The world’s increasing globalisation requires more interaction among people from diverse backgrounds. People no longer live and work in an insular environment; they are now part of a worldwide economy competing within a global framework. For this reason, profit and non-profit organisations need to become more diversified to remain competitive. Maximising and capitalising on workplace diversity is an important issue for management.
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Supervisors and managers need to recognise the ways in which the workplace is changing and evolving. Managing diversity is a significant organisational challenge, so managerial skills must adapt to accommodate a multicultural work environment.
This document is designed to help managers effectively manage diverse workforces. It provides a general definition for workplace diversity, discusses the benefits and challenges of managing diverse workplaces, and presents effective strategies for managing diverse workforces.
What is Diversity?
Diversity can be defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting, and valuing differences among people with respect to age, class, race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, etc. (Esty et al. 1995).
Companies need to embrace diversity and look for ways to become inclusive organisations because diversity has the potential to yield greater work productivity and competitive advantages. Stephen Butler, the co-chair of the Business-Higher Education Forum, believes diversity is an invaluable competitive asset (Robinson 2002). Managing diversity is a key component of effective people management in the workplace at the present time.
Demographic changes (women in the workplace, organisational restructuring, and equal opportunity legislation) will require organisations to review their management practices and develop new and creative approaches to managing people. Positive changes will increase work performance and customer service.
The number of dual-income families and single working mothers has changed the dynamics of the workplace. Changes in the family structure mean that there are fewer traditional family roles (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff 1998).
Significant changes in the workplace have occurred due to downsizing and outsourcing, which has greatly affected human resource management. Globalisation and new technologies have changed workplace practices, and there has been a trend toward longer working hours (Losyk 1996). Generally speaking, organisational restructuring usually results in fewer people doing more work.
Diversity is beneficial to both associates and employers. Although associates are interdependent in the workplace, respecting individual differences can increase productivity. Diversity in the workplace can reduce lawsuits and increase marketing opportunities, recruitment, creativity, and business image (Esty et al. 1995). In an era when flexibility and creativity are keys to competitiveness, diversity is critical for an organisation’s success. Also, the consequences (loss of time and money) should not be overlooked.
Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace
There are challenges to managing a diverse work population. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. It involves recognising the value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness.
Managers may also be challenged with losses in personnel and work productivity due to prejudice and discrimination, as well as complaints and legal actions against the organisation (Devoe 1999).
Negative attitudes and behaviours can be barriers to organisational diversity because they can harm working relationships and damage morale and work productivity (Esty et al. 1995).
Negative attitudes and behaviours in the workplace include prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, which should never be used by management for hiring, retention, and termination practices (could lead to costly litigation).
Managing Diversity at Workplace
Effective managers are aware that certain skills are necessary for creating a successful, diverse workforce. First, managers must understand discrimination and its consequences. Second, managers must recognise their own cultural biases and prejudices (Koonce 2001).
Diversity is not about differences among groups, but rather about differences among individuals. Each individual is unique and does not represent or speak for a particular group. Finally, managers must be willing to change the organisation if necessary (Koonce 2001). Organisations need to learn how to manage diversity in the workplace to be successful in the future (Flagg 2002).
Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for success. It mainly depends on the manager’s ability to understand what is best for the organisation based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace.
According to Roosevelt (2001), managing diversity is a comprehensive process for creating a work environment that includes everyone. When creating a successful diverse workforce, an effective manager should focus on personal awareness. Both managers and associates need to be aware of their personal biases.
Therefore, organisations need to develop, implement, and maintain ongoing training because a one-day session of training will not change people’s behaviours (Koonce 2001). Managers must also understand that fairness is not necessarily equality. There are always exceptions to the rule.