Human Resources and Diversity Management

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Introduction

Most organizations in the contemporary world have a diverse workforce. Workplace diversity refers to the differences that can be identified among the employees of an organization. Employees differ in terms of age, culture, gender, personality, education, race, and experience. The factors that drive workplace diversity include globalization, changing demographics, changing expectations, and anti-discrimination laws. Diversity influences the functioning and performance of organizations since it determines how employees perceive themselves and their colleagues. Thus, organizations must focus on effective diversity management in order to achieve their objectives. Managing diversity refers to “planning and implementing organizational systems and practices to manage employees in order to maximize the benefits of diversity and to minimize its disadvantages” (Salaman, Storey & Billsberry 2005, p. 135). Effective diversity management promotes inclusiveness, change, clear communication, and adaptability. Despite its benefits, diversity can also create problems that can lead to poor performance and conflicts among employees. This paper focuses on diversity management by highlighting its benefits, as well as, how organizations can manage it.

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Business Benefits of Managing Diversity

Talent Acquisition

Effective management of diversity enables organizations to attract, recruit, and retain talent. Research indicates that job seekers prefer to work for companies that value diversity and inclusiveness. This is because diversity and inclusiveness enable employees to develop a feeling of belonging in the organization. A company that is attractive to jobseekers will be able to recruit its employees from a wide talent base. According to Schuler and Jackson (2008, p. 78), companies with the best talent often have a competitive advantage in their industries in terms of their ability to satisfy market needs. Being able to attract a large number of employees also reduces recruitment costs, especially, in labor markets that have insufficiently skilled workers. For example, a company that is known for discrimination will have to spend a lot of money on advertisements in order to attract the best talent in the market. On the contrary, companies that provide equal employment opportunities to all applicants usually have a database of potential employees who are willing to work for them. Recruiting employees from the database negates the need to make advertisements for vacancies. According to Friday and Shawnta (2003, pp. 863-880), companies that have effective diversity programs have low labor turnover and cases of absenteeism. This improves their competitiveness by preventing the loss of knowledge and expertise.

Increased Productivity

Managing diversity leads to increased productivity among employees. In particular, it enables organizations to harness, and to use the individual talents and experiences of their employees in the decision-making process. Employees from diverse backgrounds often have different ideas and skills that enable them to develop solutions that are appropriate to every situation. This enables the organization to adapt to changing trends in the business environment and customer needs. Similarly, diversity promotes creativity among employees. Creativity increases when employees from different backgrounds share knowledge and experiences concerning the process and product innovation. This leads to the development of appropriate products and services in a cost-effective manner. For example, a company is likely to develop the right product in an overseas market if it hires locals rather than expatriates to lead its marketing department. Seymen (2006, pp. 296-315) asserts that diversity and inclusiveness inspire employees to maintain the highest level of performance. This is because they improve employees’ morale and attitudes towards work. Productivity usually increases if employees have high morale and creativity.

Improving the Organization’s Reputation

Promoting diversity at the workplace is one of the best ways of improving the reputation or the image of an organization. Diversity enhances the reputation of companies in several ways. To begin with, companies often build a positive rapport with the public by avoiding discrimination in their staff recruitment activities. A company that provides equal opportunities to all potential employees is likely to be the employer of choice in its industry. Similarly, companies that employ and support people with special needs such as the disabled are highly regarded in the community (Dhar 2008, p. 215). In most countries, companies that hire and support members of disadvantaged groups often win diversity management awards. The importance of a good reputation is that it enables the organization to increase its sales and market share. Concisely, customers prefer to identify with companies that have a good reputation by purchasing their products. For example, in America where consumer awareness is very high, customers often avoid retail shops that are known to disregard their employees’ needs. Similarly, most governments are often reluctant to issue business licenses to companies that disregard diversity and the interests of their employees. In this case, a bad reputation will be a barrier to entry into new markets.

Ability to Operate in Different Cultures

Cultural differences usually discourage high productivity, especially, in companies that employ individuals from different socio-cultural backgrounds. This is because cultural differences often lead to conflicts among employees. However, effective diversity management not only promotes cultural tolerance among employees but also enables organizations to learn the business culture of the communities in which they operate. For example, in a pluralist society like America, foreign companies are not likely to succeed if they focus strictly on a hierarchical system of authority and distribution of power. This is because most Americans believe in having a say in the organizations that they work for and discretion in their work. Similarly, communities that value individualism is likely to prefer personalized services such as online shopping. In this case, the organization must understand how it can use its resources and available technology to provide personalized services. According to Mayerhofer, Schmidt, Hartmann, and Bendl (2011, pp. 589-609), a business strategy is likely to succeed if it takes into account the culture of the community. Concisely, the strategy is likely to succeed if it reflects the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the community. For instance, a company that intends to use coal for its production is likely to face resistance in communities that value environmental conservation. This is because the use of coal leads to environmental pollution, which is against the values of the community. A company that focuses on diversity management is likely to employ people who understand the cultures of the communities in which they operate. Thus, they will be able to develop appropriate business strategies.

Job Satisfaction

Managing diversity involves appreciating the different attributes and capabilities of employees. Concisely it focuses on acknowledging employees’ differences and recognizing that such differences are valuable. For example, employees usually feel appreciated if their diverse views or opinions are incorporated into the management’s decisions. According to Analoui (2007, p. 114), job satisfaction increases if employees believe that their efforts are appreciated by the organization. Managing diversity also improves job satisfaction by promoting fairness and equality in the workplace. The importance of high job satisfaction is that it motivates employees to achieve their targets and the goals of the organization. In addition, high job satisfaction improves employees’ commitment to the organization. This leads to high productivity, creativity, and low labor turnover.

Ethical Benefits

Managing diversity has the following ethical benefits. First, it enables organizations to create opportunities for disadvantaged groups. Good corporate governance and social responsibility initiatives require companies to create employment and development opportunities for disadvantaged groups such as ethnic minorities, the disabled, and women (Cooke & Saini 2012, pp. 16-32). This involves improving the representation of disadvantaged groups at different levels of management within the company. Moreover, providing special training and equipment to the disadvantaged groups can help to improve their productivity, thereby boosting the development of their careers. The importance of supporting disadvantaged groups is that it helps companies to improve their image in the community. This helps organizations to position themselves as the best brand among potential employers. Second, diversity helps organizations to avoid discrimination and the costs associated with it. Most countries prohibit discrimination at the workplace. Consequently, discrimination of any nature at the workplace can lead to expensive lawsuits. In addition, such lawsuits can tarnish the reputation of the company, thereby reducing its competitiveness. These costs can be avoided through diversity programs that promote fairness and equality in the organization.

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Finally, managing diversity inculcates the culture of engaging in ethical behavior among employees. One of the core principles of diversity management is promoting respect and tolerance among members of the organization. Employees who have high respect for each other are not likely to engage in unethical behaviors such as sabotage and blackmail. Distributive justice requires organizations to treat their employees fairly when making decisions that are related to issues such as pay raises and promotions (Cooke & Saini 2012, pp. 16-32). In this regard, diversity management programs enable organizations to enhance fairness by distributing rewards based on merit or performance. Procedural justice is achieved when managers employ fair practices to distribute work outcomes at the workplace. This involves using fair appraisal systems to evaluate employees’ performance and to distribute rewards. Promoting fairness in the process of rewarding employees usually leads to high motivation and commitment at the workplace. Ethical behavior is important at the workplace because it facilitates cohesion and productivity. In a nutshell, it inspires employees to take actions that facilitate high productivity and improve the reputation of the company.

Strategies for Managing Diversity

Comprehensive Approach

Organizations can pay more than lip service to managing diversity by adopting a comprehensive approach. This is because managing diversity is a continuous process rather than a project. The comprehensive approach emphasizes the importance of managing the dissimilarities among individuals rather than groups. In this regard, organizations must identify and nurture the important elements of diversity that exist among their employees. The diversity management plan should focus on improving opportunities for all employees rather than those from minority or disadvantaged groups (Cooke & Saini 2012, pp. 16-32). The rationale of this strategy is that focusing only on the minority groups might worsen the problem of inequality rather than eliminate it. Besides, managing diversity can only be better than affirmative action if it attempts to benefit all members of the organization rather than a few individuals or groups. Harnessing employees’ differences enables organizations to build a work environment in which all employees feel important and their talents are fully utilized (Dhar 2008, p. 117). This promotes high productivity, commitment, and motivation at the workplace. Organizations can create a productive work environment if they concentrate on valuing differences instead of developing strategies for coping with them. This implies that diversity should be conceptualized as an opportunity rather than a problem. In this regard, managers must identify the business case for their diversity management programs. Managing diversity should be considered as an investment that creates positive outcomes for the company.

Linking Diversity to the Organization’s Mission

Diversity programs can be effective if they are linked to the organization’s mission statement. The rationale of this perspective is that effectiveness is achieved through a clear articulation of the organization’s goals. The mission statement usually provides a framework through which the organization’s goals can be set and articulated. Thus, it can guide human resource managers in setting the goals and objectives of the strategic plan for managing diversity. In addition, it will enable the managers to align the objectives of managing diversity to the strategic goals of the organization, thereby facilitating long-term success. According to Dhar (2008, p. 171), linking diversity management programs to the organization’s goals enhances effectiveness by enabling managers to focus on measuring the programs’ outcomes rather than their outputs.

The Role of the Recruitment Function

The recruitment function is directly linked to diversity since it determines the composition of the workforce. The recruitment function can facilitate effective management of diversity if relevant goals are set to guide the process of hiring and promoting employees. In this regard, the objective of the recruitment function is to enable the organization to “identify and to attract a diverse mix of the brightest and best prospects” (Analoui 2007, p. 144). This involves specifying the skills, experience, and competencies that employees need in order to excel in a diverse environment. The applicants must have the desired skills and experience in order to be hired. Consequently, recruitment interviews must focus “on job requirements and experiences, as well as, transferable skills and competencies such as communication and coordination” (Analoui 2007, p. 245). Fairness can be enhanced by hiring employees from a diverse applicant pool. Furthermore, the panel of interviewers must consist of a diverse team of experts in order to eliminate bias. This will provide equal opportunities to all applicants and enable the organization to hire the best talent in the market.

Once the right people have been hired, the focus should shift to talent management. Leveraging talent is central to the development of loyalty and achieving diversity management goals. Thus, it should be included in the diversity management program in order to facilitate long-term success. This can be achieved through mentoring and leadership development programs that encourage employees to use their differences to increase productivity rather than antagonism (Seymen 2006, pp. 296-315). Loyalty can be enhanced by implementing a fair and just succession plan. In addition, incentive systems that focus on diversity should be incorporated into the conventional performance measures. Employee retention and job satisfaction can be achieved through policies such as part-time work, flexible shifts, and family leave. These policies enable organizations to accommodate employees with varying needs. Consequently, they facilitate the recruitment of employees from a large pool of applicants. Moreover, “valuing employees’ needs leads to high retention and job satisfaction” (Analoui 2007, p. 231).

Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness involves learning all of the basic elements of the cultures of different members of the organization. It involves understanding the values, beliefs, and attitudes that are important to various people, as well as, how these elements of culture influence organizational behavior and performance (Seymen 2006, pp. 296-315). Cultural awareness facilitates effective interaction among people from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. It enables organizations to harness the differences of their employees effectively in order to produce cultural synergies that facilitate the achievement of improved work outcomes. Cultural awareness can be created through diversity training. According to Seymen (2006, pp. 296-315), diversity training not only creates cultural awareness but also teaches managers and employees behaviors that promote respect and inclusion at the workplace. The main objective of diversity training is to increase employees’ understanding of the business case for diversity. The effectiveness of diversity management programs should be assessed periodically. This involves using internal benchmarks to measure the progress of the programs. This enables organizations to identify the weaknesses of their diversity management programs and to implement corrective measures in time.

Conclusion

Diversity management involves implementing strategies that facilitate inclusiveness, change, clear communication, and adaptability in the organization. Companies often focus on managing diversity due to several reasons. To begin with, it facilitates the acquisition of the best talent or hiring highly skilled employees. Consequently, it leads to high productivity. Managing diversity improves managers’ cultural awareness, thereby enabling them to develop the best strategies for every market. Focusing on diversity management also enables organizations to improve their reputation and to build positive rapport with the community. This is achieved through initiatives that promote fairness, equality, and the reduction of discrimination. The desired outcomes of diversity management programs can be achieved if organizations adopt a comprehensive approach. This involves implementing strategies such as creating cultural awareness and linking diversity management to the mission statement of the organization. In addition, the process of recruiting employees should be used to enhance diversity management. Organizations should consider these strategies in order to pay more than lip service to managing diversity and to improve their competitiveness.

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References

Analoui, F 2007, Strategic Human Resource Management, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Cooke, F & Saini, D 2012, ‘Managing Diversity in Chinese and Indian Organizations’, Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 3 no. 1, pp. 16-32.

Dhar, R 2008, Strategic Human Resource Management, Palgrave, London.

Friday, E & Shawnta, F 2003, ‘Managing Diversity Using a Strategic Planned Change Approach”, Journal of Management Development, vol. 22 no. 10, pp. 863-880.

Mayerhofer, H, Schmidt, A, Hartmann, L & Bendl, R 2011, ‘Recognizing Diversity in Managing Work life Issues of Expatriates’, International Journal of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, vol. 30 no. 7, pp. 589-609.

Salaman, G, Storey, J & Billsberry, J 2005, Strategic Human Resource Management, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Schuler, R & Jackson, S 2008, Strategic Human Resource Management, John Wiley and Sons, New York.

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Seymen, O 2006, ‘The Cultural Diversity Phenomenon in Organizations and Different Approaches for Effective Cultural Diversity Management’, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, vol. 13 no. 4, pp. 296-315.

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