Generally, diversity is any dimension that is used to differentiate a range of visible and non-visible differences that exist between groups or people. An inclusive view of diversity means understanding and valuing the characteristics and beliefs of those who demonstrate a wide range of characteristics. Such as, differences in ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion (RBC, 2009). A broad conceptualization of diversity has the capacity to recognize not simply individual diversity, but also the heterogeneous nature of diverse social groups within the workforce (Liff, 1999), for example women, minority ethnic groups and disabled.
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There are various differences human resource management find when accommodating or integrating diversity and fairness (equal opportunity) into their organisation employment process. Although sometimes used interchangeably, the terms ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ are not the same. When diversity is used in contrast to equality, it is about recognizing individual as well as group differences, treating people as individuals, and placing positive value in the community and workforce. Whereas, equality is about creating a fairer society were everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfill their potential, (DH, 2004).
Equality is the idea of equal treatment and respect, where as, diversity is more than this as we all bring with us diverse perspectives, work experiences, life styles and cultures. Some use diversity as a descriptive term for an approach intended to provide a certain social environment in which people are not excluded from the activities of society, such as education, employment, or health care, on the basis of immutable traits. According to Paul & Ricky (2000), there are two levels of diversity; first level dimensions consist of characteristics that are impossible or difficult for individuals to change. Second level dimensions comprises of characteristics which individuals have a degree of control through choices about their acquisition and modification.
Whereas equal opportunities are about ensuring that everyone is entitled to freedom from discrimination. There are two main types of equality encompassed in equal opportunities thus equality of treatment which is concerned with treating everyone the same. In an organizational context this recognizes that institutional discrimination may exist in the form of unfair procedures and practices that favor those with some personal attributes, over others without them. Therefore the task of equal opportunities is concerned with the elimination of these barriers. The second one is equality of outcome which focuses on policies that either have an equal impact on different groups or intent the same outcomes for different groups, (Marjon, 2009).
On the other hand when we talk about managing diversity, we are referring to the harnessing of these differences to create a productive environment in which everyone feels valued, talents are fully utilized and organizational goals are met Kandola and Fullerton (1998). Lorbiecki and Jack (2000) highlighted that United Kingdom seem to fix people’s differences into six main groups through legislation and does not allow for change or movement. Legislation is a law that aims to change people’s behavior to conform to a certain standard (rules). Hence why their diversity management limits itself to six main groups and this suggest that someone will always be discriminated against as people do not always fit nicely into one group.
Where as equal opportunities focus on creating equality of opportunity, regardless of any differences (Johnstone, 2002). Equal opportunities approach is a legislation that should indicate a state of balance yet legislation itself is about controlling, standardizing and ensuring everyone follows the same rules. The same can be said about managing diversity as it aims to control people through policies and procedures. Managing diversity standardizes people by allocation them into groups, encouraging them to follow certain rules or (legislation) and use this to control them. From this, the term ‘managing diversity’ could be a more liberal or free thinking word for ‘legislation’, as they both have the same agenda which is to conform and set standards that everyone must follow .
This portion of the business case, often referred to as inclusion, relates to how an organization utilizes its various relevant diversities. As a source and driver of innovation, diversity is a “big idea” in business and in society, (RBC, 2009). The business case for diversity, theorizes that in a global marketplace, a company that employs a diverse workforce (both men and women, people of many generations, people from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds) is better able to understand the demographics of the marketplace it serves and is thus better equipped to thrive in that marketplace. The real benefits of having a diverse workplace of employers and employees who value one another and the different contributions they can make to help a business achieve its potential; that is maximizing profits. Perhaps the most compelling argument underlying the business case for diversity relates to marketing and business development, (Marjon, 2009).
Diversity training aims to combat racism, sexism, exclusion, and ethnocentrism. However, today’s marketplace offers an additional connotation which is more positive as it gives business a competitive edge in an increasing global community, (DTUI, 2004). The business can benefit from multicultural workforce expertise, for example if a UK company does business in Asia, having British-Asian on your negotiating team would greatly improve your chances of success, (Thiederman, 2002). In addition, recruiting a diverse workforce has tangible benefits as many businesses find it helpful to have a workforce that reflects the community and international market place they trade in. This can help them tailor their goods and services so as to build trust and goodwill among customers and suppliers thereby improving their reputation as a diverse business.
Diversity is beneficial to businesses as it brings better decision making and improved problem solving, greater creativity and innovation, which leads to enhanced product development, and more successful marketing to different types of customers, Fine (1980). Other benefits of business building a diverse workforce include: having a wider range of resources, skills and ideas among your employees, improving staff retention, leading to lower recruitment and training costs and increasing employee efficiency and reduced stress due to cross-functional teams, that is employees are capable of a variety of roles due to their different backgrounds and skill sets. It also enables businesses to build a competitive edge in recruitment and retention as you can select from a bigger pool of candidates. By recruiting employees from under-represented businesses avoid claims of unfair discrimination by employing women in a traditionally male environment.
An additional corollary suggests that a company that supports the diversity of its workforce can also improve customer satisfaction, productivity and retention. By recruiting employees from under-represented groups, they can avoid alienating potential customers. For example a diverse workforce can also help business understand their customers better by helping to identify: problems that customers may have, such as language barriers and poor access for disabled people and how customers with different religious beliefs or from different backgrounds might react to their business or product (Business Link, 2009).
If a workforce is diverse, but the employer takes little or no advantage of that breadth of that experience, then it cannot monetize whatever benefits background diversity might offer. Some organizations believe that simply having diversity and equal opportunities policies is sufficient evidence to tackle discrimination, (see Richards, 2001). However legislation cannot change the way people think, their inner beliefs and feelings therefore they break the law. This is probably due to the fact that equality policies fit disadvantage people into groups, as explored by Kirton and Green (2005) and this focus of ‘difference’ seem to disadvantage people. In addition to this statistics from ACAS (2008) reported that discrimination claims have increased over the year.
This proves that legislation failed to control people or organizations from discriminating and there is still the notion of stigma existing in the midst of our society regardless of the law. The law as suggested by Johnstone (2002) does not promote diversity and does not actually recognize the term ‘diversity’ but instead ‘compliance’ with the law is a business case for any organization to adopt a diversity policy as it acts as standard guideline to avoid discrimination. The law, as explored by Kirton and Green (2005, pp.169), “does not have mystical powers” to change society.
Arguably, the social justice and business case arguments for diversity are complementary, because unless people are treated fairly at work they will feel less than fully committed and will therefore under-perform. But diversity takes equality forward, and evidence indicates that organizations that are serious about diversity show better overall financial performance. There are three broad strands supporting the case for going beyond what is required by legislation and introducing diversity policies: people issues, market competitiveness, and corporate reputation. Organizations which follow them are also more likely to find it easier to comply with increasingly complex legal obligations, not least because diversity will be embedded in their cultures.
The social justice argument is based on the belief that everyone should have a right to equal access to employment and when employed should have equal pay and equal access to training and development, as well as being free of any direct or indirect discrimination and harassment or bullying. This can be described as the right to be treated fairly, and the law sets minimum standards. Yet in reality unemployment is twice as high among people from ethnic minorities, although there are relatively more Chinese, Indian and Black African graduates than white graduates. Only 12 per cent of white men are in professional occupations, as opposed to 21 per cent of Chinese and Indian men.
A diversity approach understands that our social identity in terms of gender, race, disability, age, social class, sexuality and religion will impact on our life experiences. For example, occupational segregation; women make up almost 75 percent of the NHS workforce but are concentrated in the lower-paid occupational areas: nursing, allied health professionals, administrative workers and ancillary workers (DH, 2005). Also people from black and minority ethnic groups comprise 39.1 percent of hospital medical staff yet they comprise only 22.1 percent of all hospital medical consultants (DH, 2005). Good diversity practice identifies these patterns of experience based on group identity, and the challenging processes that limit individual’s ‘potential’ health and life chances.
Historically, employers ignored certain difference. However, individual and group diversity needs to be considered in order to ensure that everybody’s needs and requirements are understood and responded to within employment practice and service design and delivery. One way in which organizations have responded to the issue of diversity in recent years has been the development of flexibility in working practices and services. For example, an employer may allow an employee to work a flexible working pattern to accommodate child care arrangements, or a GP surgery may offer surgeries at the weekends in accommodate those who work full time during the week.
Another example of diversity in practice was shown by Worcestershire County Council in 2002 when they launched, ‘Worcestershire – We All Make It Unique.’ This was a four phase race diversity communication and training programme designed specifically to raise awareness among employees and to improve customer service, particularly in the larger ethnic minority communities that it served. This example shows quite starkly that organizations situated in seemingly ethnically homogenous locations, who claim that diversity is not relevant for them, may need to look more closely at their customers and the sub-regions and divisions of the locality in which they operate because these may have greater diversity and differing requirements CIPD, 2009.
Hence why, employer engagement is a vital driver for organization’s top and bottom-line performance. Employer engagement can be broadly defined as employers consistently acting in the best interests of the organization and in this context it is linked to raising public awareness. These in turn, inform intersecting relationships between employer skills needs and education (work-based learning), educational and workplace competency, and quality (accreditation of employer based training, and credit accumulation and transfer systems) and vocational competency (fit for practice, and fit for purpose), Springerlink (2009).
Human resource managers must be willing to work towards changing the organization in order to implement a culture of diversity and inclusion. There is a compelling business case which should encourage organizations to look beyond legal compliance with anti-discrimination laws to a value-added approach enabling competitive benefits to be gained from developing good practice. Therefore diversity strategies need to be designed to support business objectives and strategies to add real value to business performance. Just ‘doing’ diversity for cosmetic reasons is misguided and can result in undesirable outcomes such as raising expectations through false promises.
When implementing a diversity programme it has to go far beyond the limits of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. High performing diversity managers recognize that specialized skills are necessary for creating a productive, diverse workforce. They seek out continuous learning opportunities and some go as far as acquiring certification. Assessment skills and diversity education are key elements of culture change. However, the leadership’s support of the change cannot be understated. Effective communication is very crucial in implementing a diversity programme. Brownell’s 2003 article identifies three skills which help to develop effective communication in diverse organizational environments. These skills include self-monitoring, empathy, and strategic decision-making. Self-monitoring refers to the communicator’s awareness of how his or her behavior affects another person, empathy enables the receiver to go beyond the literal meaning of a message and strategic decision-making implies that the sources, channels and substance of the messages conveyed, are mindfully selected, Adam (2007).
The key to implementing a diversity approach is increasing individual awareness of and sensitivity to differences of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, and age Page (2007). There are several ways to go about creating the multicultural organization that performs extremely well. For example, Cox mentions language training as a way to promote a multicultural organization. Language training is important for companies hiring foreign nationals. This type of training helps to communicate to employees that languages, other than English, are highly valued. In addition equal opportunity seminars, focus groups, bias-reduction training, research, and task forces are methods that organizations have found useful in reducing culture-group bias and discrimination Fine (1980).
While diversity in the workplace brings about many benefits to an organization, it can also lead to many challenges. It is the responsibility of managers within organizations to use diversity as an influential resource in order to enhance organizational effectiveness. Walck (1995) defines managing diversity in the workplace as negotiating interaction across culturally diverse groups, and contriving to get along in an environment characterized by cultural diversity.
There are many challenges faced by culturally diverse workplaces, and a major challenge is miscommunication within an organization. In an article by Brownell (2003), she explains that 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. Cultural bias which includes both prejudice and discrimination is an additional factor which challenges culturally diverse work environments. Prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an organization member based on his or her culture group identity, and discrimination refers to observable adverse behavior for the same reason, Fine (1980).
Another challenge faced by diverse organizational environments is assimilation. According to Fine (1980) assimilation into the dominant organizational culture is a strategy that has had serious negative consequences for individuals in organizations and the organizations themselves. Those who assimilate are denied the ability to express their genuine selves in the workplace; they are forced to repress significant parts of their lives within a social context that frames a large part of their daily encounters with other people. People who spend significant amounts of energy coping with an alien environment have less energy left to do their jobs. Assimilation does not just create a situation in which people who are different are likely to fail; it also decreases the productivity of organizations Page (2007).
Other organizational theorists have suggested reasons that work-teams highly diverse in work-relevant characteristics can be difficult to motivate and manage. Page’s (2007) mathematical modeling research of team work supports this view. He demonstrated that heterogeneous teams consistently out-performed homogeneous teams on a variety of tasks. He also points out that diversity in teamwork is not so simple in the messy real world. Too often the cultural differences create problems. The goal is to manage diversity to take full advantage of it.
Figure 2 below shows how organizations can move from where most are at present to a situation in which diversity successfully enters the mainstream.
Figure 2: CIPD (2009).
In order for diversity efforts to succeed, organizations must hold everyone; (individual, interpersonal, group and organizational) accountable through a proactive, progressive that is both prospective and retrospective, (Thiederman, 2002). Diverse organizations will be successful as long as there is a sufficient amount of communication within them. Because people from different cultures perceive messages in different ways, communication is vital to the performance of an organization. Miscommunication within a diverse workplace will lead to a great deal of challenges. In addition for diversity management to be successful it should engage with all business processes and stakeholders and not limited to the Human resource function.
Finally for any diversity programme to be successful after its introduction it needs to go beyond legislation compliance (following rules) to ever attempt to treat people the same and avoid discrimination. Never the less, to be inclusive and equal to all, organizations may need to respond differently to individuals or groups. Therefore, a commitment to equality in addition to recognition of diversity means that different can be equal.
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