Workplace diversity refers to demographic differences in the workforce in terms of gender, age, culture, religion, disability, race, and profession among others. Diversity is found in an environment such as workplaces where people from different settings come together for a given purpose. In organizational context, workforce diversity affects the morale, motivation, productivity, and performance of workers as well as their success and interaction with other members of the organization. Diversity leadership is the management of diverse workforce. The world has become a global village thanks to technological advancements in telecommunication and mass transportation. Firms are now competing at a global level to seek new markets for their goods and services across the globe. Companies have become more diverse as they operate in culturally diverse global market and with diverse workforce. Diversity leadership or management has become an integral part of management so as to make good use of diverse workforce to gain competitiveness in the market. Recognizing workforce diversity is good for the organization, individuals and the society at large. This report is a reflection on diversity leadership and management in contemporary business environment.
Diversity is on the increase and having a diversified workforce is not by choice, but inevitable due to increasing population diversity, globalization, and business competition. The success of business organization in the current business climate depends heavily on its ability to manage workforce diversity. Most companies have so far acknowledged the value of workplace diversity and continue to underline team work to gain competitive advantage (Brewer, 1995). Today’s employees are aware of the moral and competitive advantage of diversity and strongly support and respect cultural diversity. Considerable progresses have been made on diversity management, but more needs be done to reach an ideal situation. An ideal situation is when everyone is treated equally in employment, career advancement and gets fair treatment in their places of work. This is yet to be fully realized even in the most renowned multicultural organizations.
In reality, most organizations in Europe and the United States continue to mistreat employees from minority groups on remuneration, job promotion, working conditions, hiring, and firing among others. Employees from minority groups continue to face challenges of racial discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping in some organizations. Many industries and organizations are spending huge amounts of resources in managing diverse workforce to create awareness and positive recognition of diversity. Investments in diversity programs are good; the returns are huge for those organizations that have embraced diversity. Diversity is becoming mandatory in the current global market. Workplace diversity allows the company to appreciate cultural customs and enable them to conduct global business. Most customers also prefer to be identified with people of their own culture and hence workforce diversity brings customers of diverse cultural backgrounds (Stockdale & Crosby, 2004). Compliance with legal requirement concerning such affirmative action and equal employment opportunities for all people regardless of their biological, political, cultural, and socio-economic differences has forced firms into embracing diversity. A number of organizations are still behind in embracing cultural diversity, which is a fact attributed to workplace discrimination on basis of skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliations, and so forth.
Issues of Diversity in Places of Work
Diversity issues are central in the contemporary global business environment. There are many issues affecting workplace diversity, ranging from biological, political, cultural, and socio-economic differences to communication problems among others. Discrimination is still detectable in most organizations on the basis of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. Some cases of discrimination are restrained and cannot be easily noticed unless confessed by employers themselves. Companies that hire employees only from certain demographic groups limit their chances to attract qualified candidates and new businesses. Companies that embrace diversity benefit from its advantages, which gives them competitive advantage in the market.
Religious Issues of Diversity
It is unlawful to discriminate employees on the basis of religion. This reduces not only their confidence and morale, but also their productivity. Most societies have a broad range of religious affiliations and beliefs. Religious diversity in the U.S comprises Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christianity, Sikh as well as other minority traditions. These differences in religion do not surface on day-to-day basis, but there are times when religious needs and convictions come to fore. Religious diversity impacts working environment and is becoming a prominent issue. Employers are therefore expected to be aware of and have adequate plans and policies to address those (Cash & Gray, 2000). Workplace harassment and dismissal on religious grounds, particularly for those who profess Sikh and Muslim faith, have risen sharply in the aftermath of the U.S. terrorist attack in September 2001. This is a confirmation of high level discrimination in organizations due to religious affiliations. Wearing religious attires such as headscarf by Muslim women at places of work has repercussions. Accommodating Muslim prayer times both in terms of breaks from work and space is also controversial. Sikh tradition has for years suffered from religious intolerance in places of work due to issues related to their untrimmed beards, carrying of ritual knife, and wearing of turbans. Rastafarians are also discriminated because of their religiously mandated dreadlocks. A discriminated person will obviously underperform and lack of religious diversity reduces workplaces diversity and hence its benefits to the organization. This and other factors are a clear indication of the magnitude of religious discrimination in employment and how it is adversely affecting workplace diversity and productivity of employees (Cash & Gray, 2000).
Racial Discrimination Issues of Workplace Diversity
Ethnic and racial discrimination in places of work have overt negative impacts on employees’ performance (Stockdale & Crosby, 2004). Oftentimes, racial discrimination is subtle and complex to detect, such as failure to employ or promote specific races or gender. Nonetheless, whether hidden or not, racial discrimination at places of work is unlawful and has adverse impacts on the organizational competitiveness. Legal measures are in place, but they have not changed people’s way of thinking. The problem lies with difficulties in detecting the menace, and most people are living and working oblivious of the existence of racial and ethnic discrimination. It is very unfortunate that the U.S.A, the most advanced nation in racial relationship, still records many victims of racial discrimination in workplaces every calendar year. Most racial discriminations are pinned down and leave no trace for suspicion; however, a look at hiring trends indicates the prevalence of racial discrimination in hiring process. Similarly, hiring and promoting a less qualified employee than an applicant or employee of another race indicates prevalence of racial discrimination in the workplace. In extreme cases, employers discriminate without even realizing it themselves. This is possible through unknowing institution of hiring and workplace policies, practices and tests that favor a certain race. Although it is illegal, intolerable and carries severe consequences, racial discrimination is still widespread in the U.S. and in Europe. It continues to have negative impact on workplace diversity limiting organizational competitiveness and benefits that come with diversity of workers.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Issues
Workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under federal laws for federal government employees. However, workplace discrimination is still not protected by federal law. More than half of the U.S. states have laws prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in places of work for employees in both public and private organizations. Discrimination on basis of sexual orientation entails differential treatment and harassment directed at (actual or people perceived to be) gays, lesbians, and bisexual or even heterosexual orientation. This entails being overlooked upon for employment and job promotion, baseless write-ups, and wrongful termination. Name calling and negative comments related to individual’s sexual orientation and frequent dating requests or sexual harassment. Gender identity discrimination issues are still common in some workplaces. State and local laws provide protection from discrimination based on gender identity. Some employment rights such as harassment, assault, privacy invasion, and wrongful termination could be used to protect one from being discriminated on gender identity. This form of discrimination limits workplace diversity and hence its benefits (Lubensky, Holland, Wiethoff & Crosby, 2004).
Diversity management entails using diverse human resources for the benefit of the company (Kossek & Lobel, 1996). It is managing workforce in a manner that maximizes potential advantages of their diversity while minimizing diversity disadvantages. It entails acknowledging the fact that people are different and then recognizing these differences as valuable to the organization. This improves the practice of good leadership and management by eliminating discrimination while promoting inclusiveness in the organization. Managing diversity is not anything new; it can be traced to ancient times. Historic colonizing empires like England, Spain, Portugal as well as modern nations like the United States, Japan, South Africa, and now emerging economies have for years managed their diversity effectively at institutional and individual dimensions, albeit for purposes of exclusion. Diversity has also been managed so well in various institutions such as schools, churches, corporations, communities, and businesses. In order to realize full potential, organizations and society need to shift attitudes from that of exclusion to that of inclusion (Probst, 2003). Managing diversity is a continuous process; it sets free talents and capabilities from a diverse population to the organization, community, and the society, creating an all inclusive environment. It maximizes the potential of the workforce, minimizes rejection on demographic foundation, and celebrates diversity in a cultural context in which everyone benefits.
Proper management of diversity provides distinct benefits to the organization in this era of globalization in which creativity and flexibility are keys to competitiveness. Most organizations are becoming creative and adaptive to diversity to meet the ever changing global market demands. Heterogeneous groups promote creativity; they provide better solution to problems and high level of analysis. Diversity is thus an important asset to the company and should never be treated as a liability. Proper management requires transformation of organizational culture to reflect the values of diverse workforce. This has created a multicultural organization that is inclusive, where no one group or individual is left out or discriminated on the basis of their biological, political, cultural, and socio-economic differences. Multiculturalism, which is the art of managing diversity, is very critical and is needed in the ever increasing cultural pluralism for effective management of diversity in organizations. This is because the pool of diverse population and workforces is here to stay and continues to increase. The future points to multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic organizations and communities. Effective leaders are keen to profit materially or otherwise from this diversity and have acknowledged and recognized them. This is what makes diversity management a topic of grand concern today to the leaders and anyone tasked with the responsibility of supervising the work of others. This style of management is meant to create a humane working environment where people from diverse experience and backgrounds are able to interact freely and appreciate one another.
Diversity management is easily adaptable and integrated into many different types of working situation and styles of leadership. Proper management of diversity has converted several hostile environments into a welcoming working environment where workers communicate freely and support each other regardless of their diversity (Kossek & Lobel, 1996). Effective execution of diversity management programs increases productivity and performance of employees and the organization as a whole. Talent development among workers is one of the main advantages of a strong diversity management program. In multicultural organizations where diversity management is advanced, employees are promoted on the basis of their performance and qualification, but not their biological, political, cultural, and socio-economic characteristics.
Diversity Management Strategies
Successful managers build a culture of tolerance using a number of strategies. Diversity management strategy aims at advancing and maintaining a positive workplace atmosphere. This strategy is normally initiated by human resource officers and managed by heads of departments and supervisors (Kossek & Lobel, 1996). An effective diversity management strategy is expected to enhance recognition and respect for the individual differences within the company workforce. The idea behind this style of leadership is to make employees be at ease with workplace diversity and appreciate their differences in terms of gender, age, race, and political affiliation or any other demographic aspects that are shared by everyone in the organization. Acceptance is the fundamental principle in the administration of workplace diversity. Getting employees into accepting that people are not alike is important in the management of workplace diversity. In this management style, employees are persuaded to accept that there are diverse values and interests as well as diverse emotional and physical characteristics in the workplace. Further, they also need to accept that this diversity does not in any way obstruct productivity or create conflict, but works out to promote the realization of goals and objectives of the company.
Many organizations have employed recruitment strategies targeting diverse applicants with skills and attitudes that can fit into diverse working environment. Recruitment strategies focusing on workforce diversification as well as policies and guidelines on staff conduct are designed to enhance workplace diversity. This provides channels and procedures to address grievances in the organization. Training of recruitment personnel is stressed to equip them with skills to analyze diversity gaps in the current workforce and select candidates that will fill these gaps. Effective training programs are on good behavior, conflict management, and cultural sensitivity for staff and management. These trainings promote good communication and tolerance to build a team that appreciates the value of diversity of skills, knowledge, and experience. Trainings reprogram employees into accepting that organizational success lies in diversity of its workforce. Periodic survey to obtain feedbacks from the management and staff is used as a monitoring and evaluation tool in diversity management. It measures the progress and employees’ satisfaction with workplace diversity, and highlights any discrepancies and conflicts of issues that need to be addressed. Teamwork and constant communication strategies across departments are used to improve workplace diversity. Hierarchical boundaries have been removed to heighten interaction between lower and senior management employees. Team building events, informal gatherings, and retreats are used to break down formal barriers, promote the morale of employees, improve interpersonal relationships, and cultivate a culture of inclusiveness (Loden, 1996).
Solutions to Workplace Diversity
Contemporary job seekers are attracted to a diverse workplace. It is thought that such employers have long-term commitment to hire, promote, and retain employees based on merit. Nonetheless, achieving workplace diversity is not limited to hiring workers of different race, ethnicity, gender, disability, and religious backgrounds. The real solution lies in aiding employees with community outreach programs, proper execution of diversity projects, and being respectful and hospitable to all employees. People are known to gravitate to businesses that relate to them, hence the more diverse a company is, the more similarities and commonalities exist between its employees and clients. It all starts by recognizing employee and business problems in the company. Assessing employees and business performance is the first step towards realizing workplace diversity.
Another solution lies in recruiting and promoting candidates on merit rather than gender and personality to promote workplace diversity. It results in a diverse workforce with people from different nationalities, color, abilities, gender, etc. Failing to promote a woman who is on maternity leave is unlawful just like failing to recruit a male secretary. This is what disconnects employees from the company and reduces their morale and productivity. A diversity plan is necessary as it provides details of every step, goals and objectives, strategies, programs, policies, and activities to attain and promote workplace diversity. Goals should include things like diverse hiring, benefits to employees, career growth, and fair promotion based on merit. GlobeSmart training program is commonly used to equip employees with knowledge on global cultures.
The company should also follow the law on workplace diversity and inclusiveness to avoid legal litigation that could erode its image and reputation in the market. This will save the cost of litigations and penalties for contravening the law on equality and fair treatment of every person. Mixing generations is encouraged to address generational gap and to ensure continuity. Some seasoned professionals have a bad view of young employees who are regarded as immature and unprepared to face workplace challenges. Having a mix of young and adult professionals enables employer to draw from the past and the present in making strategic decisions.
The Future of Workplace Diversity
The future of diversity management, its role and benefits to business and employees can be compared to that of information technology (IT). IT was initially seen as a mere cost reduction strategy 20 years back and was not whatsoever linked to driving business growth. IT has become a profit and efficiency center for virtually all business and non-commercial organizations. The same applies to diversity today, which is considered as a required cost for doing business. Diversity is critical to the success of business leaders and managers. Managers who ignore workplace diversity are doing it at their own peril and will be shocked in the near future. Some global leaders are already enjoying the benefits of diversity and teamwork. For instance, the success of IBM is attributed to great extent to team work diversity drawn from various countries of business operation. It focused on developing talents of its diverse workforce. Diversity brings in differences, which creates real opportunities for organizational exploitation (Brewer, 1995). I foresee rapid development and adoption of diversity in most organizations. Therefore, the perception and management of diversity in any organization today will greatly affect its long-term performance in the now competitive global market.
Human beings, particularly from minority groups, have for many years suffered from workplace discrimination on the basis of their biological, political, cultural, and socio-economic differences. This trend is changing as society moves to a situation where everyone will be treated on merit. Globalization has enhanced business competition forcing firms to move into interior territories in search of new markets for their products. This is possible by bringing people of diverse backgrounds on board to represent different backgrounds. Diversity is being embraced in most organizations to allow them to benefit from its advantages and also to comply with legal requirements. Much has been realized in regard to workplace diversity, but more efforts are still needed to achieve fully realized diversity management. There are many cases of employees’ discrimination even in giant multinational corporations; some are visible, others are not. Organizations will have no choice, but to embrace diversity if they want to succeed in this competitive global business environment. The future success and failure depend heavily on how business leaders are managing workplace diversity.