Multiculturalism has been sewn into the fabric of America for hundreds of years. 40 million immigrants came to the United States between 1830 and 1940, many of them with little or no English language skills, and certainly most of them unskilled laborers. And the face of America continues to change. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, “More than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. The rise in the Hispanic population accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S. population. By 2010, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million.” The Asian population also experienced tremendous growth: “The Asian alone population grew faster than any other major race group between 2000 and 2010, increasing by 43 percent. The Asian alone population had the second-largest numeric change (4.4 million), growing from 10.2 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2010. They gained the most in share of the total population, moving up from about 4 percent in 2000 to about 5 percent in 2010.”
Which brings us to the American workplace. As the diversity of the U.S. population continues to expand, employees will be working alongside others who may not think or look the same way they do, and may approach problem-solving in different ways. Multiculturalism means to accept people from different countries, different religious backgrounds and different traditions, providing them with equal status and equal stature in the workplace and elsewhere. But for those who were not exposed to anyone who was “different” in childhood, working in diverse teams can be challenging. Carlos Ghosn, the chairman and CEO of Renault, says it best: “Being in a multicultural environment in childhood is going to give you intuition, reflexes and instincts. You may acquire basic responsiveness later on, but it’s never going to be as spontaneous as when you have been bathing in this environment during childhood.”
It is a well established fact that diverse teams in a business environment are highly successful; according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.” This also holds true for gender diversity; Credit Suisse conducted a survey of more than 2,000 worldwide companies, and found that “organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.”
So how can companies ensure that their culturally diverse teams work well together? Sujin Jang, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the renowned business school Insead, suggests that including a “cultural broker” on workplace teams can enhance a team’s creative performance. She says a cultural broker, “someone who has relatively more multicultural experience than others and who acts as a bridge between their monocultural teammates,” who “facilitates interactions across parties from different cultural backgrounds” can increase the success of the organization.
As cultural diversity in the US continues to become more of a norm than an exception, companies would do well to understand how to best use the human resources they have to succeed.