Diversity management is a concept that entails the understanding that every individual is unique, and recognises the differences between people. Gender, social class, income level, sexual orientation, and many other factors including the ethnicity are considered to the main ones while discriminating people that have equal rights and opportunities to work. Regardless of those rights, people can be treated differently due to the lack of awareness of cultural diversity. This paper seeks to identify theories that describe diversity; state its benefits and challenges; describe the supporting legislation and policies and give one case study on how it is being implemented at the organisational level.
Many theories have been put forward by scholars to explain the principles of diversity. However, the initial diversity concept was born out of the original push for equal treatment at the workplace; these issues basically concern women and their position in the labour market of the world and the Australian business in particular. This was later extended to include other underprivileged groups; several countries that have such groups of individuals were forced to come up with legislation to ensure equal rights and opportunities at the workplace.
Organisations were called upon to embrace diversity by identifying the differences between individual employees and incorporating those rules to the mutual benefit of companies in terms of productivity increase and employees regarding promotion and career development opportunities. Diversity at the workplace is particularly meant to ensure that the composition of the workforce includes all individuals regardless of their gender, ethnicity/culture, and age; this is often facilitated by the creation of proper working environment appropriate for most concerns of diverse people comprising the workforce.
Many firms across Australia have managed to utilise the country’s cultural diversity to achieve growth. Sometimes the management of organisations believe that individuals from other ethnicities can offer different things to their companies. However, this is not normally represented in terms of diversity. Many people tend to have a baseless feeling that they are more comfortable when dealing or working with similar individuals. This notion only acts to propagate inequality and discrimination while hiring employees. The principles of diversity, as described by many different theories, advocate for equal opportunities for all people regardless of their differences.
Legislation versus Organisation Policies
The diversity legislation formulated in a particular nation depends on different groups that constitute the country’s population. In the Australian case, the legislation targets to achieve equal treatment for people with disability, women and the indigenous communities (the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander). For women, the issues mainly revolve around inequity and discrimination at the workplace. Ethical and moral principles of the company can be promoted among employees with the help of certain benefits and performance encouragement.
By increasing employ morale this inevitably leads to increased motivation in the workforce which in turn results in increased company performance. It means that most factors are relevant to social and financial problems encountered by people of different social layers of the Australian society. Using the socio-economic indicators the regulatory bodies identify areas of concern and work in liaison with organisations in Australia to ensure workplace diversity is promoted. Thus, managers are required to give annual reports regarding the issues that have been faced in their efforts to embrace diversity.
The laws particularly stipulate that organisations should carry out certain rules. First, “Learning to manage diversity is a change process, and the managers involved are change agents” (Thomas, 1990, p. 116). The diversity principles should be well articulated in the performance accord. Secondly, organisations should be able to carry out equitable employment practices for the maximum benefits in terms of a quality-quantity ratio of individuals seeking employment opportunities. This should be done in order to ensure more people will be able to apply for a job without risking to be refused because of diversity features or other biased issues. Thirdly, all organisations should ensure that their structures are not a source of impediment to diversity practice within the organisation. The fourth requirement is that firms should include their diversity principles in all bargaining conducted such as negotiations and other processes relevant to explaining the value and certain restrictions.
Leading Experts (2009) suggest that gender discrimination is obvious due to the fact that women take lower posts than men and are engaged in activities requiring fewer efforts in terms of career promotion and salaries (p. 81) In this respect, it is necessary to mention that the more male staff members are encouraged to perform effectively due to different opportunities, the more female staff members are discouraged from similar issues. It is unacceptable to live in the modern age of technological progress and judge upon people regarding their gender roles. The Woolworths successfully meets the objectives presented as it has been introduced as a company that would apply international diversity embracement issues into the labour process. Moreover, all issues are determined in the Australian legislation that adopted specific laws to the working conditions in Australian business. Equal rights and opportunities, regardless of gender/cultural/and all other diversities, are guaranteed to all employees.
Organisations are required to participate and get involved in the company committees in order to become aware of the differences between people in terms of social and economic factors as well as of ethnic and cultural peculiarities. Finally, organisations should conduct regular training courses and other services to workers and members; this should be done with emphasis on individual needs of every staff member of the company. Having done this, organisations should then ensure that annual reports on major diversity activities are given. Thus, all managers are required to give feedback to the committee on dates not later than 30 of May every year. To achieve this, firms are required to develop policies that address inclusion, equality, discrimination and other issues that may become a challenge to diversity development and management.
Several factors are usually articulated in the organisations’ policies besides the cultural diversity and training; these are known to support organisations’ endeavour to embrace diversity. The best practices include those that make it possible for an organisation to achieve more profit and growth. For instance, researches conducted in Australia and elsewhere indicate that organisations can achieve a lot by taking up diversity. All these measures are aimed at making the society of every country in general and of Australia in particular more appropriate for international employees. As the level of globalisation is one of the increasing aspects that influence the number of culturally-different employees, it is necessary to increase the awareness of people on the issue of cultural diversity. However, some people are discriminated due to their social class differences or physical disability.
In this respect, it is preferable to create appropriate working conditions for all employees regardless the class, income level on the previous job or regarding the population of the same ethnic community, cultural differences, and physical characteristics. People should be sure about their security in terms of working conditions and unbiased company board. The wellbeing of staff members is a guarantee that people would be treated equally regardless of their initial income level and social status. It does not matter whether a person was poor or of medium income level in his/her native country; this employee has a right to be treated as all other people that had a higher income level before coming to this company. Stereotypes are the most burning issue of the contemporary society, though the global community is full of international companies engaging more and more employees representing other cultures that the one of the headquarters.
The effectiveness of company performance is closely connected to the income level of its staff and can be influenced by the company and certain financial benefits issued to staff members in order to raise productivity rate. The differences between people can be implemented with regard to some national peculiarities. In this respect, collectivist manner of work may be used while working on a project, while individualist approach should be applied in the course of developing leadership competencies. A great number of skills and sufficient experience of other cultures can be successfully used in a multicultural company.
Other benefits of embracing may come in the form of increased product sales, whereby productivity of the company is dependable on the groups of staff members dealing directly with customers. In other words, certain cultural features of some people may be beneficial for the company in terms of individual characteristics applied to the whole nation. As individuals are different, there is a chance that all categories of the target audience and their expectations will be met to the full extent due to staff members that are different and can try a different approach to the same customers. Different organisations interpret the diversity theories differently; many of them tend to view diversity as a costly problem leading to failure of programs. However, smart organisations regard diversity as a value addition tool and thus use it to their advantage.
Woolworths deals with retail stores in Australia and New Zealand. The company employs more than 195,000 individuals in its divisions which include supermarkets, hotels, liquor, petrol and general merchandise. As a part of the “Woolworths ongoing commitment to fully embrace diversity” (Woolthworths Limited, 2009), a strategy was developed to enable the creation of working environment that is conducive for all employees and ensure that all are treated with dignity, respect and courtesy. Woolworths conducts business in all regions of Australia and therefore embracing diversity ensures that different perspectives are brought on board. This helps the company to reflect on the communities it serves.
The Woolworths formed a diversity working group in 2008 which was composed of members from all the divisions. The purpose of the group was to ensure that the goal is reached and the organisation makes an effort to embrace diversity. The group’s terms of reference included the company’s staff and customers, indigenous Australians and those who could not work due to their age or disability were the target group of the project. The Australian Employment Covenant (AEC) was aimed at being a source for the recruitment of indigenous people by the members of the Diversity embracing Group.
Secondly, ensure the company provides employment opportunities to people living with disability as part of the larger CEO’’s network for disability, a collaboration between the Australian businesses and Government leaders. Thirdly, to organise a celebration day, this was held in March 2009 to mark Woolworths’ achievements. The celebrations included the preparation of traditional delicacies for the various countries and communities that were represented. The other responsibilities for the diversity working group were to track and monitor employee numbers, deliver diversity awareness sessions to employees and carry out a number of employment initiatives.
To address gender balance, the Woolworths has been on the forefront in ensuring that women are included in all the positions. For instance, women presently constitute 55% of the company’s workforce and efforts are underway to reflect the same in leadership roles. “In 2003-04 financial years, women held 16.5% of the leadership roles in Woolworths limited, this figure rose to 27% by 2008-09 financial years” (Woolworths Limited, 2009). To play its role in the development and progression gender balance, Woolworths has focused on the creation of gender-equal working that guarantee female employees to enjoy equal rights with males in the company in terms of posts held.
The company has put mechanisms in place to help achieve this; its main objective has been to eliminate barriers that may cause problems in women’s carrier progression. By appreciating the fact females and males harbour different perspectives which may not work together in the business environment, the company has introduced programs to oversee a smooth inclusion program of women in its workforce and leadership roles. Some roles can be performed better by women rather than men, though it does not mean that some positions should be gender-marked due to the principles of better performance. Currently, two women are members of the board regarding the success of the Woolworths diversity embracing program.
All the diversities that exist between genders should be left aside while debating on the appropriateness of women on certain posts. In this respect, it is necessary to base the positioning principles of individual characteristics and skills of people working in the company. As soon as the board realises the necessity of developing awareness of diversity training and embracing, effective performance would depend on the skills of employees only. Moreover, the management of disputable issues on diversity can be as successful as it turned out to be for the Woolworths in terms of ‘financial and social sustainability’ (Leading Experts, 2009, p. 85).
The diversity working group has also managed to oversee the inclusion of the Indigenous Australian groups in the Woolworths workforce. For instance, Peter Chandler is an Aborigine who joined the company in 2009 as a result of the diversity working group’s initiative. The Aboriginal customers are happy to see him working for Woolworths. Peter has gained vast experience in a “variety of departments including bakery and perishables and currently works as a night filler” (Woolworths Limited, 2009).
The training program offered by Woolworths enabled Peter to shift from his previously demanding career in a cattle station. He has earned success through hard work and commitment and he enjoys working in the company of people from diverse backgrounds who are now his friends. As a result of his hard work, Peter has been included in the diversity working group to help expand indigenous employees. The company has also continued to provide equal opportunities for different categories of workers, for instance during the year 2008 when economies were hit by recession, the Woolworths continued to provide career opportunities. “Young Australian job seekers who were the hardest hit by recession” benefited in a training program that offered them an opportunity to start careers in retailing (Woolworths Limited, 2009).
During the launch of the Woolworths corporate responsibility in the year 2009, the CEO reaffirmed the company’s commitment to promoting diversity in its workforce. According to him, the company’s aspirations are reflected “in ‘destination Zero’ which means that the company is on progress to achieve its targets of causing zero harm to its people, property and community” (Woolthworths Limited, 2009). Learning and development programs require certain investments; thus, last year the company spent over $68 million on training of staff members, the diversity strategy and other implementations are aimed at reaching the common goals (Woolthworths Limited, 2009).
The company’s corporate responsibilities cuts across the communities in which it operates. In the “year 2009 the company’s community investment funds rose to $27.4 million”, the largest “ever community investment in Australia” (Woolthworths Limited, 2009). The Woolworths mainly operates retail stores and therefore it is present in many different localities within and outside Australia, this implies that the company’s quest to achieve diversity is not just a social responsibility but also a platform on which more growth can be achieved.
Woolworth mainly embraces diversity through training and development programs. Thus, measuring the gains made is done through evaluation of the training programs. Diversity in recruitment and retention can be traced via monitoring of the recruitment process which ensures that all individuals have an equal opportunity of being employed by Woolworths. Moreover, “Early indications are that the number of women appointed to boards so far this year has been at least double the appointments over a similar period last year” (Korporaal, 2010). This tendency is expected to grow hence increasing the number of gender diversity embracement.
The strategies developed by the Woolworths to embrace diversity are a clear indication of a positive step towards the right direction. This case study gives us an insight on how theory can be turned into policies to have far reaching consequences as compared to the legislation. Moreover, it is necessary to develop diversity awareness with staff members of the company as well as with board members.The company’s objectives to achieve diversity are in line with the delineated theory of best practice. Diversity is an important concept that has made it easier to facilitate equal distribution of resources to people across the world. This has been achieved through the formulation of laws and appropriate policies to tackle inequality and discrimination faced by different minority groups at the work place. As seen from the Woolworth example, firms have positively taken up the diversity and are now utilising it to achieve greater heights on the corporate ladder. Laws are meant to push firms to adopt diversity through policies but firms have gone a notch higher to create policies that are employ friendly and have far reaching benefits for both the employees and the organisations.
- Corporate Responsibility Report, 2009. Understanding our employees. Melbourne, Woolworths Limited.
- Korporaal, G., 2010. Gillard’s choice may help address corporate gender imbalance. The Australian, [Online].
- Leading Experts from Baker & Mckenzie Lawyers and the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, 2009. Australian master human resources guide 2009. 7th ed. Sydney: CCH Australia Limited.
- Thomas, R. R. Jr., 1990. From affirmative action to affirming diversity. Harvard Business Review, pp. 107-117.
- Woolthworths Limited, 2009. Corporate responsibility report: diversity and equal opportunity. Melbourne, Woolworths Limited.