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Exploring Growth Of Diversity Management In Corporate Workspace Business Essay

Foster and Harris (2005) in their study on diversity management in the high street retail industry focused on “How operational managers interpret the management of diversity in practice” (p.4). The paper argues that there is a tendency to “...concentrate on the potential business benefits and societal argument for employing a diverse workforce but pays less attention to the issues of the application of diversity management in practice” (2005:5).This indicates that enough attention is not given to the practical implementation of diversity management, hence the study is an important one. In critically reviewing Foster and Harris’ paper, this essay focuses on the research methodology, limitations, key findings and the contribution the study makes to an overall understanding of the complexities of implementing diversity management.

There has been increasing interest in the field of diversity management in the last 20 years .Equal opportunities for the most part is now being supplanted by diversity management (Kirton and Greene 2009; Noon and Ogbonna 2001). However, four years after Foster and Harris’ article was published, Kirton and Greene (2009) identified essentially the same gap in diversity management. For Kirton and Greene (2009:160) there was “...little research focusing specifically or in-depth on the roles and activities of diversity practitioners”. This comment lends weight to the relevance of Foster and Harris study.

Foster and Harris (2005) focused on the employees in their interpretation of diversity management (p.5) while CIPD (2004) (a year before Foster and Harris study) defined diversity as “Valuing everyone as individuals – as employees, customers and clients. This raises an argument on the definition of diversity management by CIPD against the interpretation of diversity by Foster and Harris (2005) which focuses on workforce rather than a wider audience.

The concept of equal opportunity policy as an opposition to the implementation of diversity management is one of the major perspectives highlighted by the authors. The authors cite ‘right based’ approach by Webb (1997) without giving a detailed insight as to how this reflects an opposition to the equal opportunity approach. In our study of equal opportunity by Webb (1997) and Johnston’s (2010) recent publication on diversity management ,some positions of equal opportunity policy is embedded in the concept of diversity management even as major differences still occur (Greene and Kirton 2009:33),in this light equal opportunities policies should not be viewed as an opposition to the diversity management concept. Furthermore, Kirton and Greene (2005) argue that it may be more appropriate and practical to incorporate equality and diversity management approaches hence, equal opportunity and diversity management are best viewed as complementary approaches that should be interrelated and not treated as alternative. (Torrington and Hall 1998).

We suppose the title of the essay “easy to say, difficult to do” was appropriate because it captured the essence of a seemingly easy but complex theme. There was some extent to which the relationship between equal opportunity and diversity management was confusing and difficult to follow. For example, Foster and Harris (2004:4) claim that the article “examines how operational managers are interpreting the management of diversity in practise”. This gives the impression that the study was about the management and implementation of diversity. Further into this study, the authors stated that “... we set out to explore through qualitative methods the understandings , perceptions of fair treatment and reported actions of a group of managers who were responsible for the application of organisational equality and diversity policies in the retailing industries” (Foster and Harris 2005:7). This made it difficult to determine whether the authors were focusing on an equal opportunity or diversity policy issue or both concepts. Although Foster and Harris (2007:56) pointed out in detail the different perspectives on diversity management and its relationship to equal opportunity however, their position remains unclear.

Although Foster and Harris highlight the relevance of diversity training to line managers and the deficiencies that are currently present in organizations. They neglect a possible constraint that may arise due to the size and structure of the organization as this may not be cost beneficial to some smaller companies (Ongori and Agolla 2007). It can be argued that greater importance has been placed on providing training and development to employees by large retailers (Johnston 2010).

In conducting the research, Foster and Harris employed In-depth and Semi-structured interviews as well as a case study in other to understand how line managers within the high street retail industry implement diversity management. The research methods used were appropriate given the focus of the study (Bryan and Bell 2003).

In –depth interviews are used to gather detailed information about the beliefs, values and behaviours of an interviewee (Boyce and Neale 2006). One potential limitation with in-depth interviews or any other interview technique is that of overcoming interviewer’s bias (Boyce and Neale 2006; Bryan and Bell 2003). Foster and Harris also used a case study over a 12, month period and further conducted 40 semi-structured interviews. The main concern of the study, “...Was to obtain the views of those staff with an organisational responsibility for the interpretation and application of equality and diversity policies” (2005:8). In terms of the interviewee selection the snow ball technique was used. This is an approach were an interviewer ask the interviewee to recommend someone else to be interviewed .it is a useful Strategy for gaining access to other informants where the interviewer does not know the key players in the field. One of the limitations with this approach is that it can be bias, based on who gets recommended.

To address this issue the authors verified the information received before and after with the HR function as well as checking against documented organizational structure. Altogether, it appears that the multiple methodological approach adopted by Foster and Harris enabled them to minimize biases in the research and as a result achieve their aim. Regarding the research methodology employed in the study we concluded that it was not only appropriate but human-centred as it gave line managers the opportunities to articulate their own perspectives. In comparison to using another research method such as participant observation where the researcher provides the reader with his interpretation and analysis of what is important, it was particularly attractive interviewing the line managers directly and how they were struggling to rationalise the implementation of diversity management.

However, there were three areas of concern regarding the study sample which is important to mention. The first issue relates to the questions used in the in-depth and semi-structured interviews, the second concerns the gender imbalance and the third point is about the ethnic mix of the sample.

Firstly, the authors used in-depth and semi-structured interview questions. It would have been useful to see a sample of the questions in an appendix. This is important, as it would help the reader to judge whether interviewees were asked the right kinds of questions. Secondly, the ratio of female to male in the study was 70:30. Although the authors did not provide an explanation for this, one possible assumption to be drawn from this choice of sample is that traditionally more women are employed in the retail sector. (Traves, Brockbank and Tomlinson 1997). Thirdly, given the importance of equal opportunity and the emphasis placed on the business case for diversity, it was surprising to note that only one non white manager was represented in the sample, an action which further suggests that ethnic minority groups may be under-represented at senior management levels. This stems from a study conducted by Sanglin-Grant and Schneider 2000, Gagnon and Cornelius (200:69), “ethic minority groups remain seriously under-represented at senior management level in private sector organizations in the UK”. It is recommended that senior management teams should include diversity of ethnicity, age and gender in other to achieve a positive outcome on high work performance (Reichenberg 2001).

Foster and Harris study was based mainly on the test and procedures for studying perception of diversity management in retail organizations solely in the UK. However, objective measures maybe engaged in the future to weigh major differences in diversity management theory and its actual application in reality. Furthermore the main focus of the research in the UK retail industry as a sample of other organization may not bring an objective conclusion of its findings for other cultures, industries countries in the global economies of the world (Greene and Kirton 2009:33). However, the research and its selection reflect employees’ perception on diversity management.

Implementing diversity management across the retail industry in the UK according to Foster and Harris (2005) is “problematic” and they offer four reasons for this. First, the research findings indicate that managers understand the concept of diversity management differently resulting in some inconsistencies to how different diversity managers apply the concept (p.5). To further highlight this point they found that a minority of line managers saw diversity management and equal opportunities as essentially the same (p.10). Greene AM and Kirton, G (2009) suggests that line managers are suppose to be the coalface for the implementation of diversity in organizations, but have been termed as “common scapegoat” for not fulfilling the potential of diversity management policy statements. However, the pressure faced by line managers which spans from legal, social, office (heavy workloads, tight deadlines, and fulfilling HR policies) etc. lead many of them to see diversity management as a responsibility with lower priority to the main work of the organization. This, however, remains an ongoing concern in the literature.

The crucial question here is if equal opportunity and diversity are essentially different or the same. An earlier study by Gagnon and Cornelius (2000) drawing on research conducted in 1999 by the IRS Employment Trends made the claim that inequality and diversity were conceptualized differently but the terms were also used interchangeably. Additionally, Gilbert, J, et al. (1999:62) argued that “the concept diversity management remains “nebulous” , a point Foster and Harris seem to agree with. In highlighting the lack of a clear definition of diversity management as a key concern of the research findings, Foster and Harris (2005) do not seem to add anything new in terms of clarifying the issue. Perhaps it would have been more useful to use the phrase from Gilbert et al (1999) to delineate and refine the concept of diversity management. Nevertheless, their contribution to a greater understanding of the implications and challenges of implementing diversity management remains extremely valuable.

The second finding was that line managers were particularly cautious about legal compliance and the possibility of litigation over the implementation of diversity management. Drawing on the work of Leighton (2004), Foster and Harris (2005:11) conclude that “anti-discrimination legislation is in danger of becoming an obstacle to employers progressing diversity management practices if fear of the law leads line managers to a defensive and negative attitude to diversity issues”. From our perspective, the extent to which diversity management is hindered by equality legislation and how this might be overcome is a key issue and needs further exploration. Even though Foster and Harris (2005) identified this as a major concern, they have not adequately addressed this. In order to implement diversity management successfully it does appear that equal opportunities legislation would have to be reformed to meet the challenges posed by diversity management.

The third finding was to record the “confusion which stems from an agenda that appears to require them [line managers] to deliver sameness of treatment on one hand but to recognise and respond to individual difference on the other” (Foster and Harris 2005:13). However, the authors did not recommend any solution. In our view, this indicates that implementing diversity management by line managers still remains an area for further research in terms of clarifying the apparent dilemma between sameness of treatment and individual difference. Gilbert et al (1999) recommends that line managers should have a detailed knowledge and commitment to embrace ethical principles (individual difference) while also recognising the equality legislation policies (sameness of treatment) in their process of decision making as these enhance effective diversity management decisions.

The fourth point is closely linked to the third as it suggests that addressing and valuing individual differences are complex. For example, it is necessary to take into consideration other important factors such as the size, structure and external operating environment of an organisation when considering individual differences and sameness.

In addition to some of the strengths of the article mentioned already in this essay we believe that the title of the essay “easy to say, difficult to do” was appropriate because it capture the essence of a seemingly easy theoretical discussion but when it comes to putting this into practice the situation is far more complex. We also found the online case particularly interesting because it demonstrates a point which was absent from the rest of the study. The argument is that the online case showed that it was far more difficult to manage diversity management because of the fluidity and less formal structure in place. This also meant that it was difficult monitoring the process and holding people accountable for wrong doing.

In conclusion, it can be argued that the article clearly demonstrates a tension between equal opportunities legislations and the impact this it is likely to have on diversity management. The study also supports earlier claims in the literature that diversity management is inherently difficult to implement but seems to offer a plea for further practical research in this area.

In our opinion, Foster and Harris provide a useful account of the implementation of diversity management within the retail industry and offer insights to some challenges line managers face when implementing diversity policies. Hence, we propose that this should be addressed by building objectives relating to diversity management into the business plan of an organization, incorporating diversity and equality into organizational work mainstreams (Ansari and Jackson 1995).

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