The continuous rise of the BPO industry drives people from different walks of life into city centers. In the Philippines where there are 7,107 islands, this could mean a variety of cultural backgrounds in one office floor. Won't they clash and get in the way of productivity? Is that something that should worry businesses?
The United Nations observes the 21st of May as World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, believing our cultural differences are "indispensable for poverty reduction and the achievement of sustainable development." It is something to be welcomed and nurtured rather than avoided. Embracing cultural diversity in everyday situations is a driving force for economic growth as well as the key to leading more fulfilled lives.
The Economic Benefits of Diversity
Cultural diversity not only refers to the existence of different religions, languages, and ethnicities in society. Sociologists also include sexual orientation, social status, and age.
A 2013 study asserts that diversity in the workplace increases profit. Forty-three of the 50 most diverse companies were more profitable by about 24% than the Standard & Poor's 500. As it turned out in a 2003 European Union Commission research, areas that benefit most from diversity are marketing, operations, and innovation.
One of the reasons is that because we are open to other cultures, we are able to access top talents from other nationalities and backgrounds instead of limiting to our own local market. This is most evident in the outsourcing industry, which allows people of different cultures to work together virtually. With the right management approach, this results to cost savings and increased productivity. If you consider the timezones and currency arbitrage, you can get 24-hour operations and cheaper labor but with more or less the same level of quality as an onshore team.
In addition, having heterogeneous people means a variety of ideas and perspectives leading to high levels of creativity and innovation.
Why Is a Fair Trade Call Center Good for a Culturally Diverse Team?
According to this Dutch study, miscommunication is probably the biggest downside of having a diverse staff. Differences in thoughts and perceptions can intensify interpersonal conflicts in the workplace, so the importance of sustaining a harmonious working environment cannot be stressed enough.
Guided by fair trade principles, an employee-centered management approach can turn a culturally diverse team into the company's greatest asset. Here are the reasons why a diverse team can thrive in a fair trade outsourcing company.
1. The rights of employees are upheld.
Even in the Philippines, some degree of regional stereotyping exists. While it can be true to some extent, it's a practice that has two sides to it.
For instance, Waray people are thought to have naturally strong, combative accents, which may be a product of their proud heritage as a warrior kingdom in precolonial times. But, this may unintentionally offend other people, especially someone who's mild mannered and soft spoken like an Ilonggo.
Maranaos and the Tausugs have a great sense of pride over their ethnicities. They, too, are products of their combined histories as great warriors in the South. But, their proud countenance may be easily misinterpreted as aloof or condescending.
People with strong personalities and different cultural backgrounds will eventually have some misunderstanding, at least once while working together. However, when employees can build rapport with one another, they will realize they are more than just these conventionalized beliefs, and harmony and tolerance can prevail in the workplace.
For this harmony to happen, it is important for high-ranking members of the organization to acknowledge other people's rights to their own beliefs, religion, and choices. Once the corporate leadership treats each employee as a valuable member of the group and defends each person's basic rights, this behavior will set the tone for a healthy and respectful work environment.
Rethink Staffing recently opened an extension in General Santos City in Southern Philippines where most of the Muslim population of the country is found. Bam Cosculluela is among those Ilonggo staff who were assigned at the new branch to oversee the operations. As a trainer, she works closely with the new agents. She knows that some adjustments have to be made to show regard for a different culture.
"We cannot eat pork around the Muslim employees because just smelling pork is already a sin for them… For as long as a person has an open mind and is willing to understand and respect the culture of the people around them, everything will just be fine," she said.
2. Fairness, transparency, and accountability are not just fancy words. They're put into practice.
Each person has his own prejudices influenced by his upbringing and culture. At work, a manager may be showing a preference for or against a particular group because he or she is acting subconsciously on personal biases. This may prevent a manager like that from giving each employee a fair evaluation. Being aware of one's biases will help everyone understand their own deep-seated feelings and uncover how each person reacts to external stimuli.
At a fair trade outsourcing company, fairness is best exercised through meritocracy. When people are rewarded based on their work and dedication to the company, everyone learns to get past their differences. Measurable results can justify why a certain agent deserves the promotion, and perceptions that he or she was chosen due to favoritism are quickly squashed.
3. Employees are geared towards a goal, not against each other.
Competition brings out the best in some people, but a fair trade call center focuses more on collaboration. The vision of lifting its employees towards the higher socioeconomic strata is clear. There's a resounding message that no one should be left behind. Such mindset helps foster respect and tolerance among the employees in order to drive not just a few people in their ranks but the entire company towards its goals.
People may come from different backgrounds and may continue to stubbornly cling to their prejudices. However, with the right guidance and support, it is possible to work harmoniously and maintain productive working relationships without sacrificing particular identities. In the midst of cultural diversity, employees can meet halfway, and deliberately create a dynamic and encouraging work culture that is in itself unique to the company.