Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Benefits of a Diverse Workplace

The evidence is all around us: The U.S. has become a multicultural society (35% of the population is now non-white), making it imperative to succeed at managing a culturally diverse workforce. Perhaps this is not news for you and you are already implementing a well-thought out diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy. Or perhaps you still need to be sold on the benefits of a diverse workforce.  Wherever you are in your journey, it’s helpful to recognize that, although managing a culturally diverse workforce may present challenges, it offers you a great opportunity to impact your bottom line.

Efforts at creating and managing a culturally diverse workforce

Despite decades of effort to create an inclusive culture in corporations across the U.S., most experts agree that not enough progress has been made in moving diverse talent up the ranks. In too many cases the Affinity Groups, Employee Resource Groups (ERG), and Diversity Councils (whose goals include providing a voice to members of different minorities, recruiting and developing diverse talent,  and offering business strategies focused on specific markets) play against their intended objectives. Rather than offering diverse talent the opportunity to shine through innovative ideas that can then be implemented company-wide, these groups frequently contribute to keeping people and projects in silos.

Benefits of Culturally Diverse Workplace

Find ways for people from different teams, businesses, and backgrounds to interact

Two Key Benefits of a diverse workplace

If you really want to capitalize on the benefits of a diverse workplace, a more effective approach is to leverage the differences – the varying viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences – of your employees and to find ways for different groups to interact with each other. For that to happen, the focus needs to be on:

1)   Finding ways for people from different teams, businesses, and backgrounds to interact. Whether you do it through physical arrangement of workspace, the way in which projects are structured, frequent job rotation, or another strategy, the idea is to offer multiple opportunities each day for people to collaborate with others who don’t look or think like they do.  Only by being exposed to a diversity of thought patterns, worldviews, problem-solving strategies, values, and behaviors do people become familiar with different upbringings, different cultures, and different ways of doing things.

2)   The unique traits that every individual brings to the table rather than pushing for everyone to quietly adapt to the system already in place. When you encourage people to bring their whole selves to work, rather than leave part of themselves at the door, they bring their passions and interests along. And it is by tapping into your employees’ passions and interests that you can connect them with projects that are a better fit. It is by accepting each person wholeheartedly that you will fully empower them and engage them with your company’s goals. That’s what makes for the most loyal employees.

If familiarity with someone leads to a feeling of comfort, and feeling comfortable with others leads to trust, the best way to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce is by helping people to get to know each other rather than keeping groups apart. It’s by appreciating that individual differences enrich the work environment and contribute to your company’s success.

Corporate Leadership Development programs: What Works

Corporate Leadership Development

Corporate Leadership Development

A recent global survey about corporate leadership development programs [1] reports a shift in the best corporate leadership development approaches revealing that the current trend is towards customization and personalization. In the world of customizing cars, sneakers, and ring tones people expect to have their jobs designed to fit their career goals. Which, in other words, means that one size fits one.

Needless to say, the benefits of a successfully implemented corporate leadership development program are numerous. Just to name a few:

  • Attraction and retention of talent
  • Increased productivity and profitability
  • Increased organizational agility
  • Improved management communication and alignment

This study revealed that 53% of the leaders around the world are struggling with accelerating leadership development, 43% with retention of top talent and 36% with engaging and motivating top talent.

Corporate Leadership Development: What are successful companies doing?

The top three strategies respondents are using to address corporate leadership development are:

  • Growing talent internally by identifying high performing leaders (78%)
  • Providing experiential learning opportunities (action learning) (62%)
  • Providing coaching, mentoring, job shadowing and rotational programs (55%)

Great benefits of Action Learning

Lately, I had the chance to see first hand how effective the action learning approach can be. As part of the Red Shoe Movement we have an Ambassador School (an offsite action learning program) where a group of volunteer high potential young women get together to prepare a Signature Event.

During this time, the group meets biweekly to decide every detail of the event and receive hands-on training on: event planning and execution, logistics, communication style, group facilitation, negotiation, and professional appearance. They become each other’s best supporters and cheerleaders, a tight group of women who grow into their own style of leadership. Each one gets multiple opportunities to sharpen their leadership skills by being put in charge of various parts of the process.

One Size Fits One

What are Successful Companies Doing?

As a result, every one of the women experienced unprecedented engagement in their jobs and careers: From promotions, to changes in career tracks, to heightened participation in issues affecting their organization’s bottom line, and so on.

Our first group of Ambassadors, not only executed a flawless event at The New York Times (where 230 professional women got together to discuss topics of their interest,) but they decided to stay involved and move on to the next level of responsibility. Each one of the original Ambassadors is now leading her own Signature Event and coaching their own teams of Ambassadors who just came onboard.

The greater passion they show for their 9:00-5:00 jobs and the heightened sense of career ownership is a function of:

  • Having had a chance to discover what is important to them
  • Having been given the opportunity to take risks in a safe environment
  • Having been part of a group of supportive women who encouraged them to share and try new ideas
  • Having received positive validation and recognition for their contributions

Whether onsite or off-site, action programs can be what you need to set your female employees on fire. You should try this at home. The effects will surprise you!


[1] Strategic Leadership Development-Global Trends and Approaches, June 2013, by Right Management and The Conference Board. (The sample included 654 respondents, a comprehensive literature review and case studies based on interviews with senior leadership development professionals.)


Elizabeth Nieto, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, MetLife

Elizabeth Nieto, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, MetLifeA trailblazer for corporate women, Elizabeth Nieto has always been very supportive of diversity and inclusion in the workplace even before she worked in this space. She was one of the founders of Citigroup’s Hispanic Network and the Corporate Center Women’s Organization. In 2013 she received the Women and Society Award by the Cervantes Institute and LULAC.

Elizabeth assumed the role of Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at MetLife in June 2012. She is currently working with MetLife’s CEO and senior management team in the development and implementation of a global diversity and inclusion strategy for the 66,000 employees globally.

Born and raised in Argentina, Elizabeth Nieto, Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at MetLife, earned her Master’s degree in Educational Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires. In her first assignment, she worked as a change management consultant which then led to a successful 20- year career at Citigroup in Human Resources. Since then she has worked in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the last twenty years around opportunities for women advancement?

While I think a lot has changed for women (access to highest level of education, the c-suite and government posts) I still believe we have a lot of work to do. Women are still lagging in most senior levels in organizations particularly in some industries, therefore  the private sector has to continue to have a focus on the attraction and development of women.

As a professional woman, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job and how do you manage to overcome them?

Getting buy-in…from men and women! Some women could be very cynical given that they believe that we have been at this work for some time. Many times we take two steps forward and three steps back. In many organizations, the progress hasn’t been always sustained. To ensure that the strategy being put in place is sustainable we need to embed the diversity and inclusion practices in the manager’s daily activities. Many men see and understand the importance of providing opportunities for women, and there are still some men who see it as a potential loss for them. More leaders need to be educated to see the benefits to an organization and society of more women contributing.

Elizabeth Nieto - diversity and inclusion quotesWhat do you find the most satisfying part of your work?

Working with people, seeing them grow, fostering inclusive environments and facilitating equal access to developmental opportunities. It’s in my DNA to always be on the lookout for better opportunities to help level the playing field for talent of all ages, genders and abilities.

What advice do you have for other women who have unusual (or challenging) career goals?

Form your own board of directors.  Don’t take things personally and be resilient.  Keep your eye on the big picture and choose your battles.

Give us an example of how you’re currently helping other women advance professionally or fulfill their career goals?

The attraction, development and retention of women globally is a critical success factor for MetLife.  A Global Women’s Initiative (GWI) was recently launched to increase our ongoing focus on developing and implementing targeted programs and activities to increase the representation of women in leadership roles globally.

Could you mention one or more women who have helped you get to where you are now?

Ana Duarte McCarthy (Chief Diversity Officer, Citi), Pat David (Chief Diversity Officer, JPMorgan) Meg Rich (retired, head of HR, Citi – O&T) and there were also many men that supported me through my career – including my husband who shares half of the home and family responsibilities with me.


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If you would like to carry on Elizabeth’s message of diversity and inclusion in the workplace,
you can purchase her Red Shoe Movement’s uniquely designed Elizabeth bracelet.