To some extent demographic changes and globalization are rendering moot the motives that drove equal employment legislation. Employers, in other words, now have little choice but to willingly push for more diversity. White males no longer dominate the labor force, and women and minorities represent the lion’s share of labor force growth over the foreseeable future. Furthermore, globalization increasingly requires employers to hire minority members with the cultural and language skills to deal with customers abroad. (Thus America’s Central Intelligence Agency is aggressively recruiting applicants with Middle Eastern language skills). As the Wall street Journal recently put it: companies do more and more business around the world, diversity isn’t simply a matter of doing what is fair or good public relations. It’s business imperative. So, employers are increasingly striving for racial, ethnic, and sexual workforce balance and harmony as a matter of self interest. In this context, diversity greatly refers to the variety or multiplicity of demographic features that characterize a company’s workforce, particularly in terms of race, sex, culture, national origin, handicap, age, and religion.
However, diversity is potentially a double edged sword. Managing diversity means maximizing diversity’s potential benefits (greater cultural awareness and broader language skills, for distance) while minimizing the potential barriers (such as prejudices and bias) that can undermine the company’s performance.
In practice, diversity management involves both compulsory and voluntary management actions. For example, we’ve just seen that there many legally compulsory actions employers must take minimize employment discrimination. But while such compulsory actions can reduce the more blatant diversity barriers, blending a diverse workforce into a close knit and productive community also requires other steps. Any such diversity management program usually mans starting at the top, as follows:
Provide strong leadership: companies with exemplary reputations in managing diversity typically have CEOs who champion diversity’s benefits. For example, they take strong stands on advocating the need for and advantages of a diverse workforce, and act as role models for exemplifying pro-diversify behaviors, such as by promoting employees even handedly.
Assess the situation: The diversity management program itself typically starts with the company assessing the current state of affairs with respect to diversity. In particular, how diverse are we, and are there any diversity-related issues we need to address? Common tools here include equal employment hiring and retention metrics, employee attitude surveys, management and employee evaluations and focus groups.
Provide diversity training and education: Assuming the assessment reveals issues the firm needs to address to address, some type of change program is in order. This frequently involves some type of employee training and education program, for instance having employee discuss with expert trainers the values of diversity and the types of behaviors and prejudices that may undermine it. Diversity training often aims at sensitizing all employees to the need to value differences and build esteem and at generally creating a more smoothly functioning and hospitable environment for the firm’s diverse workforce.
Change culture and management systems: To reinforce the training, management also needs to reinforce the words of the training with deeds. Ideally, combine the training with other concrete steps aimed at changing the organization’s values, culture, and management systems. Change the bonus plan to incentive plan for managers, to improve their departments’ inter group conflict and employee attitude survey scores.
Evaluate the directly management program: For example, do employee attitude surveys now indicate any improvements in employees’ attitudes towards diversity?
In creating diversity management programs, don’t ignore obvious issues. For example, training immigrants in their native languages can facilitate learning and ensure compliance with matters such as safety rules and harassment policies, and thus ease their entry into your workforce. Supervisor resistance is another issue. One study, in a large British retailer, found that typical diversity prescriptions like “recognize and respond to individual differences” conflicted with the supervisor’s inclinations to treat everyone even handedly.