Background

Companies are increasingly recognising that there is no such thing as a standardised workforce. Society is changing and with it the wide-ranging demands of work / life situations are evolving, with more skilled employees requiring flexibility in their working patterns (Bolen & Kleiner, 1996)[1]. This is potentially very useful for employers as it gives them a much greater pool of people from which to recruit and can bring in new sets of skills that would not necessarily be as well developed if the pool of employees remained narrow or restricted (Sadri & Tran, 2002)[2].

One of the most obvious and commonly cited issues in terms of managing diversity is the encouragement of women (and specifically mothers) to return to work on a flexible basis, following maternity leave. This area of diversity is actually heavily controlled by law. However, this is not to say that companies do not voluntarily see the benefits for themselves and deliberately work towards ensuring that opportunities are made available to all types of staff members (Strachan, et al., 2004)[3]. Considerable research has been undertaken, predominantly by management and employee based journals, in to how these diverse policies can be established and what the likely impact is on staff members and performance; this body of research will be drawn upon throughout the project (Smith, 2002)[4].

There is also a traditionally-held view that those in highly skilled or professional roles are seen as more valuable to an organisation. Therefore, these individuals generally receive more management time and effort when attempting to manage diversity or offer flexibility within their jobs. Increasingly, as the number of manual workers declines and the age demographic shifts, this is no longer the case and diversity issues are just as prevalent in the manual sectors as in the professional sectors.

This research aims to look at the various different ways in which the organisation in question, which has a combination of manual and professional workers, can use diversity within the workplace to the advantage of the organisation. Consideration will be given to which factors are the most important (e.g. flexibility in working times or flexibility with job roles) and which policies should be put in place to manage the diverse workforce. This will take account of a wide range of issues including sex, marital status, religion and culture (McAllister, 1997)[5].

Research Questions and Objectives

As this is a diverse organisation, the research objectives are two-fold. Firstly, the research will focus on what is currently happening in the organisation. How is the organisation currently managing diversity? What types of employees are currently in the organisation and how are their needs being managed? Furthermore, are there any individuals or social groups that are not well represented? If there are, why are these under-represented within this workplace? (Wright, et al., 2006)[6]

The initial aim of this stage of the research is to identify the current practices and their effectiveness, both in the context of this individual organisation and in terms of the productivity of the various teams (Harisis & Kleiner, 1993)[7].

Secondly, the research will look at opportunities to improve the position and to see how diversity can be better managed across all roles within the organisation. From this first stage of the research, it is likely that areas of concern will be identified, for example, teams that seem to make very little use of the diverse employee pool available (Kirton & Greene, 2004)[8]. These teams will be expressly looked at and policies drawn up to manage and improve the situation. As well as drawing up suitable policies, management training will be undertaken to ensure that the organisation understands the benefits and issues that may arise. The ultimate aim is to produce a set of policies and procedures that will ensure that diversity is suitably managed across all teams to the benefit of all concerned.

Methodology

As diversity is something that is unique to the organisation and is often highly emotional in nature, the primary source of research will be direct contact with individuals within the organisation. Initially, questionnaires should be used at random across all groups within the organisation; 30% of the company's total staff should be targeted. By doing this, a sufficiently large number of responses should be generated, at least to begin to obtain an accurate picture of the way in which the organisation currently deals with diversity (Saunders, et al., 2003)[9]. It is likely that these questionnaires will reveal areas of concern that need to be explored further. These should be done through the use of group interviews where discussions are likely to be more free-flowing, although harder to draw direct comparisons from, due to the various shades of grey that will be present when open interviewing is conducted (Aghazadeh, 2004)[10].

As well as talking to those within the teams, management teams and, in particular, human resources and board level managers will have to be questioned on an individual basis. Perceptions of current policies will have to be investigated to see what the current level of understanding is and how the current policies are actually used, in practice. This is important as the second part of the research involves looking at ways to improve the current policies and at possible methods to gain greater acceptance of such policies. By speaking to the individual managers who are responsible for implementation, it will be possible to ascertain whether the current shortfalls are down to the policies themselves or whether they can be attributed to a failure to follow these policies. This information will be critical when it comes to planning the training and policy changes going forward, as it will indicate where the primary focus needs to be. These interviews should be conducted on a one to one basis to ensure that the managers feel suitably secure that what they are saying is fully confidential (Marques, 2008)[11].

Alongside the questions that will be put to the workforce and the key managers, an analysis of the current statistics and policies will need to be undertaken. Each policy should be reviewed to see how closely it is being followed, currently. Statistics also need to be looked at to see which teams face the greatest challenges and which are already seemingly managing diversity well. This will largely be primary, statistical data which can be analysed independently from the more subjective answers given by interviewees. By putting both sets of results together, a complete picture of the situation can be obtained and a plan going forward can be established (Wilson, 2005)[12].

Timescales

The entire research is likely to take around eight months in total. The most time consuming part of the research will be the one to one and group interviews, as these will require the key individuals to be available at a suitable time. Initial research based on the statistics and current policies will be undertaken in the first 3 – 4 weeks of the project, as this will provide the foundations for the questions to ask the employees and the managers implementing these policies (Mor-Barak, 2005)[13]. The process of questionnaires and group interviews with employees, as well as the one to one interviews with managers, can be undertaken simultaneously over a period of 3 – 4 months. After this period has been completed, the results will be gathered and new policies drafted. It is anticipated that this will take another month and that the remaining two months will be used to train the managers in the new policies and to ensure that the policies are fully integrated into the workforce procedures (Albrecht, 2001)[14].

Conclusions

In short, the research will take the organisation from a 'where we are now' situation to a 'where we would like to be' position, over the course of eight months. The organisation is diverse and contains a mixture of manual and professional staff; therefore, each team will have to be considered separately. Patterns of diversity are likely to vary, depending on the nature of the work and this will be recognised in the way that the groups for questioning are formed (Tatli, 2006)[15].

Once the current position and issues have been established, the research will go on to develop new policies and training programmes to bring in new and improved policies that will, in time, increase the benefits that the organisation will see from managing diversity more consciously.

Bibliography

Aghazadeh, S-M., 2004. Managing workforce diversity as an essential resource for improving organizational performance. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 53 (6).

Albrecht, M.H., 2001. International HRM: Managing Diversity in the Workplace. Blackwell Publishing.

Bolen, L. & Kleiner, B.H., 1996. Managing Diversity in the Workplace. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 3 (4).

Harisis, D.S. & Kleiner, B.H., 1993. Managing and Valuing Diversity in the Workplace. Equal Opportunities International, 12 (4).

Kirton, G. & Greene, A.M., 2004. The Dynamics of Managing Diversity: A Critical Approach. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Marques, J., 2008. Workplace diversity: developing a win-win-win strategy. Development and Learning in Organizations, 22 (5).

McAllister, M., 1997. Profiting from Diversity. Equal Opportunities International, 16 (5).

Mor-Barak, M.E., 2005. Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. SAGE.

Sadri, G. & Tran, H., 2002. Managing your diverse workforce through improved communication. Journal of Management Development, 21 (3).

Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A., 2003. Research Methods for Business Students. Harlow: Prentice Hall.

Smith, T., 2002. Diversity and disability: exploring the experiences of vision impaired people in the workplace. Equal Opportunities International, 21 (8).

Strachan, G., Burgess, J. & Sullivan, A., 2004. Affirmative action or managing diversity: what is the future of equal opportunity policies in organisations? Women in Management Review, 19 (4).

Tatli, A., 2006. Handbook of Workplace Diversity. Equal Opportunities International, 25, (2).

Wilson, J.P., 2005. Human Resource Development: Learning and Training for Individuals and Organizations. Kogan Page Publishers.

Wright, T., Colgan, F., Creegany, C. & McKearney, A., 2006. Lesbian, gay and bisexual workers: equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Equal Opportunities International, 25 (6).


Footnotes

[1] Bolen, L. & Kleiner, B.H., 1996. Managing Diversity in the Workplace. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 3 (4)

[2] Sadri, G. & Tran, H., 2002. Managing your diverse workforce through improved communication. Journal of Management Development, 21 (3)

[3] Strachan, G., Burgess, J. & Sullivan, A., 2004. Affirmative action or managing diversity: what is the future of equal opportunity policies in organisations? Women in Management Review, 19 (4)

Source: Women in Management Review; Volume: 19 Issue: 4; 2004

[4] Smith, T., 2002. Diversity and disability: exploring the experiences of vision impaired people in the workplace. Equal Opportunities International, 21 (8)

[5] McAllister, M., 1997. Profiting from Diversity. Equal Opportunities International, 16 (5)

[6] Wright, T., Colgan, F., Creegany, C. & McKearney, A., 2006. Lesbian, gay and bisexual workers: equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Equal Opportunities International, 25 (6)

[7] Harisis, D.S. & Kleiner, B.H., 1993. Managing and Valuing Diversity in the Workplace. Equal Opportunities International, 12 (4)

[8] Kirton, G. & Greene, A.M., 2004. The Dynamics of Managing Diversity: A Critical Approach. Butterworth-Heinemann

[9] Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A., 2003. Research Methods for Business Students. Harlow: Prentice Hall

[10] Aghazadeh, S-M., 2004. Managing workforce diversity as an essential resource for improving organizational performance. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 53 (6)

[11] Marques, J., 2008. Workplace diversity: developing a win-win-win strategy. Development and Learning in Organizations, 22 (5)

[12] Wilson, J.P., 2005. Human Resource Development: Learning and Training for Individuals and Organizations. Kogan Page Publishers

[13] Mor-Barak, M.E., 2005. Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. SAGE

[14] Albrecht, M.H., 2001. International HRM: Managing Diversity in the Workplace. Blackwell Publishing

[15] Tatli, A., 2006. Handbook of Workplace Diversity. Equal Opportunities International, 25, (2)