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Diversity has become a popular topic in the 21st century all around the world. Diversity simply means differences. Diversity at work refers to a strategy that promote values, behavior and working practices which recognize the difference between people and thereby enhance staff motivation and performance and release potential, delivering improved services to customers (Thomas, 1991). Started with Fortune 500 corporations, the government agencies and non-profit organizations in 1980s, now more and more businesses are having diverse workforce. Diversity has been added to school curricula and courses that focus on this topic are being offered or required in many colleges.
In this assignment, an introduction about workforce diversity will be given first. The reasons for increasing diverse workforce will be discussed on the next. Following on is the discussion of how a diverse workforce is managed through fair employment practices and the key elements of diversity management. On the next part, the critical roles of each key actor – employers, labour unions, and the government, will be discussed. And finally a conclusion will be drawn.
Luthans (2008) summarizes a number of reasons that have led to increasing diverse workforce. These include changing working demographics, globalization, competitive pressure, the need for diverse viewpoints, and legal compliance.
Changing Workforce Demographics
Ageing population in many developed countries have caused more people to work at older ages. Women have increased their participation in the workforce in recent decades because of more educational and career opportunities as a result of socio-economic development in many countries.
Globalization is the process by which firms operates on a global basis, organizing their structure, capabilities, resources and people in such a way as to address the world as one market. This encourages cross-border sales and employment. Employees that are made up of people with different cultures, customs and social norms are very common in global organizations.
Diversity ends up with a more talented and capable workforce. Also, organizations that value diversity attract more talents. This usually results in improved product design or business strategies that make organizations more competitive.
Recognition and Desire for Diverse Viewpoints
Diversity leads to innovations. This is because of the specialized insights and knowledge from all walks of life, that is different genders, ages, ethnicities, races and sexual orientations. Innovation leads to breakthrough competitive advantages.
Legislation and Lawsuits
Many companies are under legislative mandates to be non-discriminatory in their employment practices. Organizations that fail to comply will result in fines and/or lawsuits. In such context, it is necessary for organizations to utilize a diverse workforce.
Managing Workforce Diversity
One of the principals underlying management of increasing diverse workforces is to promote fair employment practices. These include fair treatment to all employees based on merit and prohibition against all forms of illegal discrimination. Fair employment practices widen the pool of labour that employers can recruit from, and therefore increase the chances of recruiting the most qualified persons for the jobs. Fair treatment to employees also helps to retain valued employees and boost their motivation at work.
Fair employment practices intend to achieve equality of opportunity in employment policies and procedures. “Equal opportunities” has been traditionally described as rights-based, liberal, rooted in legal compliance, based upon equality through sameness and merit with a focus on non-discrimination, and equality for women and other under-represented groups in senior roles in organizations (Kirton and Green, 2000; Colgan and Ledwith, 1996). Dickens (in Bach and Sisson, 2000) defines equal opportunities initiatives as concerning policy and practice designed to tackle the differential distribution of opportunities, resources and rewards among workers, based on their membership of a social group.
Key Elements of Diversity Management Initiatives
Initiatives for managing a diverse workforce may vary among companies and countries, but the basic principals are very similar around the world. The followings are some common key elements of such initiatives summarized from the Fair Employment Statement of the Warrington Borough Council (2010) in United Kingdom, and the guidelines suggested by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (2010) in Singapore.
Eliminate all forms of discrimination and harassment in employment
Discrimination refers to a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit. Discrimination in employment can be under the following strands: age, gender (including gender reassignment), sexuality, race, ethnicity, nation of origin, marital status, disability, religion and belief, trade union activity, political belief, social class, and the rehabilitation of former offenders. The workplace should be free of all forms of discrimination and harassment.
Equal opportunities in recruitment, training, promotion and benefits
Equal opportunities should also apply to potential employees as well during the process of recruitment. Employee selection should be based on their skills, ability and experience regardless of other criteria such as age, gender, race, or marital status etc. All employees should have equal chances of receiving training and promotion. Benefits should be fair and equitable based solely on merit.
Reward employees fairly
Employees should be rewarded based on fair criteria, such as performance and ability. No one should be treated less favorable or is disadvantaged by unreasonable criteria that cannot be justified, such as race, gender, or social class.
Value and promote differences
Employees are different in strengths and weakness. They should be provided with suitable personal development plan based on their strengths and needs, which can help to achieve their full potential in their career.
Accommodate employees with their special needs
This include arrangements such as allowing flexibility in uniform requirements, allowing time off for caring for dependants beyond that required by law, or providing special equipment to facilitate work, such as Braille keyboards for the blind.
Legal duties and responsibilities should be proactively complied in order to achieve fair employment practices.
Key Actors of Managing a Diverse Workforce
The trade unions, employers and the government all play a part in managing a diverse workforce. Each of them has its responsibilities in building a fairer workplace and a harmonized society that each individual is treated equally. The critical roles of each key actor will be discussed on the next.
The Role of Labour Unions
A labour union or a trade union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as equal opportunity at work or better working environment. Broadly speaking, labour union exits in order to protect employees, to further employee interests at the workplace and to work towards a fairer, more equal society. Their existence is underpinned by the assumption of inequalities of power between employers and employees, so that employees need independent representation and need to act collectively in order to improve their conditions through negotiations with management (Kirton and Green, 2005).
The Trades Union Congress (1998) is the national centre for British trade unions. It defines the six roles of the labour unions as: giving advice when members have a problem at work, representing members in discussion with employers, ensuring enforcement of members’ legal rights at work, helping members take cases to employment tribunals, fighting discrimination, and helping to promote equality at work.
Giving advice when members have a problem at work
Trade unions are able to give advice and information to their members about their rights when they have problems at work. Some even provide legal and financial support to members who experience discrimination at work or being dismissed by employers unfairly.
Representing members in discussion with employers
Equal opportunities, equal treatment and the fight against unfair discrimination are the foundation of trade union activity (MSF, 2001). Union recognition is where employers formally agree to negotiate terms and conditions of employment with trade unions, known as collective bargaining. Traditionally unions have been reluctant to recognize diversity because they feared that highlighting plurality of interests might undermine solidarity over bargaining issues and so weaken their influence power. However, unions now recognize that different groups prioritize different issues. For example, female workers are more likely than male workers to take career breaks, minority ethnic groups are more likely than white workers to take alternate religious holidays etc.
Making sure that members’ legal rights are enforced at work
Traditionally trade unions have focused their attention to fighting a better pay and better working environment for their members. But more recently unions are concentrating on protecting the legal rights of their members, making sure that their legal rights are being enforced in their workplace. This can be done through giving legal advice to the members, and representing them in negotiation with the employers.
Helping members take cases to employment tribunals
Employment tribunals are a kind of court that deal with employment issues. Lawyers are involved sometimes but trade union officers are used as representatives in more straightforward cases. Common cases that employment tribunals usually deal with are cases about unfair dismissal, but other kinds of cases such as unauthorized deduction from wages, sex, race and disability discrimination, and unfair pay etc are also covered. Usually the tribunal will order the employers to pay back compensation.
Labour unions help workers to fight against discrimination. Discrimination still exists nowadays in various forms in many countries. For example, women and minority ethnic groups make a lower average earning, disabled and old workers represent a large proportion in low-paid, low-skilled, and low-status jobs. Many evidences have shown the success of unions that helped improving overall pay and narrowed the wage gaps between male and female, white and black, and between healthy and disabled workers.
Helping to promote equality at work
Trade unions usually have a policy statement that declares a commitment to equality. There are also equality committees that provide regular forums in which equality issues are discussed. Some unions hold annual equality conferences with a broad agenda containing a range of equality issues. Others hold conferences dedicated to particular groups, including women, disabled members, lesbian and gay members, and black and minority ethnic members. Such conferences intend to raise the awareness of equality issues, and provide a forum in which delegates from under-represented groups can gain experience of trade union processes and procedures.
The Role of Employers
The employers have responsibilities to promote equal opportunity and celebrate diversity within the organization. There is no doubt that breach of the discrimination legislation can be costly for employers, so it is also important for employers to make sure that they are complying with the laws.
There are five major roles of how employers act in managing a diverse workforce. They are eliminating discrimination & promoting equal opportunity, expanding the definition of diversity, developing a diversity policy, raising the awareness of diversity, and encouraging training for equality and diversity.
Eliminating discrimination & promoting equal opportunity
Discrimination still remains widespread in this era when all the political rhetoric presents difference as positive and valued. For example in the UK labour market, a recent study found that significant proportions of black and minority ethnic (BME) people have been declined a job on racial grounds. Discrimination can take different forms. It can manifest as a job or promotion refusal or it can involve harassment. Not only does discrimination have economic effects, but also impacts on psychological well-being and negatively affects the working lives. It is necessary for organizations to prevent occurrences of unlawful direct or indirect discrimination, harassment and victimization, by taking lawful affirmative or positive action where appropriate. Besides fulfilling legal obligations under equality legislation and associated codes of practice, employers should regard all breaches of equal opportunities policy as misconduct which could lead to disciplinary proceedings. Employers should examine and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each employee, and assign suitable tasks that enable them to do their best abilities. This can allow greater chance of achieving success and minimize opportunities for failure
Expanding the definition of diversity and root it in all levels in the organization
Beside visible differences such as gender and race, employers can extend the meaning of diversity to other less visible aspects such as geographic background, sexual orientation, religion, language, physical disability, communication style and people who have family status. This concept should be applied to all processes within the organization, its core values and its strategic planning. This is a responsibility of every single division in an organization, rather than just the human resources giving the effort to enforce it.
Developing a diversity policy
Strategies and action plans are to be developed to ensure diversity is being respected. Any concern regarding diversity in the workplace should be addressed at the soonest and actions are taken to follow up. This will show the employees that diversity is being seriously considered as an important factor for the organization’s success. Such policies should be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. For example, survey or meeting can be conducted with employees regarding the workplace environment. Employees should be encouraged to voice out their opinions and take part in the discussion. This can build up understanding between each other and any existing issues can be identified.
Raising the awareness of diversity
In order to raise the awareness of diversity in a workplace, employers should promote and appreciate the fact that a diverse workforce is existing in the organization. Promote the idea of how diversity is important to make a business more competitive to survive in the global market. It is important to show the employees that diversity is embraced so that they can be more comfortable with the working environment. As a result, greater productivity can be achieved. Employers should take initiative to learn about different culture, traditions and beliefs among employees. This can show to the employees that their race or ethnicity are being respected and appreciated.
Encouraging training for equality and diversity
Employers can actively look for training on topics for equality and diversity, and encourage employees on every level of the organization to participate. Government agencies or private HR consultant firms are sources of those training programs.
The Role of Government
Valuing diversity is not a concept recognized by law, and the UK legal framework does not on the whole promote diversity. However, recent legal development such as the Race Relations (amendment) Act 2000 (RR(A)A) which places a positive duty upon specified public sector employers and service providers to promote racial equality are arguably a move in this direction as promoting equality could require accommodating difference, in other words, this shift has made a closer stop to promote diversity.
The critical roles of government in diversity management are identified as: equality and human rights legislation, promoting good practices of equality and diversity, enforcing the equality law, and positive discrimination.
Equality and Human Rights legislation
The government that develops equality and anti-discrimination legislation can contribute to promote diversity in organizations. Until 1995, the law in Great Britain was narrowly confined to gender and race. Disability discrimination became unlawful in 1995, and transsexual people were protected from discrimination in employment from 1999. Sexual orientation and religion or belief have been grounds for discrimination claims since December 2003, and age discrimination became unlawful in October 2006. The roles of government also include enforcing such laws strictly, and taking legal cases on behalf of individuals as well as legal actions to prevent breaches of Equality and Human Rights Act.
Promoting good practices of equality and diversity
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in UK has a role to ensure people are aware of their rights. They work with employers and organizations to help them develop good practices aiming to minimize discrimination and promote equality of opportunity for all. They also work with policymakers, lawyers, and government to make sure that social policy and the law promote equality.
Enforcing the equality law
EHRC also have the responsibility to make sure that public authorities carry out their legal duties to tackle discrimination. This is done by launching official enquiries and formal investigations.
Positive discrimination refers to policies and practices which favor groups, such as minority ethnic groups and women, who have historically experienced disadvantages in employment and education. Advocates of positive discrimination argue that such policy is necessary in order to create equality of opportunities with historically privileged groups, given the existing structure of inequalities and stereotypes. However, it is highly controversial, and has generated much legal and political debate. There has been a recent trend in European Community anti-discrimination law toward tolerating positive discrimination in favor of women to redress under-representation of women in the workforce. There has been also a growing recognition of the substantive conception of equality in European Community law that could lead to increasing use of positive discrimination to redress inequality.
A diverse workforce enhances the performance of the business in many ways as discussed, such as greater innovation and higher morale among employees leading to higher productivity. Furthermore, diversity also helps to create a working environment where employees are respectful to each other. Discrimination is eliminated when equality of opportunity is being promoted throughout the organization. Diversity management has become a new organizational paradigm. There has been a growing number of organizations’ diversity statements in the corporate social responsibility section of their websites, most imply that workforce diversity is not only a moral issue, but critical to their success and future sustainability. Achieving workforce diversity cannot be done by the employers alone, it requires the effort also from labour unions as well as the government. Most importantly, employees also need to take part to help prevent discriminatory behavior by challenging and reporting potentially unfair or discriminatory behaviour. By celebrating diversity, the society will become a more equal and harmonious environment with minimum discrimination, and everyone can enjoy an equal opportunity.
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