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This literature review is aimed to critically analyze the diversity management at multicultural organizations. Existing theories, studies and research regarding diversity management at workplaces are intended to be explored and their effectiveness evaluated. The implementation of various diversity management practices will be examined with the help of literature to determine; the significance of diversity management at both large and small scale organizations, its benefits, chief factors contributing to diversity management and the issues and challenges pertaining to successful diversity management implementation. A part of the review will be focused on how diversity management can be successfully implemented. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn from the literature review highlighting the key elements assessed and learned.
In today’s dynamic, overly complex and ever changing societal structure, diversity has hit almost every small and large organization around the world. Constantly shrinking societies post-colonialism and the modernity being infused in such organizations have added to the complexity of how these diverse populations at workplace can be managed effectively. How diversity is perceived by various researchers differ to some extent. This difference is explained by their narrow and broad scope of diversity. To some, diversity deals with issues including but not limited to classism, racism and sexism (Cross, Katz, Miller, and Seashore, 1994) while for others it concerns more broader meanings like understanding, acknowledging and valuing age, gender, ethnicity, race and spiritual differences among people (Esty, Katharine, Richard G., Marcie S. (1995) and Black (2001). From an organization’s perspective, some authors have put it simply as recruitment, retaining and establishing suitable workplace relationships of people belonging from different backgrounds whilst putting all possible efforts in admonishing any anti-social behaviour at workplace (Thomas, 1991).
Kelly and Dobbin (1998) as noted by Tatli (2011) were amongst the very first scholars to explain this long existing crucial discourse of diversity subsisting in different capacities. The study along with its assumptions according to modern society were based on the Litvin’s (1997) concerns over the aforementioned complexity of workplaces and how managers can effectively deal with them by adopting different approaches. Conventional study of managing diversity would be one approach to understand the complexity of different practices in existence (Lash, 1999) but there are limitations to what and how much theory and literature can be practically useful to manage this ever changing architecture of diversity. Bauman (2001) opposes Lash’s (1999) idea by bringing forth his findings on the uncertain and unpredictable nature of human and their actions under different capacities. According to Bauman (2001) conventional modes of studying human interaction would just not suffice.
The rapidly changing demographics have been put forward by some authors as the primary reason for diversity related concerns and its management awareness in general including Foster and Harris (2005). On the other hand, the perception of diversity management and how much importance it is given can be country specific. This phenomenon can be proved by Miller and Rowney’s (1999) study on diversity initiatives in multicultural organizations in Canada where it was suggested that almost 50 percent of the organizations there do not even consider diversity management to be an issue. Reason being the country’s history of accepting and especially promoting cultural differences at both small and large organizations, therefore any diversity related management initiatives would be totally unneeded.
What benefits organizations seek from diversity is a diverse workforce which constitutes to the factors like rich cultured skillful manpower but managing this workforce pose greater challenges to the managers (Greenberg, 2004). Wrench (2007) explained two factors leading to these challenges for managers which are; to ensure a fair and correct treatment of every employee and ensuring effective management of workforce to promote greater rewards for the organization which would ultimately add to its competitive edge. Furthermore, cost advantages attained through lower costs on training is also highlighted by Robinson & Dechant (1997) at one separate occasion while analyzing the value in appreciating diversity. Others complimenting these benefits cared to mention that organizations with best practices to manage diversity have a better potential of attracting the best talent from different backgrounds consequently promoting a rich flow of creative ideas and perspectives throughout the organization (Tsui, 1999 and Gutek, 1992).
A major focus in both theoretical and practical perspectives regarding the management of diversity at organizations has been the cultural influences on their initiatives. Cultural clashes and globalization go hand in hand with the former being a keen focus of many authors and researchers as to better understand the factors contributing to it. Assessing different concepts of culture existing till date, various perceptions have been foregrounded over the passing years. DuPraw & Axner (1997) classify culture simply as a tag to distinguish differences between people belonging from different backgrounds while others put culture in its more precise form mentioning it as a set of beliefs, attitudes and values shared by a specific group of people (Scarborough, 1998). While these authors more or less agree with one another on the predominate accounts of culture differences, DuPraw and Axner (1997) believe that people belong to many cultures at once, backing their statement by foregrounding the increasing globalization and diverse societies. Scarborough (1998) disagree with this notion by arguing that; employees learn most of the organization culture from their superiors while on individual level people learn about cultures from their parents and their beliefs being reinforced every time set them apart from other cultures, hence both the statements contradict at this point.
Furthermore, culture differences at a typical workplace may refer to several types of cultures. This can include the culture of the workers, the managerial culture, and the organization culture itself (Gourlay & Soderquist, 1998). These cross-cultural differences can constitute to a whole new set of dimensions for work values and beliefs about work-success, competition, communication between staff, decision making and authority power. As mentioned before in the review, diversity management includes appreciating and promoting values and beliefs, countering prejudice and discrimination and streamlining various positive attributes of diversity for the better workforce output but managing these differences can be a challenge for managers. Esty, Katharine, Richard, and Marcie (1995) mentioning the importance of these attributes for healthy relationships, good moral and productivity at workplace while also warning about the consequences in the cases if and when they are mismanaged. Another notable challenge for the managers while implementing diversity management is relaying on the limited literature and research data available and trying to put the theory into action (Foster and Harris, 2005). Lack of experience on the manager’s part is found to be an equally major contributor as well.
Gender diversity and its effective management is another issue that has also played a vital role in the corporate diversity management. Cox (1994) points gender as a prominent cultural category and a considerably potential factor of conflicts at workplaces and high turnover rates. The prominence of the gender factor in the cultural architecture is evidenced by today’s socialized world and consequently women. According to Tsui and O’Reilly (1989) women possess very different views from men and at numerous it has been agreed that women exhibit better flexibility and the ability to deal with ambiguity and consequently prove to be better managers then men. This phenomenon can raise several concerns for the male employees such as job insecurity, lower self esteem, work depression jealously and negative competition considering the fact that female employees are now getting equal opportunities and importance at work as men. A study by Wharton and Baron (1987) demonstrated these factors in combined work environments. A good question here could be as to why organizations are bothered about managing gender diversity? A possible answer can be because it affects the overall performance, operational efficiency and company image in general (Welbourne, Cycyota and Ferrante, 2007), all the elements that are crucial in determining the success of any organization.
The aforementioned gender segregation related concerns steers the review to another aspect of how personalities affect diversity. Personality constitutes to a whole range of factors that affect employee interaction within a workplace. Ewen (2003) mentions Goldberg (1993) who presented four characteristics in Big-Five personality model. Briefly, the model helps evaluate human personality traits by highlighting extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness characteristics in a person. Relating the model with the diversity management implementation and practice at any organization it can be concluded that the employee reactions will widely differ. Those falling under these trait categories will be noticeably more tolerant and flexible towards co-workers demonstrating emotions and actions like kindness, sympathy, being socially active, helpfulness, openness to new ideas etc. On the contrary to this, those falling under the counterparts of these trait categories will promote negative influence at the workplace and consequently adversely affecting effective diversity management practices.
Having reviewed the importance and factors pertaining to diversity management and their relevant literature, for effective management of diversity at organizations suggestions are also available by various authors to help managers implement the best practices. Authors like Koonce (2001) suggest that managers need to first analyze the consequences of all diversity related ill-affects setting aside their own biases and beliefs. This would allow them to make unbiased and fair decisions whenever required. The author emphasizes on the fact that managers need to be pro-active in order to deflect any anti-social behaviour at workplaces by taking necessary measures in advance. Roosevelt (2001) on another occasion suggests that managers should promote and work towards a “work healthy” environment to facilitate employee communication and encourage casual and business meetings which would help promote cross-cultural competence amongst the workforce. Moreover, it was pointed out that while there are no hard and fast rules or regulations that guarantee a successful diversity management, there are measures that can if not totally prevent will minimize the damage done by outdated practices and procedures.
Cox and Beale (1997) acknowledging the troublesome implementation of diversity management produced a model, Diversity competency model (1997), to help guide the managers. A model they thought would reduce dysfunctional behaviour at workplaces. Based on a three stage approach, the model aims to get the managers aware of the diversity related attributes and acknowledge its importance, understand and acquire knowledge through a cognitive learning process and finally put the leaning into action. The characteristics of the model can be linked with Foster and Harris’ (2005) mentions about lack of information readily available and inexperienced managers. Such managers can benefit from this model. The model itself not relying on any theoretical knowledge base fosters Bauman’s (2001) statement about how practical experience in diversity management bears more impact and productivity as otherwise suggested by Lash (1999) earlier in the review.
This review can be concluded with a few arguments that research and studies indicate that the effectiveness of diversity management is widely dependant on the theories and knowledge practically put to action and not merely on the conventional modes of learning i.e. literature. Due to the limitation of such type of learning, many researchers have over the period preferred cognitive learning by recommending the use of models like Cox and Beale’s (1997) diversity competency model to help the management practically implement the acquired knowledge. It is hence suggested that in the cases where conventional learning modes are no longer effective such alternates be put to use. While it was mentioned that most Canadian organizations pay little importance to diversity management, the importance and benefits were also highlighted to compliment various arguments throughout the literature that stressed over the fact that diversity management should not be neglected and instead further improved to promote positive employee involvement at workplace and interaction with co-workers. Considering the implementation of diversity management practices, various challenges were covered from a manager’s perspective and suggestions were reviewed accordingly to help ensure a healthier workplace that can effectively combat negative diversity influences at a workplace.
Total word count: 1962
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