According to Foster and Harris (2005), the diversity management seems increasingly important and it is difficult to translate the diversity management into practice in retail. The purpose of the article is to analyse critically the issues of the diversity management in practice and explore the understanding and conception of fair treatment and diversity management through the qualitative method. The issues of putting the diversity management into practice and unclear definition of managing diversity and the approaches to manage diversity in retail are addressed and discussed through literature review of the diversity management, research method, main findings and conclusion.
In the literature Foster and Harris (2005) critically analysed the relationship between the individual needs and the company performance. The organisations could respond better to its changing environment if the companies could understand individual strengths, experience and perspectives (Anderson and Metcalf, 2003). For example, Assiniboine Credit Union in Winnipeg built a great reputation based on their training of diversity through the successful immigrant integration program (Klie, 2009). As Vice-president of human resources at RBC Per Scott said, the best way to attract candidates to choose the company is an employ brand, which means the company gives employees career growth, colleagues, rewards and diversity weaves and access to the resources of an industry leader (Klie, 2009). If the company does not concern about the attitudes, values, feelings and behaviours of its employees, then it could not achieve its goal fully (Golden et al, 2009).
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The diversity management is an approach to equal opportunities and fair treatment which support employers to exploit and assess a wide range of differences in their employees (Foster and Harris, 2005). Diversity covers these characteristics including not only age, disability, religion, and sexual orientation but also personality, work or management style and past experience (Anderson and Metcalf, 2003). Foster and Harris (2005) argued the diversity management literatures pay more attention on the potential business benefits than the issues of managing diversity in practice.
The benefits of diverse workforce are increasingly recognised and the organisations realise the workforce with diverse social groups could make valuable contribution. This would lead to a huge change in HR area. People with different experience, culture and backgrounds view the same challenge or problem from different perspectives and solve the problem or challenge with the best solution (Anderson and Metcalf, 2003). Diversity has an impact on groups' behaviour and workplace behaviour (Baugh, 2008). Foster and Harris (2005) discussed the core principle in the diversity management is the value of individual differences should be essential for the organisations and be considered as the competitive advantage.
Foster and Harris (2005) argued three perspective views of the diversity management. One is the diversity management is a significant different way to the traditional right-based equal opportunities approach. Another takes the diversity management as developing and broadening the exiting equality concepts. The other proposes the business case strategy consists of legal and social regulation strategies to support equality. It is difficult to manage diversity in practice because the company does not utilise the knowledge as the effective strategy rather than the lack of knowledge (McKinlay et al, 2008). These three perspective views of the diversity management highlighted the importance and essential of the diversity management and the relationship between equality and the diversity management. Diversity contributed positively to the competitive advantages of the organisation by utilising people's talent and skills (Ansari and Jackson, 1995).
There are more challenges to deal with the issues of equality, discrimination and injustice in employment. Attitude and behaviour about people affects the equality in two ways, badly or well (Coussey and Jackson, 1991). UK anti-discrimination law develop the ideal of equality to pursue equality from diverse different culture groups in the decision-making workplace based on the individual performance (Fredman, 2002, cited in Foster and Harris 2005). However, a potential and confusing problem for line managers is how the diversity management works in the workplace as a mean of fair treatment. Traditional equal opportunities approaches may defend managers' decisions when facing any doubts of unfair treatment and applying the principle of discretion (Foster and Harris, 2005). Nevertheless, there is a limitation for HR specialists and operational managers that they only concentrate on consistency of process for fairness rather than considering consistency as a relative principle (Foster and Harris, 2005). It means that HR specialists and operational managers pay more attention on treating employees equally than treating them well.
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To understand and exploit fair treatment and the diversity management, Foster and Harris (2005) chose the qualitative methods to conduct the research. In-depth interviews were conducted with managers, HR specialists and employees across three distinct business units. The three distinct businesses are the UK high street, online business and the US retailing chain. (Foster and Harris, 2005) The purpose of conducting in-depth interviews was to understand the diversity issues for UK retailers and how to translate the diversity management into practice. There were 40 semi-structure interviews over 12 months conducted to comprehend the diversity management and how managers actually manage diversity in their working decisions. The majority of the samples were store managers and employees who have managerial roles and not only have responsibility for diversity issues but also have experience about it. (Foster and Harris, 2005)
The respondents were asked to state their opinions about people should be treated the same or differently and consider the disadvantages and advantages of the diversity management. They identified what they would do in particular circumstances and describe their own approaches to manage diversity based on their experience. (Foster and Harris, 2005)
Firstly, the diversity management is a business strategy which develops the employees with different backgrounds or culture (Foster and Harris, 2005). As the business strategy, the organisations value and develop the workforce with a wide range of individual differences as the competitive advantage. All the available talent is highlighted and important for companies. However, it is difficult to manage different things to diverse groups in retail. Secondly, a number of respondents interpreted the diversity management is to manage a broad wide range of differences and interests of people as "managing uniqueness" (Foster and Harris, 2005). Finally, two managers pointed out that the diversity management is equal opportunities (Foster and Harris, 2005). Briefly, the findings suggested that a wide different range of variables including managerial capability, the extent of HR policies and procedures has an impact on the implementation of diversity policies (Foster and Harris, 2005).
The findings suggested the managers have responsibility of confirming all employees for jobs are treated the same, fairly and consistently, although diversity statement encourages the recognition of individual differences (Foster and Harris, 2005). The problem is respondents are anxieties about the risk of litigation. The first priority for HR specialists and operational managers is to demonstrate fair treatment as a mean of limiting the risk of litigation (Foster and Harris, 2005). There is an argument that how to manage diversity at the same time to be fair treatment.
It is more difficult to manage a more diverse team. Meanwhile, too much diversity influences team working and cooperation badly. Some managers argued the diversity management is a good theory but employees need to be treated the same to limit the risk of litigation. This lead to the confusing situation that employees seek to be treated the same and have the right to require flexible working arrangement. Flexible working will make workers happier and retain experienced staff (Taylor, 1994). For managers and organisations, it is difficult to manage different people in different ways and it will cost a lot. It is better to treat employees as the same.
There are some limitations in the research. Firstly, the sample size is too small. It is better to use large sample size to prove the theory. Secondly, in the research the authors chose three distinct business units. The three business units do not represent all the business units. The authors should not make a conclusion from the sample which is not representative. Finally, the authors did the research in the UK and US, but no comparison between the US and UK.
To sum up, Foster and Harris (2005) have explored the understanding and conception of the diversity management and the issues of the diversity management in practice. The authors use qualitative methods to conduct the research. It is difficult to manage diversity in retail for HR specialists and managers because the lack of understanding common diversity management and the unclear definition of the diversity management and the impact of legislation and litigation and the issues of implement diversity management. In the future, there will be some legislation which will help HR specialists and managers manage diversity very well and make a balance between fair treatment and the diversity management. HR specialists and managers will continue to find a better way to manage wide diverse groups as the same time to treat employees fairly and well.
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