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Evaluating the Management of Workforce Diversity

As we enter the 21st century, workforce diversity has become an essential business worry. As the economy becomes increasingly global, our workforce becomes increasingly diverse. Organizational success and competitiveness will depend on the ability to manage diversity in the workplace effectively. Workforce diversity is a challenge for Organization and at the same time no organizations can run away from it. Now the question arises what is Workforce diversity? Diversity includes the entire spectrum of primary dimensions of an individual, including Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Age, Religion, Disability, and Sexual orientation (referred to by the Diversity Task Force as “REGARDS”). Secondary dimensions commonly include: communication style, work style, organizational role/level, economic status, and geographic origin (e.g., East, Midwest, South).

While diversity in the workplace brings about many benefits to an organization, it can also lead to many challenges. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. Diverse workforce is difficult to manage, communicate and motivate.

At the same time diversity is beneficial to both the organization and the members. It helps in taking better decision, improved problem solving, greater creativity and innovation, which leads to enhanced product development, and more successful marketing to different types of customers. It provides organizations with the ability to compete in global markets.

As it is mentioned earlier no organization can run away from it, therefore every organizations is required to manage workforce diversity in order to survive and compete in such a dynamic environment. The most important tool to manage such diversity is designing and providing diversity training to the employees’ from time to time according to their requirement.

This paper will deal with factors that motivate organizations to go for diversity, benefits and challenges of diversity, strategies for managing diversity and diversity training.

Defining Diversity

In simple terms, here diversity refers to the ways people differ in organizations. It sounds simple, but defining it more specifically is a challenge because people in organizations differ in a great many ways - race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, and more. There is also the fact that diversity not only involves how people think of others and how this affects their interaction but how they conceive of themselves.

A broader definition says “Diversity includes all the possible ways that members of work teams differ. Thus, it would consider differences of race, gender, age, and other demographic categories as essentially the same as differences of values, abilities, organizational function, tenure, and personality.

A narrow definition, on the other hand, would see diversity as including only differences based on race and gender. Thus, only the traditional issues of discrimination and exclusion of members of these groups in organizations would be considered.

Widely we classify diversity into two major dimensions namely- Primary and Secondary

Figure: Primary and secondary dimensions of Diversity

From the exhibit we can also conclude that in the present scenario diversity too has expanded its scope. It is not restricted to race and gender differences only but it also includes experiences, values, perception, personality, education and many more. Infact it is the life blood of business units. No one can escape from it in order to survive and compete. Organizations should be able to identify how it contributes to its success and be ready to induce diversity in its workforce. There are some factors which motivate the organizations to go for workforce diversity.

Motivating factors behind diversity

A feeling of Social Responsibility-It is a responsibility of the organization towards the society to give equal and fair opportunity to each and every individual to work with them. No organization can stop them only on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, etc. If the organizations are doing such activities they are doing injustice to the society. It may be possible if the person whom the organization is rejecting on the basis of cast, creed, color, he may possess some attractive and innovative ideas which may bring prosperity to the organization. By rejecting such candidates organization is making its loss and looses its reputation in the society.

Competitive Human Resource -Today’s labour pool is dramatically different than in the past. No longer dominated by a homogenous group, available talent is now overwhelmingly represented by people from a vast array of backgrounds and life experiences. Competitive companies cannot allow discriminatory preferences and practices to impede them from attracting the best available talent within that pool.

Legal Requirement-Many companies are under legislative mandates to be non-discriminatory in their employment practices. Non-compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity or Affirmative Action legislation can result in fines and/or loss of contracts with government agencies. In the context of such legislation, it makes good business sense to utilize a diverse workforce.

As Strategy-Buying power, particularly in today’s global economy, is represented by people from all walks of life (ethnicities, races, ages, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, etc.) To ensure that their products and services are designed to appeal to this diverse customer base, “smart” companies, are hiring people, from those walks of life - for their specialized insights and knowledge. Similarly, companies who interact directly with the public are finding increasingly important to have the makeup of their workforces reflect the makeup of their customer base.

Companies that prosper have the capacity to effectively solve problems, rapidly adapt to new situations, readily identify new opportunities and quickly capitalize on them. This capacity can be measured by the range of talent, experience, knowledge, insight, and imagination available in their workforces. In addition to their job-specific abilities, employees are increasingly valued for the unique qualities and perspectives that they can also bring to the table. True diversity is exemplified by companies that “hire people who are different – knowing and valuing that they will change the way you do business.”

For whichever of these reasons that motivates them, it is clear that companies that diversify their workforces will have a distinct competitive advantage over those that don’t. Further, it is clear that the greatest benefits of workforce diversity will be experienced, not by the companies that that have learned to employ people in spite of their differences, but by the companies that have learned to employ people because of them.

Benefits of Workplace Diversity

Success and competitiveness of organization depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and realize the benefits. When organizations are able to handle their workplace diversity issues, develop and implement diversity plans, multiple benefits can be achieved such as:

Increased adaptability-Organizations employing a diverse workforce can supply a greater variety of solutions to problems in service, sourcing, and allocation of resources. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual talents and experiences in suggesting ideas that are flexible in adapting to fluctuating markets and customer demands.

Promote Innovation-When multiple people from different background come together it stimulates innovation and flexibility, which differentiates the organization in the marketplace.

Ensured Success-The best people from a diverse labor pool bring success and prosperity to the organizations.

Broader service range-A diverse collection of skills and experiences (e.g. languages, cultural understanding) allows a company to provide service to customers on a global basis.

Variety of viewpoints-A diverse workforce that feels comfortable communicating varying points of view provides a larger pool of ideas and experiences. The organization can draw from that pool to meet business strategy needs and the needs of customers more effectively.

More effective execution-Companies that encourage workplace diversity inspire all of their employees to perform to their highest ability. Company-wide strategies can then executed; resulting in higher productivity, profit, and return on investment.

Challenges of Workplace Diversity

Work force diversity as it sounds is not an easy going task. It also brings some challenges with it. Some of those challenges are:

Communication - Perceptual, cultural and language barriers need to be overcome for diversity programs to succeed. Ineffective communication of key objectives results in confusion, lack of teamwork, and low morale.

Resistance to change - There are always employees who will refuse to accept the fact that the social and cultural makeup of their workplace is changing. The “we’ve always done it this way” mentality silences new ideas and inhibits progress.

Difficult to motivate and manage- Work-teams highly diverse in work-relevant characteristics can be difficult to motivate and manage.

Cultural bias -Cultural bias is an additional factor which challenges culturally diverse work environments. Cultural bias includes both prejudice and discrimination. "Prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an organization member based on his/her culture group identity, and discrimination refers to observable adverse behavior for the same reason”.

Miscommunication within an organization- The meanings of messages can never be completely shared because no two individuals experience events in exactly the same way. Even when native and non-native speakers are exposed to the same messages, they may interpret the information differently. It is necessary for employees who are less familiar with the primary language spoken within the organization to receive special attention in meeting their communication requirements.

Managing Diversity

"A diverse organisation will out-think and out-perform a homogeneous organisation every single time".

Managing diversity is imperative for longer-term success. It is a strategy for remaining competitive in the face of changing demographics and a narrowing talent pool, rapid globalization and unparalleled demand for constant and rapid change. Despite this, a close look at organizations globally reveals that diversity programs are taking a long-time to have an impact. Following strategies can help the organizations in making diversity implementation successful.

1. A clear articulation of the business case for diversity-A distinguishing feature of companies that have been effective in implementing diversity programs, is that they are able to articulate the clear benefits associated with having a diverse and inclusive culture. Beyond having a vague notion that it is the right thing to do, they understand that diversity can drive enhanced competitiveness through better understanding of, and access to, diverse markets. They understand the benefits of increased productivity flowing from increased morale, job satisfaction and decreased turnover, and the fact that these things are not just driven by pay and conditions but that an inclusive culture can be a key motivator for staff. They value the benefit of enhanced creativity, innovation and problem-solving that comes from diverse perspectives. They also value access to a wider talent-pool and the benefits of retention across a broad array of skills and knowledge. In addition, they see the value of a diverse culture in enhancing a company's adaptiveness and change-readiness.

2. Analyze the current situation-Companies who are strong in managing diversity are prepared to hold a mirror to themselves and to understand fully the current situation, not just in terms of data and statistics but also in terms of mindsets and behaviors. They wanted to understand not only how hiring policies could redress imbalances, but also the cultural impediments to retaining and developing a diverse workforce. Indeed, many companies “don't know what they don't know”, when it comes to creating an inclusive environment. This means that they can potentially invest too much energy and time into initiatives that are likely to offer lower unattainable returns on their investment.

3. Support from the top Management for Diversity programs-It is no surprise that successful diversity programs depend upon visible support from the Chief Executive and Senior Leadership Team. A number of companies have set-up Diversity Councils, which typically include the CEO and other senior leaders. Indeed, successfully managing diversity requires fundamental change in most organizations, which can only be achieved through stewardship by the leadership team.

4. Diversity leadership is stand-alone functions at a senior level-Companies who are committed to managing diversity effectively support this by putting in place a senior level executive responsible for the function. This person will often report through to the senior HR professional and will be responsible for managing a sizeable team and budget. Effective diversity leaders possess a breadth of skills that include an ability to articulate bottom-line impact to the satisfaction of the CFO.

5. Programs are focused on cultural change rather than just redressing imbalances-Managing diversity is not just about hiring to quotas and costly “touchy feely” programs. Recruiting a diverse workforce is only the first step in the process. Companies that are effective in managing diversity work to ensure that minorities can be successful in the organization. This requires that diversity programs are not seen as ancillary to the business but rather integral to it. It also requires a change in mindset and behaviors throughout the organization.

6. Management processes, measurable goals and incentive systems underpin the change-A number of companies have tied diversity objectives to performance pay. For example, the Hyatt Hotel Group ties approximately 15% of the bonus potential to diversity goals. Companies that have been successful in managing diversity have translated it into a core competency used to assess the performance of management.

7. Wide employee engagement and involvement is achieved-Diversity programs that only address the most senior levels within an organization result in short lived and superficial improvements. In order to create a sustainable change, diversity programs needs to cascade down through the organization. This requires broad employee engagement and involvement. It is not sufficient to test the effectiveness of diversity programs just at the board and senior executive level, rather it is at the “grass roots” level where a good deal of the challenge and the potential upside resides.

The seven success strategies for managing diversity are not complex concepts, nevertheless, they are difficult to implement and require a concerted and focused effort.

Diversity Training

The workforce today is diverse and comprises of people of different ages and varied ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. With increased globalization, the workplace is no longer an insular and homogeneous environment, diversity has become intrinsic to the workplace and employers need to recognize, manage and learn how to maximize the benefits of a diverse workplace. They must also make others in the organization aware of the differences among individuals so that they can interact positively with each other.

This is no doubt a difficult task but with diversity training, employees of different backgrounds can be trained to work effectively with each other. Such training can help the manager in understanding the differences in abilities of each employee and the unique contribution and quality of each person. This knowledge can benefit the organization as a whole.

Diversity training trains employees to view diversity as an opportunity to work in co-operation and productively with people from different backgrounds and contribute collectively to the organizational goals. Such training is more than a campaign to urge employees to remove the stereotypical prejudices they have of people from other backgrounds. It has moved beyond informing employees of their duties to improve relations and discrimination based on race and laws. Diversity training aims at teaching employees to be more open to the views of others. It also includes educating employees of issues that may arise because of the different ethnic and social backgrounds their colleagues and customers/clients belong to.

Training can be effective if it is designed based on the employee composition. It has to include developing a diversity strategy and policies especially those regarding recruitment, because this is where most conflicting issues originate.

A typical training module uses real work life situations to make the trainees aware of the issues that may come up and how to deal with them. Another method is to create a forum where people from different backgrounds can discuss issues and arrive at universally agreeable solutions.

Yet another approach is to give examples of organizations that run successfully with a diverse workforce and depict them as role models. Employees will thus become aware that diversity is not unique to their company but commonly prevalent and needs to be dealt with prudently for the success and growth of the organization.

Questionnaires on discrimination laws and a general knowledge test on different cultures and religions will help in measuring employees' awareness levels of diversity issues both before and after the training. More importantly it will make them accept the differences.

Diversity training is beneficial to employees because it improves interpersonal and communication skills besides improving the potential for teamwork. Moreover, it helps minimize conflicts and enhances employee efficiency.

The training will help managers tackle diversity issues and personal bias among their team members better. It will also improve their team building skills and relations with subordinates.

Objective of Diversity Training

Diversity training is becoming essential in today's workplace because each one of us has certain prejudices and views based on individual experiences and backgrounds. Such training makes one aware of how such views can affect one's work, business decisions and even personal styles and ultimately the success of the company. If one learns to work effectively together in spite of differences then both individual and organizational success is ensured. Following should be the objectives of diversity training-

To provide a clear understanding of what diversity is and what it isn't.

To raise a greater awareness and sensitivity to Diversity issues that goes well beyond the assumed categories.

To recommend behavioral tools for fostering a more cohesive workplace.

Conclusion

At last we can conclude that 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. At the same time diversity brings challenges. In order to be successful in implementing diversity programs in organizations one is required to do thorough study of the internal and external environment and then formulate successful strategies to beat the challenges. Diversity training can be one tool to make workplace diversity easily acceptable and successful in organizations.


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