Diversity can be described as a noticeable heterogeneity in a given place, objects or living things. Diversity at the workplace can be described as the differences and similarities that people bring to the organization in terms of race, skills, culture, gender, nationality, age, religion, job title and the general differences in personalities that each individual has.
Workplace diversity brings to the organization special attributes that bring about uniqueness in the organization as well as challenges that force the organization to put in place mechanisms that will ensure harmony. The existence of organizations and workplaces is hinged on set objectives that the organization is always working towards achieving and which provide a convergent point for all the organization’s activities (Barak 2011). Therefore to achieve these objectives, there is need for harmony in all the functional sectors of the organization. This is to ensure that the organization works with a purpose.
In workplaces, diversity should be looked at from the perspective of creating a working environment that recognizes and respects the differences that each individual brings to the workplace and making maximum use of these differences to positively boost the organization. Therefore, it is the duty of the manager in a workplace to make sure that diversity is curved into a valuable resource that can boost organizational efficacy.
Importance of achieving diversity at the workplace
Diversity at the workplace is important as it brings together the best candidates to the organization regardless of their differences. Different people have different abilities which might not be universal and thus when they are put together; they make an organization gain able management and leadership in all departments. It brings about better decisions, better methods of solving problems, creativity and innovations (Page 2007).
Today’s world is a global village where people from different races, nationalities, religions and other facets of life find themselves interacting with one another without an option to choose who to interact with and who not to interact with. Therefore, with this situation at hand, the advantages that diversity brings about come into play as the people involved do not have a big problem dealing with one another or understanding one another’s background. An organization can achieve success through understanding the paybacks of diversity as well as by approving diversity itself.
The recognition of different employees’ strong points enhances their sense of belonging to the organization and further enhances their commitment to the organization. This allows them to make their contribution with a difference (Schuler & Jackson 1999).
Many organizations have employed different approaches in their quest to manage diversity. Some of these approaches include creating equal employment opportunities at their workplaces to ensure that all have the same opportunity to work without feeling to be discriminated against.
Another approach has been through the employment of affirmative action where by discriminated groups are given quotas whenever recruitment and selection is done so that they do not have to compete with other groups which might be stronger than them.
An organization that has embraced diversity will be able to enjoy the advantages of increased adaptability on their organizational structure. Such increased adaptability provides greater varieties of solutions to problems as they are rich in different background experiences that those different workers posses. This is in itself a rich pool of ideas and experiences.
A broader service range will also be possible to achieve and it will enable the organization to provide its services to the global market as well as compete globally with other organizations in the same field (Barak 2011).
Problems associated with managing diversity in organization
One of the most challenging facets of diversity in an organization is cultural diversity at the workplace. Generally a workplace is a platform for bringing together efforts from different people with different abilities to achieve the same purpose. Therefore, for proper integration of different people who come from different backgrounds, there is need for a properly set out channel of communication that will ensure coherence between all the workers in all the work that the organization is doing. This can be achieved through creation of awareness between the people from the different backgrounds with the aim of creating a sense of appreciation towards one another.
Three skills that can help in this situation are; empathy, self-monitoring and strategic decision making. Empathy occurs when the beneficiary of a message tries to identify with the feelings of the communicator ahead of the message being conveyed by taking into consideration the senders’ thoughts, desires, principles and assumptions.
Self-monitoring involves the communicator being aware of how his behavior might impact on the other person and if there is need for him to adjust so as to eliminate any possibilities of conflict occurring. This should be done in mind with awareness of the cultural differences at play and with the impact of ones behavior as interpreted by others according to their cultures (Barak 2011).
Therefore when it comes to managing cultural diversity at work places, communication is significant in achieving the desired results. Without communication there will be confusion in the execution of key objectives due to low morale and lack of team work.
Resistance to change is another problem that bedevils the management of diversity at work. Generally resistance is brought about by the fear of the unknown which drives the human nature to fend off any attempts to change the usual and known way of doing things they are used to. The fear of upsetting a comfortable way of doing things that one is used to may drive workers in an organization to resist diversification as it may force them to adjust to levels that may not be as comfortable as before. They may also have fears in the need to adapt to a new setup in the organization which may take time to happen and this is the cumbersome bit of it.
Older employees will tend to look down upon the younger generation of employees working with them regardless of their qualifications. They will always claim that they have significantly contributed to the organizational success and that they are better informed about what is good for the organization and what is not good. With this kind of mentality, the older generation will most certainly resist any new changes that the younger colleagues; who are technologically up to date will try to bring around (McGriff 2010).
This will definitely affect the implementation of programs in the organization thus a set back the organization in terms of benefits that the new systems are supposed to bring to the organization. Such set backs might lead to the organization accruing losses in its business against its competitors who might not be facing the same problem.
Therefore to eliminate such a problem, the organization should train its members on the need to embrace change and involve both the young and the old employees in structuring of any new changes that are to be introduced before they are introduced. This will make everyone feel important and to be part of the process.
The adoption of diversity into the workplace policies and programs can also be an overriding challenge that the organization will have to tackle for it to achieve its diversity objectives. Such a process will involve a lot of researching and long hours of discussions which can be very boring and tiresome to the management of the organization. The need to come up with a fitting program that will be compatible with the organization’s policy is necessary so as to ensure the strategic objectives of the organization are not lost in the long run.
After creation of a diversity program, there is need to create a management system that will over see the running of the program. Most organizations fail in the execution of diversity programs because their work ends with the creation of the program and training of staff to achieve the same therefore making it look like just another routine program. Therefore, diversity has to be implemented in such a way that it is inculcated into the culture of the organization in all aspects that identify with the organization. This should be done so, as a way to eliminate the viewing of diversity in isolation of the organization.
Diversity in an organization might lead to an amplification of organizational errors as well as confusion. This is due to the fact that members of the organization might start working with the assumption that a colleague will take care of an issue while at the same time the other party assumes the same. This kind of confusion might lead to activities going undone at the expense of the organization while no one can be held liable to the confusion that might be prevailing. The assumption that, “what I know everyone else knows,’’ might lead to a chaotic situation. Therefore, introduction of diversity should be done on the background of laid down structures that will administer the same and eliminate confusion.
In a scenario where two employees are manning one machine, with employee A having more experience than employee B, the probability of an accident happening will be higher when employee B is left alone to run the machine in the absence of employee A. This is due to the fact that as much as employee B is trained to run the same machine and is competent enough to do so, he or she might not have enough experience to see all the warning signs of an impending accident as compared to employee A. Therefore experience counts a lot when it comes to situations that are not found text books.
As much as diversification may be aimed at creating an organization that is accommodative of different groups of people from different backgrounds, it might create an avenue for discrimination, mistrust and tension within the different workers of the organization. People with the same attributes will tend to pull together and prefer to deal with people at the same level with them. White collar staff will tend to pull together same as blue color staff who will find a better company among themselves. Such groupings lead to looking at others as outsiders yet they are in the same organization (Norma 2006). With this, the organization will find itself falling unconsciously into caste divisions among its staff with different classes of people taking shape.
Discrimination of one another as well as divisions, leads to tension as well as difficulty in reaching agreements on problems. Such discontents might lead to a breakdown in the communication system within the organization which will in turn lead to disruption in the way the organization has been working.
An organization that has got a mix of races and nationalities will experience the problem of workers either grouping themselves in terms of their nationalities as well as race which becomes a very definitive factor.
Therefore diversity if not well managed might end up plunging the organization in to a chaotic state as workers will not be working in harmony with one another to achieve the same purpose. They will be seeing others as people from the other divide.
To eliminate this, the organization has to create a culture that will ensure proper cohesion among employees that will make them see one another as a team that is striving to achieve the same goals and purpose rather than seeing one another as a competitor (Fine 1980).
The richness of culture that diversity brings to an organization is in most instances seen as a blessing due to its face value yet it might be having beneath it problems that might hamper the smooth running of the organization. These problems, in most instances fall on the blind side of diversification and can end up rocking the organization to its core. In most African countries, the populations are made up of different tribes with very different cultural practices that set them apart. In some instances, there are tribes whose practices are prejudiced by other communities and thus leading to any member of that community being looked at along those prejudice lines (Norma 2006).
This is stereo typing and typecasting and might lead to other members of the organization or workplace looking at their colleague along this slim line and forgetting to see him as a capable colleague with abilities that can be exploited for the betterment of the organization.
A good example of such a case is the Kikuyu community in Kenya. The kikuyu are known for their love of money as well as any other form of wealth and are known for their aggressiveness when it comes to their quest to get whatever they want. Therefore, whenever robberies and theft are reported, members of that community are usually the first to be suspected regardless of their innocence (Walck 1995). Such kind of stereotyping tend to blight the achievements made by other honest members of that community and might lead to tension between employees when such branding occurs in the work place.
Such kind of treatment might lead to low morale, frustrations and high turnovers among the stereotyped employees. Therefore, as much as diversity is good for the organization, it comes with extra baggage that at the end of the day supersede all the advantages that the organization had accrued.
An organization can put in place mechanisms that will ensure diversity within it is achieved with only the positive attributes of the same taking centre stage.
The organization should conduct a survey at the workplace to find out how diversity will fit in the work plan without causing any problems within the organization. The purpose of the survey is to act as an indicator for strong points of the diversity plan which will be adopted as well as the weak points that need to be worked on. With this done, diversity can be implemented without the risk of causing discord in the organization (Deborah 1999).
The implementation of the diversity plan should be done by the whole organization with the management team leading the pack. By so doing, the diversity plan will be incorporated into the organization’s policies as well as objectives, making its adoption by the organization achieve the intended objectives.
Change resistance can be well managed by making the introduction and implementation of diversity an inclusive process. When staffs in the organization are involved in putting up diversity structures, they will always feel as part of it as well as owners of the process (Green, Lopez, Wysocki & Kepner 2009). With this outlook, they will clinch to the proposal instead of rejecting it.
Before the idea of diversity is sold to an organization as a whole, it should first be sold to the leadership so that the leadership adopts it in advance. With this situation in place, the idea will be able to find its way into the organization officially as leadership is the entry point of adoption of any ideas in to the organization.
After introducing the idea into the organization, employees of the organization should be trained to get informed about the advantages of diversity and how to get the best out of it. This will smooth the way for easier implementation of the diversity program.
Surveys should be held on different occasions to find out how the program is working and also how to better it. This will eliminate any hiccups that come up and were unseen during the initial surveys.
In conclusion, diversity as a program has both positive and negative attributes which have to be managed properly for the organization to achieve the desired results. Any mismanagement of diversity might cancel out the advantages it is supposed to bring to the organization.
Barak, M. E. M. 2011. Managing diversity: Toward a globally inclusive workplace. New Delhi: SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. Print.
Deborah, D., 1999. Managing a diverse workforce. San Mateo, CA: InfoWorld Media Group.
Fine, M. G., 1980. Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: The State of the Field. Journal of Business Communication, 33(4), pp. 485-502.
Green, K. A., Lopez, M., Wysocki, A. & Kepner, K., 2009. Diversity in the workplace: Benefits, challenges, and the required managerial tools. Web.
McGriff, M., 2010. How can we bridge the gap between old & young employees? Web.
Norma, C. R., 2006. Managing diversity: People skills for a multicultural workplace. Boston: Pearson.
Page, S. 2007. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
Schuler, R. & Jackson, S., 1999. Strategic Human Resource Management. London: Blackwell.
Walck, C. L., 1995. Editor’s introduction: Diverse approaches to managing diversity. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31, 119-123.