Managing organizational diversity
Most of the people leading America’s major institutions have grown up in segregated communities with segregated schools. They have had limited opportunities to interact with people from different cultures-people whose first language may not be English, or whose skin color is not the same as their own. Many of these leaders have internalized all the stereotypes about race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity that are built into the structures of our society and our organizations. They are ill prepared for the heterogeneity which exists in most organizations today and will surely exist in all organizations tomorrow. The dramatic changes that are upon us are creating an imperative to consider real integration of all workers–not as a matter of social justice or civil rights, but as a necessity for survival.
On the other hand, diversity has affected each adult individual at one point in time. The encounters have sometimes been positive while other times they have been negative. Diversity is not a controllable issue to deal with because you never know how another person is going to handle being around various cultures or people of different age, sexes or races. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed barriers including stereotyping and preconceptions, corporate culture, exclusion from informal networks, and lack of mentors and role models (Noe, 2002). Diversity is something, however, that can be managed.
Dimensions of diversity refer to precise characteristics viewed as distinguishing one person or group from another. Ethnicity, race, and gender are three examples. Race relates to physical differences while ethnicity focuses on cultural distinctiveness. Race refers to a class of people who are perceived as physically unique on the basis of certain traits, such as skin colour, hair texture, and facial features. Gender has to do with the cultural differences that discern males from females. For example, in any given culture, people raise males and females to act certain ways. When talking about the dimensions of diversity, social class, sexual orientation, age, religion, learning style, and family background are consistently disregarded. Some people may perceive these and other dimensions to be more important than race or gender.
A unique perceptive for the need to appropriately manage and take advantage of increasing diversity within labour markets is not common to the United States. Concern for the incremented level of diversity is played out in various ways. In one aspect, age, sex, and ethnic differences can lead to stresses regarding perceived value and temperamental differences. But from a different perspective, many see the successful management of diversity as being a key attribute of leadership effectiveness (French, 2005). Taking full advantage of all expendable talent in a company must certainly be associated with higher levels of company performance.
Nevertheless, increased diversity in the workforce can result in dysfunctional group dynamics. Within any social setting, those individuals with characteristics in common tend to gravitate into social masses, or cliques (Harris ; Foster, 2004). Sports fans at a bar, computer geeks at a LAN party, ethnic groups, and religious beliefs all support humanity’s need to be among “people like us.” In the workplace, though, humans are asked to be themselves and be comfortable with others who are not like us; to be alike in our differences.
Cinco de Mayo and Columbus Day have been tightly integrated into many American Cities and organizational cultures to such a degree that people can often feel pressured to celebrate and participate. Why not add Beltane or other obscure holy days and rites? In the area around Boston, MA, there are about 13 different recognized religious traditions; among them are Islam, Wicca, Bahal’I, and Sikhism (Eck and Pierce). Integrating that many belief systems into a productive team can be a difficult task for any size organization. Workers like to feel at home when they are on the job, office workers especially. In the traditional corporate cubicle farm however, there are likely to be others who may have not only different, but very possibly conflicting or even controversial religious perspectives. Some religious groups have been actively spreading the word about religious diversity in general, though not necessarily in a good way, while others have been working toward it and embracing humanity’s differences. One of those organizations is the United States Conference of Religions for Peace (USCRP), which is made up from leaders in many different religions (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2003).
As theological interaction occurs at a much more personal level in the workplace, this interaction can instigate the development of a hostile work environment similar to one where racial jokes are passed around, and can lead to even larger problems for the entire organization. Based on workplace observations, most people seem to handle such interaction in one of four different ways. A few workers will manifest their distress into excessive religious decor within their personal Workspace. Preaching, either directly or indirectly in an attempt to convert others or create a confrontation has been observed, as has the shunning of other workers (Aghazadeh, 2004).
Just as people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds can bring new ideas and perspectives to teams and help those teams become high performing teams, so can people of different ages. Employing people who are over 40 years old is only one part of having an age-diverse work force. An organization must embrace the age diversity ethic. An organization needs to make a person feel wanted to allow that person to excel (Eisner, 2005).
An organization can benefit much more when maximizing the positive effects of diversity. A diverse group of people should include people of different ages, not just gender, race, ethnicity, and other forms of diversity. A team of people in the same age range may be highly experienced, but lacks the efficacy of a high performance team based on diversity. The diversity of age on a team or in an organization is what can make that team or organization powerful, not just having a team of older, mature, and experienced people (Eckel & Grossman, 2005).
Younger workers are as important as older workers when considering age diversity. Traditionally, people moved into managerial positions as they grew older and more experienced. Very few young people were placed into management early in their careers because if the common perceptions associated with age: poor work ethics and lack of working experience (Pelletier, 2005). Obvious forms of age discrimination can be countered by the organization when discovered. However, having policies in place to prevent underpaying mature people is necessary to avoid this unintentional, yet unethical outcome (Eisner, 2005).
Undoubtedly, managing diversity is quite complex, but is necessary to attract and retain quality workers, and remain competitive in the market. Managing the diversity of our individual differences involves establishing a personal and organizational sensitivity to culture, recognition of people’s personalities and social traits, avoiding stereotypes, and complying with the laws regarding equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. Managers must display an appreciation for the diversity. Workers should not have to wonder if they are accepted within the organization, or feel uncomfortable about how others feel about them. If the manager merely tolerates the diversity, then toleration will be expressed throughout the organization, rather than acceptance. A good manager understands that those diverse attributes are good for the organization. When every person, regardless of ethnic background, religion, age, or sex feels appreciated, the organization and its culture will thrive.
It also means establishing a dissimilar workforce (including white men) to perform to its prospective ability in an unbiased work environment, in which no member or group of members has an advantage or a disadvantage. Diversity is an unavoidable by-product of teamwork, especially when teams are drawn from a diverse base of employees. Young and old, male and female, American-born and non-American-born, better and less well educated–these are just some of the ranges along which team members may vary. (Dinwoodie, 2005) Recent studies of the U.S. workforce point out pervasive perceptions of racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace–perceptions that take a profound toll on job performance. Accepting diversity means more than feeling contented with employees whose race, ethnicity, or gender is different from your own. It means more than accepting their accents or language, their dress or food. What it does mean is learning to value and respect styles and ways of conduct that differ from yours. To manage diversity, there is no room for inflexibility and prejudice – displace them with flexibility and reception (French, 2005).
However, individuals may not know the problems with a diverse workplace until they realize how they are being held at a particular position and unable to promote to other positions within a company. What constitute an employee’s competency are often times based upon his or her performance as compared to a required standard of procedures. However, this evaluation process can become biased when racial, ethnic and cultural dominance exists in management. Management may make assumptions of competency based upon their experience with a member or members of a particular ethnic group, instead of evaluating a particular employee’s performance based upon his or her actual contributions. This is an unfair practice because each person, despite their ethnic background, brings their own work ethic to a job. The poor or incompetent actions and negative traits of a member or members of a particular ethnic group should not lend discredit to someone else who is also a part of that same ethnic group that performs a similar duty. When management makes these assumptions, competent employees are often deprived of additional training, recognition and promotion. These deprivations often time result in unhappy employees who lose their motivation to perform at a competent level. Employees who more than likely would have exceeded the responsibilities prescribed by their position end up resenting their management and require additional management than afforded previously. Sadly, these employees and their reactive behaviour lend credit to management’s assumptions. As a result history repeats itself. Members of their ethnic group, if hired, are paid lower wages, receive less training for advancement, and are looked negatively upon by management.
What can be done about the glass ceiling? Employees can realize that they cannot be equal and that they must be better than their competition for promotions. Although this sounds unfair, it is reality. If employees are going to make a solid case for being promoted, it must be a clear case. Employees can also recognize their company’s philosophy. If their company’s senior management and Board of Directors do not have any ethnic minorities this is a warning sign. Alternatively, employees can avoid wasting their time and instead look to advance their career with a company that value workforce diversity. Companies that don’t adopt this philosophy will continually see good people leave and they will eventually come to the realization that they must change. Lastly, if employees have a lot invested, they can stay and fight. Unequal pay and consideration for promotions is discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.
Enforcing a diverse workplace may mean that companies need to restructure their philosophy and practices of affirmative action. However, this restructuring may cost more than it is worth because management may believe that the quality and quantity of work is more important than how employees’ personal relationships with one another are maintained. They may also believe that enforcing a diverse workforce will add stress to their already stressful jobs because of the need to effectively manage different forms of prejudice, while remaining unbiased. What these managers fail to realize is that employees’ psychological and emotional state-of-being greatly impact their performance and the overall production of the workplace (French, 2005).
Thus, managing diversity in the workplace involves careful planning and tactful decision making in resolving the problems addressed above. It involves establishing “organizational systems and practices to manage people so that the potential advantages of diversity are maximized while its potential disadvantages are minimized” (Cox, 2003, pg. 1-2). Managing diversity is more than just implementing a program and enforcing the program through employee participation, but measuring the causes and effects that surround managing diversity. It goes beyond looking at just ethnicity as black and white. Ethnicity includes Blacks, Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics, non-Hispanic Whites, and other racial and ethnic mixed groups.
Both employee and the managing authorities of an organization have a responsibility to ensure that diversity in the workplace is discussed and conflicts are resolved. The Chancellor of the University of San Francisco believes that individuals should have “(1) an understanding and acceptance of managing diversity concepts, (2) recognition that diversity is threaded through every aspect of management, (3) self-awareness, in terms of understanding your own culture, identity, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes, and (4) willingness to challenge and change institutional practices that present barriers to different groups” (pg. 3). The Chancellor also states that the University has a statewide Non-Discrimination Statement that reads: “It is the policy of the University not to engage in discrimination against or harassment of any person employed or seeking employment with the University of California on the basis of race, colour, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or status as a covered veteran” (pg. 1). These statements referenced apply to employment as well as working in the workplace (Cox, 2003).
Setting policy in organization is an important factor in determining success for diversity programs. This provides legal validation for organizations to promote diversity efforts. In these diversity programs, it is important to have defined goals to give employees an understanding of what is to be accomplished through the program. In order for the program to be successfully, there needs to be an evaluation of how the program impacted the employees’ thoughts, feelings, and prejudices towards other cultures. The purpose of these programs would be to invoke change in the stereotypes employees have toward other cultures in the workplace and everyday living. When employees feel that they have to comply with certain rules regarding diversity in the workplace, most likely they will engage in appropriate behavior in the workplace, which is an incentive to the organization.
In essence, when diversity conflicts, issues, or situations arise, there are various methods that can be utilized by organizations to resolve conflicts. Organizations can provide information to its employees promoting the value of diversity and rewarding individuals whose efforts are contributory to the work environment (Aghazadeh, 2004). Individual efforts include problem-solving resolutions to the situations that arise from diversity conflicts. Individuals need to be open-minded regarding other cultures, especially when a specific culture is the majority. Sometimes it could help to adopt some norms of a specific culture to get an understanding of the identity it holds and how one can relate to another from that culture.
Often times, organizations can hold workshops for employees bringing certain diversity issues to the table, breaking the employees from diverse backgrounds into groups, debate about the issue, and come up with a resolution(s) (Aghazadeh, 2004). This can build commonality amongst the group and integrated relationships through deliberation. Organizations can provide culture awareness training to its employees about the common stereotypes and role-play the feelings of being in the position of the oppressed.
Another alternative to managing diversity in the workplace is hiring a consultant to come into the organization to conduct surveys, seminars, and diverse-type mentoring programs to help narrow ways for organizations to manage diversity issues on the job (Aghazadeh, 2004). These consultants focus on specific stereotypes that are portrayed in the workplace and provide explanations as to the way different cultures do not melt into the American society. Also, these consultants explain that just because a culture goes about doing things one way, it does not mean that it is what it is by what another may perceive.
To attract and retain racial and ethnic minorities, think about taking the following steps: Focus on bringing in the best talent, not on meeting statistical goals; Establish mentoring programs among employees of similar and diverse races; Hold managers liable for meeting diversity goals; Develop career plans for employees as part of performance reviews; Promote minorities to decision-making positions, not just to staff jobs; Diversify the company’s board of directors (French, 2005). Diversity should be connected to every business tactic, for instance, recruiting, selection, placement (after identifying high-visibility jobs that lead to other opportunities within the establishment), sequence planning, performance evaluation, and incentive programs.
Many would agree that having a diverse workforce utilizes skills of the United States to its fullest, and contributes to our overall growth and prosperity. However, in reality it hasn’t happened and progress remains crawling. While we are in the middle of the longest period of economic growth this country has ever experienced, the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” continues to widen.
By not developing a diverse workforce from the top down, Blacks, Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics, non-Hispanic Whites and other racial and ethnic mixed groups are unfairly relegated to lower-skilled, lower-pay positions and are not able to fulfil their true potential. Numerous corporations have approved that diversity contributes to the bottom line by making it easier to keep good employees, saving costs by developing skills in-house, and developing a reputation that helps attract new employees (Gordon, 2005). This is especially important with the economy doing so well, and the demand for skilled labour at record levels.
Evidently, the U.S. workforce is increasingly diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, expressed sexual orientation, age, and so on. The benefits of employee diversity include better access to differentiated markets, greater competitiveness on a global scale, more creative problem solving within the firm, and enhanced team performance (Dinwoodie, 2005). Firms need to manage employee diversity effectively, and to do it better than their competitors or risk losing both market share and qualified human resources.
Each person in every organization is affected by diversity in some way, shape, or form. Some will react to diversity in a very positive manner, while others will be unenthusiastic and potentially harmful. By learning to deal with diversity, no matter what the environment you are in, will place you in a better position from which to achieve success as a member of an organization or a member of society.
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