The workforce is forever changed. The one that once existed is no more, and anybody who’s been working for some time has no doubt seen the difference. Previous industry makeups—once dominated by certain genders and ethnicities—have now been replaced by a workforce that represents change and diversity. As you look over the landscape of today's workforce and compare it to the past, you can see the change. It's not the same as it was 50 years ago, and in the next 50 years, it will probably change some more. As a small business owner, you already have your plate full and a ton of challenges to overcome. But managing diversity is not just for big companies—it's for small businesses too. So founders of all organizations must know how to deal with the changing climate. In this article, we'll talk about how small businesses can do a better job of managing diversity. But first, we’ll go into the challenges of handling a diverse workforce. Challenges of Managing a Diverse Workforce If you are unfamiliar with certain cultures and don’t understand how different groups of people operate, you may find it hard to manage a diverse workforce. Here are some obstacles that make managing the changing climate difficult. \tYou lack the experience. You may have successfully managed plenty of teams before, but you’ve never led a diverse group of people. Therefore, you don’t know the difference. Should you treat them like every other group of people you’ve managed or approach it from a new angle? \tYou don’t see the whole picture of diversity. Diversity is more than race, age, and gender. It encompasses a broad spectrum and includes people of various sexual orientations, cultures, political affiliations, religions, and physical abilities. \tYou have biases. Acknowledging the fact that you may have a bias is nothing to be ashamed of. Good leaders are willing to address any and all biases, learn from them and move on—without allowing them to affect the quality of work or the well-being of the team. Your job is to communicate, understand, and learn about the differences of others so you can effectively overcome your biases. Don’t ignore them and pretend they don’t exist—be willing to face them head-on. If you don’t, the ideas you thought you tucked away will come up in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and potentially offend someone. How to Do a Better Job of Managing a Diverse Workforce Since we know that diversity is here to stay, the question is not how to manage it but how to manage it well. Below, we’ve listed 7 actions you can take to effectively manage your diverse workforce. 1. Address Your Biases We talked about biases a little before, but the best way to overcome them is by first acknowledging that they exist. Sometimes biases are hard-wired in us. They’re so deep down and ingrained in our unconscious minds that we don’t even realize we have them. Before you start interacting with people from different backgrounds, stop and think for a minute. Be honest and ask yourself what assumptions about this group of people you have previously made and might still be making. After you examine every assumption you have, turn them around and look for commonalities. Try to find anything you can, no matter how small it may seem. For instance, maybe you share a love for cooking or you have children around the same age. This exercise will help you get rid of your unconscious bias and form a lasting bond. 2. Be Curious and Open-Minded Let’s say you run a cupcake shop and have a method for baking cupcakes that allows you to make the treats faster and with less waste. You love your method so much that you swear by it and teach it to every new employee you hire. Then one day, you bring on a new team member who promises he can improve your method. He shows you how to bake twice as many cupcakes as you did before in only half the time. You’re so impressed after you try it out that you permanently adopt this new way of baking and teach it to your other employees. Now your business is growing and thriving because you were willing to hear someone out, try something new, and make the necessary improvements. Be open to accept and listen to new ideas. Start by asking questions and actually listening for the answers without interrupting. Tell people you’re interested in what they think or that you’d like to hear their point of view. 3. Accept Your Team’s Differences If you're going to manage a group of diverse individuals, you must be willing to accept their differences. Know that they're coming to your business from different walks of life and offer a variety of experiences. They have their own viewpoints and outlooks on the world. They're individuals who possess their own thoughts and have unique opinions about business management and operations. Effective leaders embrace the differences of others and use them for the benefit of the company. 4. Value the Contributions of All Team Members Show an authentic appreciation for the work your team is doing, as well as their diverse identities, talents, backgrounds, and contributions. Emphasize the value of teamwork and the importance of collaboration. Your words and deeds should motivate people and bring out the best in them. Be specific when it comes to recognizing the work your employees have done. Instead of simply saying, “good job,” tell them and the other team members exactly what an employee did that impressed you and elaborate on how it benefited your organization. 5. Advocate for Your Employees As a leader, you set the climate, tone, and atmosphere of your team. You are in complete control of the work environment. Your employees should love working with you and for you. They should love their jobs and look forward to coming to work instead of viewing your business as a place they dread. Serve your team as their source of encouragement and speak up for people who may be too soft-spoken to speak up for themselves. For example, imagine you’re in the middle of an important team meeting. Everyone is throwing out ideas left and right, but one team member is only listening and taking notes. Then at the end of the meeting, this team member approaches you and gives you a list of different ideas she was too nervous to share in front of the group. Instead of shaming the employee and making her feel bad for not speaking up, take her ideas. Read through them and see which ones you can use. Then, give her the credit she deserves. 6. Ensure Your Policies Are Inclusive Your company’s practices and policies need to be in favor of everyone and not discriminate against a certain group of employees. When setting your policies and putting procedures in place, consider the impact the different rules will have on a diverse group of people in the workforce. Be willing to take feedback on practices and policies from your employees and be open to making changes if a particular policy demonstrates a barrier for certain groups of people. Also, make sure every employee fully understands all your policies, practices, and procedures. This will ensure inclusion from the very beginning. 7. Maintain Effective Communication Maintaining good communication is one of the most challenging aspects of managing a diverse workforce. Sometimes, employees don’t receive news directly from the source. Instead, information is passed from one person to another and essential messages get lost in translation. Make sure to provide clear information. Plan your communication by passing along the correct information so that those you’re communicating with fully understand. Don’t keep your employees in the dark about what is going on in the company. Tell them about everything concerning them, as this will build their trust. Remember to keep all topics of conversation neutral. Refrain from discussing controversial issues like politics and religion so no one is offended. Leading Culturally Diverse Teams Sometimes when everyone is alike, it’s hard to come up with fresh, new, impactful ideas. And sometimes it takes a hard situation—like reaching a standstill in your business and being unable to go forward or falling flat on your face after trying and failing so many times that you decide to move things around and shake them up a little bit. The benefit of a diverse workforce is clear: every team member is working together and toward the same goal. This removes the mentality of everyone looking out for themselves and replaces it with a notion that each person comes together and does their part—the absolute best they can do—for the benefit of the company. Diversity infuses small businesses with a broad mix of expertise, encouraging employees to interact together and learn from each other. This leads to improved teamwork and collaboration. It also boosts morale and improves the customer experience, leading to increased productivity and high employee satisfaction.