The labor force is growing more diverse.

According to projections from the Center for American Progress, the latest census data projects that by 2050 there will be no clear racial majority in the United States. Nearly one in five (19 percent) of American workers will be foreign born, and roughly that same amount (18 percent) of citizens will be of mixed-race origin. Similarly, the population of those aged sixty-five years or older will also grow to represent roughly 20 percent of Americans.

Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2050, an estimated 83 percent of growth in the working-age population will be due to the addition of immigrants and their children to the labor pool.

What you don’t know could be undermining your diversity efforts. Read our Managing Unconscious Bias: Your Workplace Advantage whitepaper to find out more.

Communication is Complicated

Given the varying cultures and languages reflected by this growing diversity, miscommunication is inevitable — despite your best efforts. And in the global economy, where your customers can be on a completely different continent, your business will need to choose its words carefully.

Back in 2001, Honda was poised to launch a new subcompact car across multiple geographies named the “Fitta.” The company felt that the name offered a trendy, European flair that would do well in the foreign market. Unfortunately, the chosen name was actually a vulgarity in Swedish, leading the organization to rename the vehicle the “Jazz” or the “Fit,” depending on the sales region.

How to Avoid Miscommunication

To avoid issues of miscommunication, you need to build a strong cultural competence among your staff. What is cultural competence? Put simply, it’s having an awareness of your personal cultural identity (e.g., race, nationality, age, ability, socio-economic background, primary language) and recognizing the value and diversity of others that don’t share those same attributes.

So how can you build this competence among your employees?

Create an open environment

By making diversity and inclusion a priority for your company, you can encourage a culture of open communication that transcends culture and demographics. Provide your staff with the opportunity to have their voices heard, and encourage them to listen to the voices of others. Give them permission to ask questions, be vulnerable and make mistakes.

At the same time, establish clear company guidelines that prohibit discriminatory behavior, clearly defining what is and is not appropriate conduct for staff members.

Reevaluate company policies with an eye towards inclusion. Are there any unintended biases in your hiring or promotion processes? For example, several businesses have begun considering blinded resumes that remove the applicant’s name, preventing any possible assumptions being made from the candidate’s gender or ethnicity. Similarly, some organizations now use teams rather than individuals to handle employee reviews to minimize the potential impact of unconscious biases.

Educate your employees

To help facilitate these open conversations, provide your staff with diversity training. Ideally this education will not only outline the values of a diverse workforce but will also equip your employees with real-world strategies that they can use to better facilitate cross-cultural communication.

Consider providing them with tools to help them identify and uncover their own unconscious biases. By making them aware of their underlying assumptions, you can improve their personal cultural competence and help them encourage more honest conversations.

Remember the individual

While you want to give every employee a voice, avoid asking personnel that are members of a traditionally marginalized group to serve as a “spokesperson” for their demographic. Such a request can be considered isolating and lead to further feelings of tension or alienation.

Instead, ask them to share about their own unique and personal perspective or background.

Key Takeaways

By helping your staff to consider others and their differences during day-to-day business activities, you can foster a culture of inclusivity in your organization. Even better, your employees will be able to more easily and effectively communicate across demographics, encouraging higher levels of internal productivity and strengthening ties with an increasingly varied customer pool.