Comfortable with change

From the October 2022 print edition

An article entitled “The Big Wake-Up Call” from the August 2020 issue of Supply Professional hinted at the global changes descending on us (Glocalization), the impact those changes will have on our accepted norms, and how they will define our future.

Mahmud Khamis is a supply chain professional in Mississauga.

Those impacts are stronger than we first thought. In the past, the power of the US depended primarily on its military might. However, as demographics change, that country must change. In the last 75-odd years, both Canada and the US have evolved from predominately white-majority-controlled nations into more pluralistic countries. This has caused tensions and resulted in no major ethnic or racial group holding the bulk of the power in either country. This blurs lines and disrupts past norms as we struggle to adapt.

Why does this matter to Canadians? Canada and America are predominantly “soft-cultured” societies and have pockets fighting to hold on to traditional cultural roots that they see as threatened.

For example, in the US, thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump gathered in Washington, D.C., claiming that the 2020 election had been “stolen.” Contrast this to the Canadian march by supporters in the “Freedom Convoy” that protested in Ottawa earlier this year. Both exposed deeper roots related to their perceived “loss” of their nations’ traditional cultures.

The questions of “what is cultural diversity?” and “what are acceptable norms?” are front and centre. Simply put, cultural diversity is the quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, which is what many of us were used to. However, it’s not that simple anymore. The transition to cultural diversity has been rocky for some, making it difficult to navigate currently accepted social norms. This can further inflame existing social tensions, leading to some of the unrest we’ve seen recently.

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt a policy of multiculturalism. That policy marked its 50th anniversary in 2021, yet the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated racism and hate that has affected Indigenous peoples as well as Black, Asian, Muslim, Jewish, and other racialized and religious minority communities.

Statistics Canada research shows that hate crimes increased by 37 per cent in 2020, exposing pitfalls of cultural “looseness.”

By looseness, I’m referring to a culture that can change, rather than one stuck rigidly to past norms. The ability to pivot away from the looseness or tightness (meaning a strictly unchanging culture) is important not just for societies but for organizations seeking both innovation and rejuvenation.

This is important, and impacts managers as well as the workplace. How can organizations thrive in this changing world? To move forward, managers must understand the impacts of diversity on the organization and how best to transverse turbulent waters.

Diversity perspectives
In the article “Managing a culturally diverse workforce: Diversity perspectives in organizations” in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations, the authors identify five diversity perspectives representing ideologies for internal consistencies. The distinct patterns of each perspective reveal a deeper insight into the diversity management processes and the areas for success to help leave the pandemic behind and build strong international organizations.

The following five structural pillars were identified as the critical supports needed to ensure an organization’s continued future success:

  1. Reinforcing homogeneity: Strive for a homogeneous workforce. Employees feel better working with similar expectations and as part of the same team. People
    fit into an organization when they are perceived to be similarly treated and can assimilate.
  2. Colour blindness: Managers must understand that qualification matters in the organization, not background. Promotion must be dependent upon employee performance, not on their backgrounds. Employees must feel welcome and should thrive as long as they meet the necessary requirements.
  3. Fairness: This must be regarded as one of an organization’s most important pillars, giving employees from disadvantaged groups specific support for their further development. The organization must be culturally diverse, and equal employment opportunities must be taken seriously.
  4. Access: There are certain jobs/functions for which people of different cultural backgrounds are particularly well qualified and suited. Matching employees’ cultural backgrounds with that of their clients/customers fosters the quality of access within the organization – people fit into an organization when employee diversity matches the diversity of its clients/customers.
  5. Integration and learning: Cultural diversity brings challenging new and different ideas, along with additional knowledge, to the workplace. Diversity promotes innovation and helps develop skills in addressing new challenges.

This framework presents an opportunity to help propel organizations to yet unimagined heights. All we have to do is accept these challenges while seizing the possibilities presented to us.