08 Management


Diversity in the Workplace

Mercè Roca

In today’s globalized, fast-changing world, effective teams are the key to a successful business. For this reason, professionals who have the ability to work as part of a team are valued very highly. But what is the optimum composition of a team? Should homogeneity be prioritized in order to avoid conflict, or should internal heterogeneity be encouraged?

Numerous studies have made it clear that, in order to achieve optimum performance, the members of a team need to have different roles and objectives. Management expert Meredith Belbin identified three types of role and nine individual roles: those that are action-oriented (promotion, implementation and finalization); those that are people-oriented (coordination, cohesion and resource-location); and those that are reflection-oriented (thinking, monitoring/evaluation and specialization). When assembling a team we should consider how to combine these roles, as well as the ideal size of the team and the specific knowledge it requires. The team should boost the knowledge and contributions of each member, so that the end result multiplies the sum of its parts.

Globalization has accentuated the importance of multifactorial plurality, both within and outside the company. However, diversity of function, responsibility, knowledge, experience and interests can impact negatively on the team’s cohesion and prevent it from working well. Consequently, the management of diversity, which developed with the aim of promoting equality amongst an organization’s human resources and to comply with the corresponding legislation, has become a key part of corporate strategy. Companies have adapted to this development by identifying diversity as a source of added value and a competitive advantage.

Managing diversity is never a trivial matter for companies. In order to make the most of it, internal communication should be boosted, shared objectives should be identified and the voice of each team member should be listened to, in order to take all the options into consideration when making decisions. Each member of the team must make the organization’s mission their own, while recognizing their own contribution to achieving it. This requires clear rules of operation, appropriate information systems, a work environment that encourages learning and collaboration and a balanced system of achievement recognition and incentivization. To achieve this, group qualities such as communication skills, collaborative attitudes and conflict resolution should be fostered, while cohesion and business culture should be reinforced. It is also necessary to develop personal competences such as self-criticism, self-awareness, the willingness to learn and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The urgent need to address diversity in international management has arisen in parallel with the internationalization of the centres that teach management as a subject. During the previous academic year, more than 22,000 foreign students attended Catalan universities (data from the Inter-University Council of Catalonia). They accounted for 4.7% of degree students, 26% of Master’s students and 35.8% of doctoral students. The Master in International Business offered jointly by ESCI and BSM (UPF’s business schools) is an excellent example of the growing number of students from overseas. At the start of the new term the program comprised a group of 35 students, who had a very diverse range of academic backgrounds and represented 20 different nationalities. Just four of the students were Spanish. This diversity represents a major challenge, while at the same time providing an ideal context for building the students’ capacity to work in multi-national, heterogeneous teams.

The teaching staff is faced with the challenge of making the most of this diversity, which is also a reflection of the complexity of the employment market and the world of international business. It will be necessary to bring cohesion to different perspectives and ways of working, make better use of talent and facilitate its expression, and capitalize on multiculturalism to develop creativity and innovation. Achieving these objectives would represent a corporate asset of the highest order, while preparing oneself for them as a student represents a valuable enrichment of professional opportunities.

Mercè Roca

Mercè Roca

Director of MSc in International Business, UPF Barcelona School of Management Academic coordinator of ESCI-UPF

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