Managing diversity in emerging Sri Lanka

Sunday, 10 October 2010 21:58 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Tharanga Thilakasiri

As per the award winning New York Times columnists, Thomas L. Friedman’s statement that “the world is flat” clearly exhibits the reality of today’s world.

In his book ‘The World is Flat,’ he explains how the flattening of the world happened at the dawn of the 21st first century; what it means to countries, companies, communities and individuals; and how governments and societies can, and must adapt.

Therefore, this gives us an ideal platform to discuss our topic further but briefly. Nevertheless, I do not intent to discuss ‘globalisation’ but to focus more on ‘diversity,’ its advantages and disadvantages for the benefit of the readers.

nWhat does diversity mean?

As a result of increasing globalisation and its effects, we can see more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds than ever before. People no longer live or act in isolation, they are now part of the highly-competitive global economy.

Thus, institutions need diversity to become more creative and open to face the changes that are taking place around you rapidly. Therefore, managing of work place diversity has become a vital issue for contemporary management.

nAre we ready to face the challenges of diversity?

As Sri Lanka is geared up to become a major hub in Asia in many aspects such as financial, knowledge, logistics, etc., and finally be the ‘Miracle of Asia’ or ‘Wonder of Asia’ soon, it is essential to be aware of managing diversity in the workplace, in educational institutions and so on, as we have to work with a highly-diversified workforce in the near future here in Sri Lanka itself.  

As described, we can expect most Multi National Companies (MNCs) to be eying on Sri Lanka to set up their business here in Sri Lanka. In such a context, we should be ready to cater such institutions with competent and enough workforces unless they may have to look for alternative workforces from regional countries such as India, Bangladesh, etc.

Hence, it is our duty to train our current and prospective workforce to face challenges relating to working in highly diversified organisations, because most of these MNCs are well known for their highly diversified cultures.

nThe way forward

Therefore, I believe that we should begin this process from our universities initially, so that when our graduates come out from the university they will have a thorough knowledge on how to work in a highly diversified atmosphere; therefore their adaptability will certainly increase and consequently it will facilitate them to find a job in a highly competitive job market quite easily.

However, at present most Sri Lankans lack experience of working in a diversified culture due to various reasons. Being an island nation, it could be a major reason which prevents people to mix up with other cultures of other nations, unlike in other countries.

The division of Sri Lanka’s ethnicity could be identified as another key reason, which is limited to three major ethnic groups; namely, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and there are some other few ethnic groups such as indigenous people (Veddhas) and Malays. However, we can see that there are many other reasons as well but we cannot discuss all these in a brief article.

Nevertheless, expatriate Sri Lankans may have vast experience of diversity while they engage in their day-to-day duties in those respective cultures where they live and work. As Sri Lanka is geared up for a rapid development, experiences of such expatriate Sri Lankans would be immensely helpful for our policy makers to take decisions with regard to the speedy development projects that we expect to launch in this country in the future.

nAdvantages of diversity

There are a number of advantages that we can observe in diversity and therefore many organisations in fact prefer to have a diversified culture and they purposefully promote diversity for the ultimate benefit of the institution. Some of such advantages can be listed as follows:

nBetter decision making and improved problem solving

When the staff of an organisation consists of highly diversified members (specially the management), it paves the way for them to discuss the most appropriate solution and finally to take the most suitable decision quite easily, because there are so many viewpoints and suggestions that the management has to face in making the appropriate decisions for the utmost benefit of the organisation.

nGreater creativity and innovation

In a diversified culture (in an organisation), there are a number of people with various talents. For instance, you may have people with greater marketing skills, some may have exceptional communications skills; similarly some may be having sound managerial skills, etc.

Hence, such a combination in an organisation can bring success (such as enhanced product development and more successful marketing to different types of customers) to the firm than any other organisation which does not have such benefits of diversified culture.

nStaff will feel a sense of belonging

When you recognise and allow people to work according to their skills, values, potential, etc. that they have, without doubt they will feel that their abilities are recognised. Hence, they will feel a sense of belonging and it will surely increase their commitment towards the organisation’s goals. This is a plus point for management to run the firm efficiently.

nHave strong communication ability

It is accepted that proper communication is important to the performance of an organisation. Hence, diversified organisations will be successful as long as there is a sufficient amount of communication with them. For instance we can find people with multilingual abilities; hence it will help the organisation communicate their message to the customers of various ethnic groups quite successfully.

nDisadvantages of diversity

While we could observe several advantages of diversity, at the same time, there are some noticeable disadvantages too. They are as follows:

nDifficult to motivate and manage

People work for different purposes. Some work to earn, while some work for self-satisfaction, etc. Hence, it is not an easy task to motivate and manage workers to achieve organisation goals by fulfilling their personal goals quite successfully.

Hence, management of any organisation has to draft their HR policies to convince with such issues very carefully towards achieving company goals by motivating the staff towards it.  

nMiscommunication within an organisation

For instance two individuals in the same organisation may experience an event in two different ways. Hence, interpreting and communicating the accurate message is vital.

nCultural differences could create problems

Cultural bias could create unrest among co-workers; hence, ultimately it could lead to a major HR issue for the management to deal with. Cultural bias includes both prejudice (negative attitude toward an organisation member based on his/her cultural group identity) and discrimination observable adverse behaviour for the same reason).


Creating a multicultural organisation is not an easy task. There are a number of challenges to be conquered in order to establish such a multicultural organisation. Adopting proper motivational methods and suitable training methods such as language training, etc., will facilitate organisations to create a multicultural organisation and also it will assist companies to manage the diversity successfully.

Therefore, it is accepted that diversity in teamwork is not so simple in the messy real world. Hence, management of any organisation should be capable enough to manage diversity to take full advantage of it.

(Tharanga Thilakasiri M.B.A (International), AIMM can be reached via [email protected])