Managing Diversity

Managing diversity means maximizing diversity’s potential advantages while minimizing the potential barriers such as prejudices and bias that can undermine the functioning of a diverse workforce. In practice, diversity management involves both compulsory and voluntary management actions. There are many legally compulsory actions employers must take to minimize employment discrimination.

However, while such compulsory actions can reduce the more blatant diversity barriers, blending a diverse workforce into a close-knit and productive community also requires employers to take other steps. Based on one review of research studies, one diversity expert concluded that five sets of voluntary organizational activities are at the heart of any diversity management program. In this article we can summarize these as follows:

Provide strong leadership: Companies with exemplary reputations in managing diversity typically have CEOs who champion the cause of diversity. Leadership mean, for instance, taking a strong stand on the need for change and becoming a role model for the behaviors required for the change.

Assess the situation: The Company must assess the current state of affairs with respect to diversity management. One study found that the most common tools for measuring diversity include equal employment hiring and retention metrics, employee attitude surveys, management and employee evaluation, and focus groups.

Provide diversity training and education: The most commonly utilized starting point for managing diversity is some type of employee education program. Some may argue that generalized diversity training (in terms, for instance, of getting along with others) is actually backfiring for instance by diminishing participants specific attention to racial relations but not experienced at all organizations.

Change culture and management systems: Ideally, education programs should be combined with other concrete steps aimed at changing the organization’s culture and management systems – for example, change the performance appraisal procedure to emphasize that supervisors will henceforth be appraised based partly on their success in reducing inter-group conflicts.

Evaluate the diversity management program: Employee attitude surveys must indicate at least some improvement in employees’ attitudes toward diversity.

In creating diversity management programs, the employer should not ignore the obvious. Training immigrants in their native language can facilitate learning as well as compliance with matters such as safety rules and harassment policies, and thereby facilitate their entry into the workforce. It therefore makes sense to provide new hires with orientation sessions and employee handbooks in, for instance, Spanish. In India workers training can be in Hindi or Marathi, Telugu or Tamil in the regions required and they can be for specific topics if not all where a better understanding is required.

Employers use various means to increase workforce diversity. Many companies, such as Baxter Health Corporation, start by adopting strong company policies advocating the benefits of a culturally, racially, and sexually diverse workforce: Baxter International believes that a multi cultural employee population is essential to the company’s leadership in health care around the world. Baxter then publicizes this philosophy throughout the company.

Next, Baxter takes concrete steps to foster diversity at work. These steps include evaluating diversity program efforts, recruiting minority members to the board of directors, and interacting with representative minority groups and networks. Diversity training is another concrete activity. It aims at sensitizing all employees about the need to value difference, build self esteem and generally create a more smoothly functioning and hospitable environment for the firm’s diverse workforce.

Minority employees’ “network groups” can help companies retain managerial level minority employees. Minority employees usually initiate network group themselves, although management will then typically provide ongoing support (for instance, in terms of meeting space and printing expenses) The network groups’ aims are to help minority employees better connect to each other and to provide mutually beneficial information, social support and mentoring. In one study, participation in network groups was associated with participants’ favorable turnover intentions, feelings of social inclusion, and satisfaction with the network itself for professional and supervisory employees. Researchers found no similar positive effects for other employees.

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