Using Translation to Make Diversity and Inclusion Part of Your Company Culture
Diversity and inclusion have become a key part of the workplace management dialogue. Organizations of all sizes, across all lines of business, struggle to attract diverse talent and build inclusive workforces.
Many companies that do business globally are building workforces staffed by employees from around the world. Meanwhile, organizations that operate solely in the U.S. are also rapidly diversifying, as people who originate from different countries are becoming a larger percentage of America’s population.
There are challenges to employing a diverse staff, including communication hurdles when managing people who speak languages different from one’s own. However, a diverse workforce presents huge opportunities for companies willing to adapt their approach. This article examines the benefits of a diverse, inclusive workplace, along with a few of the ways organizations can overcome the challenges.
The Benefits of Diversity in the Workforce
A diverse workforce is defined as one in which staff members represent a mix of human differences: gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, ethnicity, disability. Diversity is sometimes expanded to include socioeconomic status, veteran status, family background, and education level.
A diverse workforce nurtures different perspectives. Bringing together different types of people can help a team tackle problems from different angles. Studies continue to prove that a diverse workforce drives innovation and leads to the development of products and/or services more likely to resonate with diverse consumers. And the ability to connect with diverse markets can be a big differentiator.
- The disposable income for U.S. adults with disabilities is around $490 billion.1
- The combined Black, Hispanic, and Asian buying power in the U.S. is more than $750 billion.2
- The senior market has over $1.6 trillion in spending power and a net worth that’s nearly twice the U.S. average.3
And it matters to job seekers. As the benefits of a heterogeneous workforce become evident, more and more companies are recruiting with diversity in mind. When an organization embraces a more varied mix of individuals, it becomes more attractive to diverse candidates. An industry survey found that 67% of job seekers use diversity as an important factor when considering companies and job offers.4
Creating an Inclusive Workplace
Building a diverse workforce is important, but it’s not enough. In order to realize the full benefits of new talent and retain valuable hires, a company must build a culture of inclusion. In the workplace, inclusion is measured in terms of the way employees feel accepted, valued, and respected for the characteristics that make them unique.
Suppose a company has a native Spanish speaker who only feels comfortable speaking English in the office? A Muslim employee who is uncomfortable fasting around co-workers? Or a Polish staff member who feels the need to hide his or her accent? To build a culture of inclusion, a company must foster a workplace in which all individuals feel like they can be themselves.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, a company should implement changes appropriate to its structure and culture. Here are some tactics an organization might employ to help develop an inclusionary workplace:
- Give people the flexibility to take off to observe religious holidays.
- Host a nondenominational holiday party.
- Be sensitive to dietary restrictions that may be cultural or derived from religious beliefs.
- Support new mothers with flexible schedules and nursing stations.
- Implement diversity-focused mentoring programs.
- Establish networking and support groups for all new employees.
- Use gender-neutral language in job descriptions.
- Make sure your workplace is accessible to those with disabilities.
One relatively simple place to get started is to reframe your approach to meetings. Focus on making sure everyone’s voice is welcome and respected.
- All participants should feel empowered to express ideas derived from their individual backgrounds and worldviews.
- If someone is speaking, no one should interrupt—even those in leadership roles.
- People process information differently, so it’s helpful to set a meeting agenda and distribute materials in advance. This gives all participants a chance to process the information in the manner best suited to their individual approach.
Ultimately, an inclusive environment needs to be one in which employees at every level feel valued and contribute in a meaningful way on a day-to-day basis. And this recognition can include the ability to communicate in their preferred language.
Language: Supporting Multilingual Employees
Globally, English is spoken by many people as a second language, but competency varies greatly. In the U.S., English is spoken as a primary language by a majority, but linguistic diversity is on the rise. Over 66 million US residents now speak a language other than English at home, and this number has doubled since 1990 and tripled since 1980.5
In a workplace in which individuals have different language competencies, this linguistic diversity can easily lead to communication challenges. Ultimately, a truly inclusive workforce is one in which employees are comfortable receiving information and expressing themselves in the language they are most competent speaking. So employers are making efforts to translate materials into the languages spoken by employees.
Translating Employee Materials
To create an equitable workplace, many companies are translating workplace materials to ensure all employees have the same information about policies and procedures, job responsibilities, company objectives, and safety measures. This often encompasses the materials employees rely on to do their job safely and effectively. It may also include the materials employees interact with regularly, that help educate them about the company culture, values, and goals.
- Companies with linguistically diverse workforces translate many of the following items:
- Employee orientation handbooks and other onboarding documentation
- Performance review materials
- Compliance regulations
- Safety procedures and signage
- Training programs, videos, and supporting materials
- Intranet, newsletters, and other internal communication materials
While this list may seem extensive, it need not be daunting. A few significant items that can have a positive impact on a global workforce are described below.
Introducing the Company Culture and Structure
An employee handbook is an important resource that, when translated, can put all employees on a more equal playing field. A good handbook introduces employees to a company’s culture, mission, and value. It helps employees clearly understand policies and procedures, including each individual’s responsibilities for timekeeping, reporting, and adhering to safety guidelines. By translating its employee handbook, a company can help ensure all employees understand expectations and have the same opportunities to excel in their roles.
Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace
To help maintain a culture of ethics and integrity, many businesses employ codes of conduct or other guidelines for ethical accountability. In order for such measures to be effective in a multilingual workforce, all employees must be able to understand the company’s expectations. It is not only a matter of translating the code of conduct but also the related training into all of the languages spoken throughout the company.
Many companies also utilize ethics hotlines to encourage a speak-up culture. While it is important that all employees have the ability to report issues in their own language, confidentiality is also a priority when it comes to translation. Employees count on their reports being handled with anonymity. To manage a multilingual ethics hotline, it is essential that companies utilize a language services provider that can adhere to stringent security measures.
Multilingual Employee Training
It’s challenging for people who do not speak English as their primary language to receive training in English. A trainee must first focus on translating a training component before they can absorb the material. However, when training is offered in an employee’s native language, a trainee can focus immediately on the information being presented.
Many companies implement a multifaceted approach. As mentioned above, people absorb new information differently, so training is often provided across multiple channels, in multiple languages, both online and in print. When developing training content for diverse audiences, it’s important to develop base content that does not include culturally specific references and images. Conscientious language choices make it easier for a language services provider to localize the content for people from different regions.
Ultimately, by providing training in an employee’s native language, companies alleviate the risk that an individual’s performance will suffer as the result of language barriers.
A Culture in Which Everyone Can Thrive
Rather than view a diverse workforce as a challenge, it should be considered a competitive advantage. With the proper resources, a company can nurture an informed multilingual staff that provides all employees with opportunities to grow and advance.
At Eriksen, we are proud to help companies build diverse workforces by translating the materials they need to accommodate speakers of different languages. From codes of conduct and ethics hotlines to online sexual harassment training—a range of materials and formats can be translated to help companies create a culture where all voices are welcome.