Managing Diversity Essay, Research Paper
Managing diversity in the workplace is a subject that has gained increased attention among managers during the last two decades. After all, the impact of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity programs on the nation’s work force is undeniable. Women and minorities were the first to dramatically alter the face of the economic mainstream, while gays, persons with disabilities and senior citizens followed not far behind. The result is a diverse American labor force representing a microcosm of our society – yet one that continues to struggle with its identity.
Diversity as a social condition is not new to the U.S. Founded by immigrants, the nation has always been a merger of cultures and, as such, has undergone periods of discomfort as the world’s melting pot. In the 1850s, for example, Chinese and Irish laborers were brought over to lay the tracks for the transcontinental railroad, which raised the anger of those who had arrived a hundred years earlier. (HistoryChannel.com).
At the turn of the century, waves of immigrants arrived on American shores from Southern and Eastern Europe at a rate of a million a year. These unprecedented numbers caused American Federation of Labor president, Samuel Gompers, to complain in 1907: “Cheap labor, ignorant labor, takes our jobs and cuts our wages.” (Gompes AFL).
Today, men, women and families from Southeast Asia, Latin America, Middle East, and the Caribbean leave economic and political turmoil behind in hopes that America will provide a more secure future. And these immigrants face many of the same obstacles as their predecessors once they arrive. Furthermore, due to tight labor market and thriving information technology industry, many companies import labor from abroad. Skilled professionals from Canada, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Middle East arrive by the thousands to work for emerging technology companies. New Immigration laws and quotas make it easier for technically skilled professionals to work in the U.S. The American?s with Disabilities Act also made it possible for employers to hire more disabled workers and the surging technology market is a welcoming place. Disabled people with high technical skills enter the workforce with growing ease. Senior citizens also return to work in growing numbers and the new technology allows more friendly working conditions to easily assimilate the needs of the elderly workforce. The growing divorces rate forces greater numbers of homemakers to retrain and gain technical skills for entering the job market. Faster, streamlined educational programs and training offers a greater number of young people to enter the job market faster, without waiting to get a college education. Furthermore, the advances in computer technology attract young people because they have an affinity for computers. Ostensibly, the modern American workplace is a simmering pool of diversity.
Despite the similarities between current circumstances and those of earlier eras, a wide gulf exists that can be traced to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Focused in its early years on racial equality, the movement widened its scope to include equality based on gender, age, sexual orientation and disabilities. And as members of these various groups struggled for recognition, they developed a new sense of pride in what
made them distinctive. This sense of pride in diversity has led the nation to where it is today.
Despite the nation’s increasing heterogeneity, diversity is encountering varying degrees of resistance among different sectors of U.S. industry But like it or not, diversity is not going to disappear. And as always, the workplace is the primary arena for social change. It is important to identify various dimensions of workplace diversity. The first dimension involves primary levels of diversity. That is, people with disabilities, gender, race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, religion, and age are primary demensions of diversity. These basic groups require the greatest degree of management dexterity and attention because they play an important part in workforce interrelationships and communication. These areas are also more prone to conflicts and negative reaction among employees. Managers must recognize that there is a need to train, inform, and sensitize their employees to deal with issues relating to this type of diversity. Consequently, managers must recognize the effects of diversity in their firms and plan to deal with potential conflicts and they must also recognize the different strengths of individuals and groups so that they cay utilize their skills more effectively.
The second dimension of diversity deals with individuals from different social strata. For example, education levels differ among various employees. This may result in conflicts between less skilled or educated workers and more affluent and more educated staff members. There is a need to develop training programs to deal with these issues and to create an environment where there is opportunity for learning and skill acquisition. Mentoring and on-the-job training of less skilled workers through courses, assistant programs, and continuing education programs may even the gap between different employees. However, it is important to recognize potential and use the skills already at hand to create a more efficient team environment where each member?s contribution carries some value and contributes to the organizational goals. Economic status is as important an issue as is education. Various employees come from different economic background. Their views and manner may differ, along with their expectations and motivations in daily routine and overall purpose. Nevertheless, they have to work together. There are potential problems and differences of conduct, motivation, and initiative. Managers have to get to know their people and develop ways of using their differences for the benefit of the organization. The focus should be on the positive aspects of individuals, and on merging the best qualities people have to form effective teams. Managing conflict is also very important. One thing managers should recognize is that there will always be a potential for conflict and their job is to intervene and resolve diversity issues early and quickly.
Statistics graphically show the extent of diversity in the workplace. Minorities, immigrants and women already make up more than 50 percent of today’s work force Workforce 2000, a landmark study published by the Hudson Institute and
funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, further stated that:
* Immigrants, women and people of color accounted for 85 percent of the
net growth in the labor force throughout the 1990s.
* Women will accounted for more than 47 percent of the total work force, and
61 percent of all American women will be employed, by the year 2000.
* By the end of the 1990s, African-Americans comprised up to 12 percent
of the labor force, Hispanics 10 percent and Asians four percent.
?The U.S. work force will continue to mature. People 35 to 54 represent
up to 51 percent of the work force by the end of year 2000 while those
16 to 24 years old will decline to only eight percent. (Workforce 2000).
The 1980s emphasis on corporate culture added a new criterion to hiring standards In addition to judging a candidate’s job qualifications, companies have also attempted to evaluate whether that individual would be a “good fit.” But the “good fit” factor often leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation. “We’ve all heard, and some of us have said, ‘I don’t care who I hire – or work with – as long as they’re the best qualified,’” observes Joan Steinau Lester, author of The Future of White Men and Other Diversity
Dilemmas. “This of course brings up the question, how do we recognize the best?? (Lester 49).”In real life, we all tend to hire people much like ourselves,” she continues. “Those are the people we instinctively recognize as ‘qualified.? (Lester 50) They speak like us ? she explains, walk like us, dress like us and have similar cultural references (Lester 50). ?These people are part of our world. We ?know them. And we automatically know how to evaluate them.? (Lester 50). “It’s a stretch to see the qualifications of people who are different,” admits Lester. “Unfamiliarity all too often means discomfort and even mistrust.” (Lester 50).
Ernest Drew, chief executive officer of chemical giant Hoechst Celanese, experienced firsthand the value of diversity when he attended a conference for the corporation’s top 125 officers. Mostly white men; they were joined by 50 lower-level employees, women and minorities. Conference attendees broke into problem solving teams, some mixed by race and sex, others all white and male. The primary issue was the impact of Hoechst’s corporate culture on the company and what changes could be made to improve results. Listening to findings presented by each of the teams was quite a revelation for Drew. (Drew 15).
“It was so obvious that the diverse teams had broader solutions,” he remembers. “They came up with ideas I’d never even thought of before. For the first time, we realized that diversity is strength as it relates to problem solving. Previously, we just thought of diversity as the total number of minorities and women in the company – like affirmative action. Now we truly understand that we need diversity at every level of the company where decisions are made.” (Drew 17).
Battling to maintain profit margins and, in some cases, to just survive, many small firms have dismissed diversity as a challenge more relevant to large corporations. However, even if you live or do business in a relatively homogeneous community, you can be sure not everyone is alike. “Small businesses, like any others, have to look at diversity from an internal and external perspective,” asserts Anita Rowe, diversity consultant and co-author of Managing Diversity: A Complete Desk Reference and Planning Guide. “Internal because you have staff and chances are good that people will
differ from each other in some way, such as educational level, age, parental status or physical attributes. “If people don’t feel included and that their concerns are germane,”
Rowe warns, “the cost to your company can be high – in terms of commitment,
satisfaction and high turnover (it’s costly to recruit and train).” (Rowe 79).
A comprehensive 1993 study of U.S. workers’ attitudes bears out Rowe’s
assertions. The first installment of a planned quadrennial survey, the privately funded National Study of the Changing Workforce found that perceptions of discrimination take a heavy toll on job performance. More than one-fifth of minority workers reported they had been discriminated against by their current employers. Those beliefs correlated with a higher tendency to feel “burned out,” a reduced willingness to take initiative on the job and a greater likelihood of planning to change jobs. (NSCW 1993).
From an external perspective, a diverse workforce can also provide a
distinct competitive advantage for a firm and enhance its success in today’s increasingly global marketplace.
“Conversely, if you don’t understand the nuances of different cultures, you may be inadvertently slighting potential customers and missing out on new markets,” notes Rowe. “Your lack of understanding can also affect existing relationships. Diversity is both a customer service and a business development issue.” (Rowe 83). This message was emphatically driven home when a Maryland biotechnology firm, seeking to relocate, recently rejected Des Moines, Iowa, for being too homogeneous. Iowa had offered the company $25 million in incentives. As it turned out, however, money wasn’t everything. Company officials on a scouting trip realized that almost all the faces they saw in Iowa were white and decided to turn down the generous offer. The failed deal cost the state 250 new jobs and potentially millions of dollars, graphically illustrating the powerful economic ramifications of the nation’s diversifying work force. (Reagan 19).
“We were really wooing them,” recalls Michael Reagan, president of the
Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, regretfully. “But then somebody in
their group said, ‘I think we may be uncomfortable here. We’re used to all kinds of different people.’” (Reagan 17). Far too often in the past, Reagan acknowledges, visiting business leaders were greeted by a team of white men, a mistake he vows will not be repeated.
Firms that have already recognized the value of a diverse work force and made a sincere effort to maximize its contributions have learned that changing hiring policies will not in and of itself ensure success. A strong commitment from company leaders is also critical.
“The correct question today is not `How are we doing on race relations?’ or `Are we promoting enough minority people and women?’ Rather, it is `Given the diverse work force we?ve got, are we getting the productivity, does it work as smoothly, and is morale as high, as if every person in the company was the same sex, race and nationality?’” posits Rowe. What the small business owner must do is create an environment where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged, an environment where `we’ is everyone and in which people feel their contributions are valued.
“When you seek to attract talented employees of diverse backgrounds, one of their considerations will be whether your firm offers a reasonable opportunity to develop to their fullest potential,” Rowe emphasizes.
Another lesson to learn is the importance of communication and a willingness to listen to what employees have to say. Communication is an essential part of managing diversity. People often don’t realize how their actions or words will be taken, It usually takes a specific incident to bring this home. Creating an open atmosphere in which people feel free to raise issues without fear of reprisal is an important first step, and it doesn’t cost anything.
Anita Rowe also suggests examining whether employers are cutting themselves off from listening to employees. “Do you know what your employees’ needs are?” she asks. “Is two-way dialogue taking place? If you see negative issues, don’t ignore them. Sit down with employees and discuss how ‘we’ will work them out. If you empower staff members to be part of the solution, they will feel valued and that they have a tangible stake in the company.” Rowe also urges sensitivity to cultural differences, both internally
and externally. (Rowe 97).
Drawing on personal experience it is possible to recall several important issues and situations related of diversity in the workplace. A bank manager, in a bank that I used to work for, was helping a customer fill out account forms,. He was joking and laughing in an attempt to make the man feel comfortable. When the customer returned home, he called the manager’s supervisor to complain. In the customer’s country, conducting business is considered very serious. He thought the manager was being disrespectful with his levity. Business owners and managers must be aware of cultural differences and how they affect customer service, as well as learn how to communicate and work with people of diverse backgrounds. ?Sensitivity is the key,? emphasizes Rowe. “Recognize that your interpretation of a behavior isn’t universal and for another person it may mean something else entirely.? (Rowe 119).
She adds, “I’m not suggesting that you have to change things to accommodate each different group. Workplace demands are still important. Just keep an open dialogue and an open mind.” (Rowe 119).
Smaller firms have the best chance of establishing a truly diverse culture and managing it successfully, many experts agree. Typically not burdened by a large, entrenched bureaucracy, it is easier for them to make changes while the business owner maintains greater control of the process. “In smaller organizations, people are often less threatened by diversity,” notes Dr. Gopalan. “They develop trust more quickly and are more open, and there tends to be a greater level of confidentiality.” (Dr. Gopalan 129).
In addition, smaller companies have fewer candidates competing for a job. Since their choice of potential employees can be limited, small firms must think about using the most qualified people available, regardless of their backgrounds. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case because there are fewer changes and more opportunities for discrimination.
Customers have their own expectations as well. Says Rowe, Diversity has competitive implications. Customers expect small businesses to be more mindful of differences and to better serve their needs.
Researchers, Wentling and Palma-Rivas, in their literature review also showed that there is a wide range of approaches, strategies, or initiatives for managing diversity in the workplace. No single initiative is comprehensive enough to solve all diversity issues or to successfully manage diversity in organizations; however, diversity training is one of the primary and most widely used initiatives to address diversity issues. The information collected also revealed that diversity issues will continue because the population will become even more diverse and more companies will become global. As diversity is becoming more and more complex, diversity training will continue to be an essential element of the overall diversity strategy.
Author, Kanu Kogod, in a book titled, The Workshop for Managing Diversity, identifies main sources of potential diversity problems in the workplace and offers suggestions about turning diversity into a positive asset that enhances productivity and effectiveness. Kanu Kogod?s ideas are intended for managers and supervisors looking for managing diversity in the workplace. The author strives to improve the readers? abilities in understanding and describing the challenges of managing diversity in the workplace and recognizing the benefits of multiple perspectives in support of diversity. He focuses on evaluating behavior and understanding what it takes to retain, motivate, and promote culturally and socially diverse employees. Furthermore, the author suggests ways of identifying and working through personal stereotypes and responding effectively in encounters with individuals. He also offers ways of intervening effectively in situations involving potential discrimination, applying interpersonal skills to accommodate the needs of others who are culturally different. The main goal of diversity management, according to the book, is to capitalize on people’s differing talents rather than experience frustration due to diversity. The book highlights the dynamics of diversity – the problems, challenges, and opportunities that are involved (Kogod 1991).