Why cultural diversity offers big benefits for small business

We talk a lot about issues of diversity at work, particularly around gender. But have you ever thought about what it means to celebrate the cultural diversity of your team and the people who make up your organisation? Have you thought about the role our cultural heritage plays in business? And how recognising, accepting and celebrating different cultural backgrounds improve working relationships and ultimately, your bottom line?

Australia is made up of people from over 200 different cultures who collectively speak 300 languages. Research undertaken by Monash University and the Scanlon Foundation has consistently shown that the vast majority of Australians have a high level of support for immigration and cultural diversity. In 2020, 84 per cent of those surveyed agreed that “multiculturalism has been good for Australia”.

Conversely, our report shows one in five people experience discrimination at work on the basis of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion. And so, while we can be proud of our positive attitude to multiculturism, we have a long way to go in our workplaces.

The benefits of a culturally diverse team

There are many gains to be made when companies recruit and retain a diverse pool of people, from both an economic and HR point of view.

A small business that is known for embracing cultural diversity will entice a wider pool of candidates for its job vacancies and thus be spoilt for choice when it comes to skills and career experience – which is important when you need people with very specific skills.

Secondly, when an employer takes the time and effort to build an inclusive work environment, they are demonstrating that they respect their people and value their contributions. And employees appreciate it! Engagement between colleagues will also improve when people respect each other and get along, and the most gratifying byproduct of this is improved morale. And when morale is strong, and people feel valued, they are more likely to stay.

Good relationships boost productivity

Relationships are also vital to a company’s viability. When people feel included at work, they are more productive, innovative, responsive to each other and better able to reflect and understand the needs of emerging and global markets. This broadens our prospects because we have the ability to open ourselves up to new business models and networks using the expert knowledge of our team and the communities we represent, expanding our product or service offering as a result. It also gives us the ability to have a more diverse set of solutions to specific problems.

These gains are all important considerations for small businesses striving to cultivate a small pool of loyal staff, and whose prosperity relies on staff to work hard and get along.

In addition to activities and research to support multiculturalism, Scanlon Foundation pursues its own programs including the annual A Taste of Harmony campaign, which takes place in March and encourages and provides resources to Australian workplaces to recognise and celebrate their cultural diversity through the sharing of food and stories. Its goal is for colleagues to get to know each other on a different level and appreciate each other’s backgrounds, and feedback surveys consistently show it brings staff closer together.

Now more than ever, business owners should find ways to keep employees connected with a focus on cultural diversity as a priority. It will be good for your people and even better for your business.

Anthea Hancocks, CEO, Scanlon Foundation

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