Managing diversity in organization


David Morris and his father, Saul, started Habitat International in 1981. Located in Georgia, U.S the company manufactures a grass-like indoor-outdoor carpet. From the beginning, the Morrises hired refugees from Cambodia, Bosnia, and Laos, many of whom didn’t speak English. But when a social-service worker suggested in 1984 that the company hire mentally challenged people, Saul balked. Hiring someone with a condition such as Down’s syndrome seemed too chancy. But David thought otherwise. He talked his dad into giving it a try.

The first group of eight mentally disabled workers came with their job coach from the social-services agency and went straight to work boxing mats. Two weeks later, says Saul, employees were coming to him and wondering why the company couldn’t “hire more people like this, who care, do their work with pride, and smile?�

Today, 75% of Habitat’s employees have some kind of disability. People with schizophrenia, for instance are driving forklifts next to employees with autism or cerebral palsy. Meanwhile, the Morris father-son team is doing good things, both for these people and for themselves. The disabled employees have enhanced self-esteem and are now self-sufficient enough to be government aid, and the owners enjoy the benefits of a dedicated, hardworking labor force. “We have practically zero absenteeism and very little turnover, says David.

Habitat International illustrates the role of employee-selection in increasing diversity. But effective programs go well beyond merely hiring a diverse workforce. They also include managing work / life conflicts and providing diversity training. These seem to be common characteristics among major organizations that have developed reputations as diversity leaders including Avon, McDonald’s , Fannie Mae, PepsiCo, Xerox, Safeway, and Hilton Hotels.

Work / Life Conflicts

We are elaborating here on the issues –specifically focusing on what organizations can do help employee reduce conflicts.

Work / life conflicts grabbed management’s attention in the 1980s, largely as a result of the growing number of women with dependent children entering the workforce. In response, most major organizations took action to make their workplaces more family-friendly. They introduced programs such as on-site child care, summer day camps, flextime, job sharing, leave for school functions, telecommuting, and part-time employment. But organizations quickly realized that work/life conflicts were not experienced only by female employees with children. Male workers and women without children were also facing this problem. Heavy workloads and increased travel demands, for instance, were making it increasingly hard for a wide range of employees to meet both work and personal responsibilities. A Harvard study, found that 82% of men between ages of 20 and 39 said that a “family-friendly� schedule was their most important job criterion. Even among employees who seemed to be able to “do it all� many were experiencing guilt or stress.

Today’s progressive workplace is being modified to accommodate the varied needs of a diverse workforce. This includes providing a wide range of scheduling options and benefits that allow employees more flexibility at work and allow them to better balance or integrate their work and personal lives. For instance, employees at the corporate office of retailer Eddie Bauer are provided with flexible scheduling, plus a full array of on-site services, including dry cleaning pick-up and delivery, an ATM, a gym with personal trainers, flu shots, Weight Watcher classes, and financial seminars.

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