Valuing Diversity

Top managers  say their companies value diversity for a number of reasons such as to give the organization access to a broader range of opinions and viewpoints, to reflect an increasingly diverse customer base, to obtain the best talent  in a competitive environment and to demonstrate the company’s commitment to do the right thing. Nearly all minority job seekers said they would prefer to work in a diverse workplace.

However, managers  are ill-prepared to handle diversity issues. The challenge is particularly great when working with people from other countries and  cultures. IBM has a well developed diversity program and managers worked out a satisfactory compromise. Consider some other mistakes that managers could easily make:

–To reward an employee’s high performance her manager promoted her, placing her at the same level as her husband who also worked at the factory. Rather than being pleased the worker became upset and declined the promotion because Vietnamese husbands are expected to have a higher status than their wives.

–A manager having learned that friendly pat on the arm or back would make  workers feel good took every chance to touch his subordinates. His Asian employees hated being touched and thus started avoiding him and several asked for transfers.

–A manager declined a gift offered by a new employee, an immigrant who wanted to show gratitude for her job. He was concerned about ethics and explained the company’s policy about accepting gifts. The employee was so insulted she quit.

These issues  related to cultural diversity are difficult and real. But before discussing how companies handle them, let’s define diversity and explore people’s attitudes towards it.

Workforce diversity means an inclusive workforce made up of people with different human qualities or who belong to various cultural groups. From the perspective of individuals, diversity means including people different from themselves along dimensions such as race, age, ethnicity, gender  or social background. It is important to remember that diversity includes everyone not just racial and ethnic minorities.

Key dimensions of diversity are illustrated.  The inner circle represents primary dimensions of diversity, which include inborn differences or differences that have an impact throughout one’s life. Primary dimensions are core elements through which people shape their self –image and world view. These dimensions include age, race, ethnicity, gender, mental or physical abilities and sexual orientation.

Secondary dimensions can be  acquired or changed throughout one’s lifetime. These dimensions tend to have less impact  than those of the core but nevertheless affect a person’s self- definition and world view and an impact on how the person is viewed by others. For example, an employee living in a public housing project will certainly be perceived differently from one who lives in an affluent part of the town. Married people and people with children may be perceived differently and have different attitudes  from those who are single and childless. Likewise,  a person’s military experience, religion, native language, socioeconomic status and educational and work background add dimensions to the way that person defines him or herself and is defined by others. Secondary dimensions such as work style, communication style and educational or skill level are particularly relevant  in the organizational setting. The challenge for today’s managers is to recognize that each person can bring value and strengths to the workplace based on his or her own unique combination of diversity characteristics.

Valuing diversity by recognizing, welcoming and cultivating differences among people so they can develop their unique talents and be effective organizational members is difficult to achieve. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own group and subculture are inherently superior to other groups and cultures. Ethnocentrism makes it difficult to value diversity. Viewing one’s own culture as the best culture is a natural tendency among most people. Moreover, the business world still tends to reflect the values, behaviours and assumptions based  on the experiences of a rather homogeneous  white, middle class, male workforce. Indeed,  most theories  of management  presume that workers share similar values, beliefs, motivations and attitudes about work and life in general. These theories presume there is one set of behaviours that best help an organization to be productive and effective and therefore should be adopted by all employees.

Ethnocentrism viewpoint and a standard set of cultural practices produce a monoculture, a culture that accepts only one way of doing things and one set of values and beliefs, which can cause problems for minority employees. People of colour, women, the disabled,  the elderly and other diverse employees may feel undue pressure to conform may be victims of stereo typing attitudes and may be presumed deficient  because they are different. White,  heterosexual men, many of whom themselves do not fit the  notions of the Ideal employee may also feel uncomfortable with the monoculture and resent stereotypes that label white males as racists and sexists. Valuing diversity means ensuring that all people are given equal opportunities at the workplace.

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