Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools

Introduction


The world's increasing globalization requires more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds than ever before. People no longer live and work in an insular marketplace; they are now part of a worldwide economy with competition coming from nearly every continent. For this reason, profit and non-profit organizations need diversity to become more creative and open to change. Maximizing and capitalizing on workplace diversity has become an important issue for management today.

Supervisors and front-line managers could benefit from reading this paper. Supervisors and managers are the targeted audience because they need to recognize the ways in which the workplace is changing, evolving, and diversifying. Since managing diversity remains a significant organizational challenge, managers must learn the managerial skills needed in a multicultural work environment. Supervisors and managers must be prepared to teach themselves and others within their organizations to value multicultural differences in both associates and customers so that everyone is treated with dignity.

This paper is designed for managers to effectively manage diverse workforce populations. It provides a general definition for “diversity”, discusses the benefits of diversity in the workplace, the challenges of managing a diverse workplace, and presents effective strategies for managing diverse workforces.

Diversity Defined


Diversity is generally defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting, valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and public assistance status (Esty, et al., 1995).

Diversity issues are now considered important and are projected to become even more important in the future due to increasing differences in the U.S. population. Companies need to focus on diversity and look for ways to become totally inclusive organizations because diversity has the potential of yielding greater productivity and competitive advantages (SHRM, 1995). Stephen G. Butler, co-chair of the Business-Higher Education Forum, believes that diversity is an invaluable competitive asset that America cannot afford to ignore (Robinson, 2002). Managing and valuing diversity is a key component of effective people management, which can improve workplace productivity (Black Enterprise, 2001).

Demographic changes (women in the workplace, organizational restructurings, and equal opportunity legislation) will require organizations to review their management practices and develop new and creative approaches to managing people. Changes will increase work performance and customer service.

Women in the Workplace


The need to understand diversity is also driven by women in the workplace. Today's workforce has the highest levels of employment participation ever by women. The number of dual income families and single working mothers has increased. Change in the family structure means that there are fewer men and women in traditional family roles (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1998). Therefore, diversity issues cut across both race and gender.

Organizational Restructuring


There have been significant changes to organizations as a result of downsizing and outsourcing, which has greatly affected human resource management. Work practices have changed due to the impact of globalization and technology and there is a trend toward longer working hours (Losyk, 1996). Generally speaking, reorganizations usually result in fewer people doing more.

Legislation


Federal and State equal opportunity legislation make discrimination in workplaces illegal. These laws specify the rights and responsibilities of both associates and employers in the workplace and hold both groups accountable.

Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace


Diversity is beneficial to both associates and employers. Although associates are interdependent in the workplace, respecting individual differences can increase productivity. Diversity in the workplace can reduce lawsuits and increase marketing opportunities, recruitment, creativity, and business image (Esty, et al., 1995). In an era when flexibility and creativity are keys to competitiveness, diversity is critical for an organization's success. Also, the consequences (loss of time and money) should not be overlooked.

Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace


There are challenges to managing a diverse work population. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness. Managers may also be challenged with losses in personnel and work productivity due to prejudice and discrimination and complaints and legal actions against the organization (Devoe, 1999).

Negative attitudes and behaviors can be barriers to organizational diversity because they can harm working relationships and damage morale and work productivity (Esty, et al., 1995). Negative attitudes and behaviors in the workplace include prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, which should never be used by management for hiring, retention, and termination practices (could lead to costly litigation).

Required Tools for Managing Diversity


Effective managers are aware that certain skills are necessary for creating a successful, diverse workforce. First, managers must understand discrimination and its consequences. Second, managers must recognize their own cultural biases and prejudices (Koonce, 2001). Diversity is not about differences among groups, but rather about differences among individuals. Each individual is unique and does not represent or speak for a particular group. Finally, managers must be willing to change the organization if necessary (Koonce, 2001). Organizations need to learn how to manage diversity in the workplace to be successful in the future (Flagg, 2002).

Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for success. It mainly depends on the manager's ability to understand what is best for the organization based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace. According to Roosevelt (2001), managing diversity is a comprehensive process for creating a work environment that includes everyone. When creating a successful diverse workforce, an effective manager should focus on personal awareness. Both managers and associates need to be aware of their personal biases. Therefore, organizations need to develop, implement, and maintain ongoing training because a one-day session of training will not change people's behaviors (Koonce, 2001). Managers must also understand that fairness is not necessarily equality. There are always exceptions to the rule.

Managing diversity is about more than equal employment opportunity and affirmative action (Losyk, 1996). Managers should expect change to be slow, while at the same time encouraging change (Koonce, 2001).

Another vital requirement when dealing with diversity is promoting a “safe” place for associates to communicate (Koonce, 2001). Social gatherings and business meetings, where every member must listen and have the chance to speak, are good ways to create dialogues. Managers should implement policies such as mentoring programs to provide associates access to information and opportunities. Also, associates should never be denied necessary, constructive, critical feedback for learning about mistakes and successes (Flagg, 2002).

 


Conclusion


A diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace. Diverse work teams bring high value to organizations. Respecting individual differences will benefit the workplace by creating a competitive edge and increasing work productivity. Diversity management benefits associates by creating a fair and safe environment where everyone has access to opportunities and challenges. Management tools in a diverse workforce should be used to educate everyone about diversity and its issues, including laws and regulations. Most workplaces are made up of diverse cultures, so organizations need to learn how to adapt to be successful.

Diversity in the Workplace

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What do we mean when we speak of diversity at the Foothill-De Anza Community College District? The Human Resources & Equal Opportunity Office offers one definition:

"Diversity refers to human qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to which we belong; but that are manifested in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities / qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience, and job classification."
Diversity as a concept focuses on a broader set of qualities than race and gender. In the context of the workplace, valuing diversity means creating a workplace that respects and includes differences, recognizing the unique contributions that individuals with many types of differences can make, and creating a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.
Diversity is also about having the long term goal that the campus work force should generally reflect the population of the state it serves in all its dimensions.

Diversity in the Workplace



As you look around your office, is everyone just like you? Probably not. The demographics of the American workforce have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. In the 1950s, more than 60% of the American workforce consisted of white males. They were typically the sole breadwinners in the household, expected to retire by age 65 and spend their retirement years in leisure activities. Today, the American workforce is a better reflection of the population with a significant mix of genders, race, religion, age and other background factors.

The long-term success of any business calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring fresh ideas, perspectives and views to their work. The challenge that diversity poses, therefore, is enabling your managers to capitalize on the mixture of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages and lifestyles to respond to business opportunities more rapidly and creatively.

Here are two examples of the challenges inherent in managing a diverse workforce:

An American health insurance company hired employees from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The variety of different native languages and cultures, however, did not mix. Instead of making employees feel that they had a sub-group within their larger team, it gave rise to paranoia ("They must be talking about me.") and assumptions ("They think they are smarter than everyone else."). When the group needed to learn a new intake system, rather than pull together, they became even more estranged and productivity and morale plummeted.

In an American subsidiary of a global bank based in Japan, a few Japanese female workers complained to management that their older Japanese male bosses were being disrespectful to them. The human resources manager questioned all of the women in the office. Every Japanese woman reported problems with the Japanese men. In contrast, the American women reported no problems at all. Confused, the human resources manager questioned the Japanese male managers. The answer? The Japanese men responded that they understood American expectations related to sexual harassment, so they were careful about what they said to the American women. They were perplexed by the responses of the Japanese women. "What is the problem?" the Japanese men wanted to know, "They know that we don’t mean anything. Any Japanese person would understand." Communication, which has never been straightforward and easy in the first place, is becoming even more complicated as organizations take on global partners.

Diversity is no longer just a black/white, male/female, old/young issue. It is much more complicated and interesting than that. In The Future of Diversity and the Work Ahead of Us, Harris Sussman says, "Diversity is about our relatedness, our connectedness, our interactions, where the lines cross. Diversity is many things - a bridge between organizational life and the reality of people’s lives, building corporate capability, the framework for interrelationships between people, a learning exchange, a strategic lens on the world."

A benefit of a diverse workforce is the ability to tap into the many talents which employees from different backgrounds, perspectives, abilities and disabilities bring to the workplace. An impressive example of this is found on the business cards of employees at one Fortune 100 technology company. Employees at this company have business cards that appear normal at first glance. On closer inspection, the raised Braille characters of employee information are evident.

Many companies, however, still face challenges around building a diverse environment. Part of the reason is the tendency to pigeonhole employees, placing them in a different silo based on their diversity profile. If an employee is male, over 50, English, and an atheist, under what diversity category does this employee fall? Gender, generational, global or religious? In the real world, diversity cannot be easily categorized and those organizations that respond to human complexity by leveraging the talents of a broad workforce will be the most effective in growing their businesses and their customer base.

So, how do you develop a diversity strategy that gets results? The companies with the most effective diversity programs take a holistic approach to diversity by following these guidelines:

1.      Link diversity to the bottom line. When exploring ways to increase corporate profits, look to ���new markets or to partnering with your clients more strategically. Consider how a diverse ���workforce will enable your company to meet those goals. Think outside the box. At a ���Fortune 500 manufacturing company, Hispanics purchased many of the products. When ���the company hired a Director of Hispanic Markets, profits increased dramatically in less ���than one year because of the targeted marketing efforts. Your new customers may be ���people with disabilities or people over the age of 65. How can your employees help you ���reach new markets?

2.      Walk the talk. If senior management advocates a diverse workforce, make diversity evident at all organizational levels. If you don't, some employees will quickly conclude that there is no future for them in your company. Don’t be afraid to use words like black, white, gay or lesbian. Show respect for diversity issues and promote clear and positive responses to them. How can you demonstrate your company’s commitment to diversity?

3.      Broaden your efforts. Does diversity at your company refer only to race and gender? If so, expand your definition and your diversity efforts. As baby boomers age and more minorities enter the workplace, the shift in demographics means that managing a multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce will become a business norm. Also, there is a wealth of specialized equipment available to enable people with disabilities to contribute successfully to their work environments. If your organizational environment does not support diversity broadly you risk losing talent to your competitors. How can your recruitment efforts reach out to all qualified candidates?

4.      Remove artificial barriers to success. The style of interview - behavioral or functional- may be a disadvantage to some job candidates. Older employees, for example, are less familiar with behavioral interviews and may not perform as well unless your recruiters directly ask for the kind of experiences they are looking for. Employees from countries outside the US and non-Caucasian populations may downplay their achievements or focus on describing, "who they know" rather than "what they know." Train your recruiters to understand the cultural components of interviews. How can your human resources processes give equal opportunity to all people?

5.      Retain diversity at all levels. The definition of diversity goes beyond race and gender to encompass lifestyle issues. Programs that address work and family issues - alternative work schedules and child and elder care resources and referrals - make good business sense. How can you keep valuable employees?

6.      Provide practical training. Using relevant examples to teach small groups of people how to resolve conflicts and value diverse opinions helps companies far more than large, abstract diversity lectures. Training needs to emphasize the importance of diverse ideas as well. Workers care more about whether or not their boss seems to value their ideas rather than if they are part of a group of all white males or an ethnically diverse workforce. In addition, train leaders to move beyond their own cultural frame of reference to recognize and take full advantage of the productivity potential inherent in a diverse population. How can you provide diversity training at your company?

7.      Mentor with others at your company who you do not know well. Involve your managers in a mentoring program to coach and provide feedback to employees who are different from them. Some of your most influential mentors can be people with whom you have little in common. Find someone who doesn’t look just like you. Find someone from a different background, a different race or a different gender. Find someone who thinks differently than you do. How can you find a mentor who is different from you?

8.      Measure your results. Conduct regular organizational assessments on issues like pay, benefits, work environment, management and promotional opportunities to assess your progress over the long term. Keep doing what is working and stop doing what is not working. How do you measure the impact of diversity initiatives at your organization?

In the book, Beyond Race and Gender, R. Roosevelt Thomas defines managing diversity as "a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees." Successful strategic diversity programs also lead to increased profits and lowered expenses.

The long-term success of any business calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring fresh ideas, perspectives and views and a corporate mindset that values those views. It's also no secret that the lack of diversity can affect your ability to communicate effectively with diverse clients. Link your diversity strategies to specific goals like morale, retention, performance and the bottom line. Build your business with everything you’ve got, with the complex multi-dimensional talents and personalities of your workforce, and make diversity work for you.

Judith Lindenberger, Principal, The Lindenberger Group, LLC and Marian Stoltz-Loike, CEO, SeniorThinking, provide human resources learning and consulting. Learn more about them at www.lindenbergergroup.com and www.seniorthinking.com. . Article on workplace, diversity by Judith Lindenberger and Marian Stoltz-Loike .

2 comments:

Clint Cora, Speaker/Author said...

Diversity as a topic in general needs to be retooled in a way to present real benefits to people. Only when the benefits are realized will people truly embrace it.

Knowledge Inn said...

Thanks for your such valuable words