduct influences their opinions, attitudes and behavior. Effective multi-cultural managers need to overcome the tendency that everyone is the same. Learn to describe cultural differences before interpreting and evaluating them. Also show respect for others and their culture, avoid being judgmental when faced with cultural differences. Be flexible and tolerate ambiguity.

With the increase in workplace diversity the ability of many organizations to remain competitive will depend on them managing cultural diversity. Develop policies and practices that allow for diverse employee to work comfortably and cooperatively together. Diversity conscious leaders allow a broad array of needs and expectations to be considered rather than just those of the majority cultures. When team members bring their own behavior skills and biases, creating teams out of such vast array of unique individuals is problematic. Team building with diverse member can be a nightmare. Innovation takes place when different ideas, perceptions and ways of doing collide. However, this happens only when there is collaboration among various players who see the world differently.

Being good listeners who are sensitive to perceptions becomes key. A lot more people are working and living outside their home countries. In some organisations, individuals may be seconded to work for the same organisation in a different country or region.  Managers cannot go around this but dealing with it by listening and establishing ways to get everybody to work together.

Effective management need to be aware of skills necessary to create successful diverse workforce. There is a real need for mindset shift as people advocate and lobby for inclusivity in organizations. It’s high time managers become open about their cultural biases’ roadblocks. Demographic changes in leadership now a topical issue as issue of women inclusion and gender equality are areas of interest for some organisations.

Being just or fair by Heads of Departments no longer suffices; embrace equity to ensure creation of an enabling space for innovation to happen. Diversity management is simply more than the acknowledging of differences in people. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination and promoting inclusivity.

As KFM Consultants, we are acutely aware of our role and responsibility in continuing to meet the needs of the NGO community.  We continue to offer our Financial Management, Governance and Sustainability service remotely and virtually. We offer Change Management Training and Team Building Session to NGOs.

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