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Managers and supervisors are critically as change agents which build a culture which values diversity along a number of dimensions, including age. They also play a central role as educator and trainer, and thought this they act as a change agent. In order to create a culture in which every employee has the opportunity to do his/her best work, manager or supervisor must implement the policies designed to create an effective workforce. Therefore it is critical that individuals who understand the nature of diversity are selected for these positions and that their behaviour which supports diversity is recognised through performance indicators and rewards.
The responses of managers and employees to diversity can take a number of forms which could be appropriate in different circumstances. Thomas (1995, pp. 249-52) identifies these in eight response options which are appropriate in different circumstances. Only one of these responses, that of "foster adaption", unequivocally endorses diversity, however, Thomas claims each response could be appropriate in certain circumstances. For instance, in situations where groups of older workers and groups of younger workers differ substantially about how work should be done, the response of segregation could be the most appropriate.
The eight responses identified by Thomas are: exclude, deny, suppress, segregate, assimilate, tolerate, build relationships and foster mutual adaption. He defines these responses in the following way:
This Involves keeping members of diverse groups out of expelling diverse groups once they have been included, for instance selection criteria which identify candidates with high potential for success can also limit the amount of diversity in organisation.
This allows individuals to ignore diversity dimensions. This is expressed in terms of denial about the differences between individuals. Thomas (1995, p. 249) express this as "They look at a green jelly bean and see only a jelly bean. Examples would be mainstream managerial aspirations to be colour blind, gender blind, or school blind.
Individuals are encouraged to suppress their differences. For instance, individuals with non mainstream social views may be encouraged not to express their philosophies for the sake of maintaining good team spirit or minimising conflict.
This refers to clustering members of particular groups in certain occupations or departments.
Attempt to transform members of a diverse group into clones of dominant group. For instance, many elements of affirmative action programs do this, and when an organisation makes an acquisition, differences between the acquired and the parent organisations are sought to be minimised by making members of the acquired organisation like the members of the organisation.
In this situation different groups acknowledge the right for different groups acknowledge the right for different group to exist, but they take steps to minimise the interaction between the groups.
This approach assumes that building a good relationship will overcome differences. Although this approach has the potential to foster acceptance and understanding of differences, often it is used to minimise differences.
Foster mutual adaption
This involves all parties accepting and understanding differences and diversity. Recognising that such an approach will probably require that there will be changes in the culture and systems of the organisation.
These eight responses to diversity can be classified into three categories which reflect different stages of a culture which explicitly manage diversity. Joplin and Daus (1997) have developed a continuum that identifies the three stages of diversity among organisational members, namely intolerance, tolerance and appreciation.
Communication of the policies and support systems
Successful diversity programs have been found to communicate the importance of the diversity philosophy in a variety of ways.
These include the:
Personal intervention by top management
Targeting recruitment of non-managers
Internal advocacy groups
Emphasising EEO statistics and profiles
Providing for managing diversity training networks and support groups
Providing specific strategies which explicitly seek to manage work and personal needs, such as family needs (Galagan, 1993).
Barriers to managing diversity
Barriers to managing diversity can arise from a number of areas. These include inexperience with the process, the nature of communication and decision making in organisations, misdiagnosis of management issues and attitudes, including thinking of diversity in terms of identity group representation (Thomas and Ely, 1996, p.80). In order to effectively implement policies designed to promote diversity, these barriers will need to be addressed.
Barriers have always existed in organisations, but individuals have suppressed their diversity: age, lifestyle preference, priorities with respect to families in order to conform to the stereotype of a "good employee". Because it was always suppressed, organisations are having trouble dealing with diversity around race and gender issues (Solomon, 1999, p.91).
The nature of decision making and the selection of managers prevent the selection of managers with diverse personal characteristics. Managers prefer working with individuals similar to themselves because of ease of communication and sense of comfort (Kanter, 1977). This dynamic has been labelled "homo social reproduction" and could prevent the selection and promotion of older workers.
Galagan (1993) lists six barriers which inhibit the effective management of diversity:
Preof misdiagnosis judice
Poor career planning
Lack of knowledge
More comfortable with own kind
Difficulties in balancing family and career
She also identifies a tendency for managers to reach conclusions without understanding the problems. A pertinent example is the view that high female staff turnover is related to family commitments. In fact she found only 7% of female managers leave for family reasons, while 73% leave because they see limited opportunities for women in companies.
In addition to the problems of misdiagnosis there are major attitudinal barriers to effective management of diversity.
A denial of the issues
A lack of awareness
Restrictions on bad news further up the organisation
A lack of trust in how others will react to diversity issues
A need to be in control of all of one's job
Compulsion to fix them
Issues outside own reality
Past actions to address diversity which were well intended but which failed to develop an individual for job, and/or others were not well developed with them.
Resistance can emanate from a variety of factors associated with perceptions and attitudes in the workplace, and from a lack of strong leadership and direction (Joplin and Daus, 1997; Thomas, 1991). He identifies factors such as:
Insufficient motivation resulting from perceptions that diversity management is legal, moral or social responsibility, rather than a business issue.
From a commitment to assimilation.
Insufficient understanding of organisational culture.
The presence of attitudes such as racism and sexism.
A detrimental view of affirmative action and a belief that efforts to introduce diversity are an attempt to introduce affirmative action.
Lack of a strategic direction.
A desire to avoid risk.
Lack of power to succeed.
Inadequate change of management skills.
Too many other activities.
The way work is done.
Problems can often arise when diversity management programs do not acknowledge the "other", e.g. the white, young male. For diversity management to be effective all groups in the workplace need to perceive that employment policies operate to satisfy their needs as well as those of individuals with different personal characteristics. Therefore a diversity program which is specifically addressing the needs of older workers by introducing special pre-retirement planning and paid leave for medical attention, should also explain how existing policies such as funding of management education programs and fitness centres address the needs of many young males.
All groups benefit as much from diversity programs as older members of the organisation, women and ethnic and aboriginal groups. In order for this to happen, policies designed to enable different groups to work effectively need to be developed and communicated as ways of achieving organisational objectives.
The Thought-Self-Leadership (TSL) Model
According to Neck, C.P., Smith, J.P. & Godwin, J.L. (1997) the Thought-Self-Leadership (TSL) Model is a model that can aid managers and leaders to understand and manage issues of diversity by focusing on the management of "self" and "others". This model works with the individual responses when encountering diversity issues. It explores how negative responses to diversity can be changed into more positive ones. The TSL model emphasises the development of opportunity thoughts versus obstacle thoughts. Opportunity thoughts referring to a pattern of thoughts that focuses on creatively seeking opportunities, whereas obstacle thoughts focus on the negative outcome of matters and easily give up and rather avoid problems than to be part of the answer.
At operational level, the employees must be trained in group awareness, individual awareness as well as leadership skills.
On general management level, the diversity management emphasis should be particularly placed on developing programs that aim at achieving the following goals:
Facilitating quality interaction between diverse individuals within the company.
Empowering and supporting all employees within the company.
This can be done through:
Strengthening, supporting and training in assertive behaviour - This will help the employees be able to discuss important issues in a way that won't offend their colleagues.
Develop effective communication skills program - This will smoothen interaction within the group.
Develop effective support group programme (Employee Support Program), to manage work and personal needs, such as family needs.
Creating opportunities to motivate effective problem solving and conflict handling skills - This will help in times of tension.
Implementing general programs that emphasise the following:
Aiding individuals to recognise similarities and agreements, not only differences.
Aiding individuals to celebrate the value of differences and notice the advantages of diversity.
Aiding individuals to utilise positive feedback amongst them.
Aiding the accommodation of personality preferences and work styles.
Diversity management will provide an opportunity to manage a workforce which emphasises organisational and individual performance and at the same time acknowledges individual needs. This approach to management requires building a culture which supports diversity among organisational contributors through strategic processes such as cultural audit. It also involves the development of human resource policies which attempt to deal explicitly with stereotypes of employees and other contributors and the employment conditions required to enhance their performance. It involves acknowledging the reaction of other contributors to the presence of a variety of employees and contributors, the identification of barriers to effective implementation and development of methods to overcome these potential barriers. Unlike affirmative action programs, the stimulus for diversity management will primarily be the continuing search for organisational effectiveness.