Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Diversity

Diversity is a word that can mean many things in the workplace. It can refer to racial background, gender, sexual orientation, age, religious beliefs, etc. However, diversity is more than just numbers from differing backgrounds. The world (and the United State of America) is diverse and full of people with different backgrounds and experiences. Organizations are seeking to reflect this diversity to strengthen their own organizations internally and to also better understand the external world so that they can compete better.

Not surprisingly, a lot has been written on this topic in scholarly literature. A search of the database WilsonSelect in October 2006 returns 8,349 hits on the term diversity. While not all deal directly with the idea of diversity in the workforce, most do. There are a variety of issues evident in this literature. Three themes in particular stand out. These include the importance of diversity, hiring for diversity, and diversity training. All three of these issues will be examined through the theoretical framework of contingency (middle range) theory. This theory holds that management is relative to the situation at hand and is not fixed. It also postulates that the manager must be reactive and come to correct decisions based on environmental scanning. As diversity is often dependent on defining definitions, this seems an apt way to consider some of the literature from the field.

Importance of Diversity

Of course, the whole issue of diversity is moot if this is not an area of concern for organizations. The questions remains, is addressing diversity is an organization an important issue? The literature would seem to answer with a resounding yes. It is very difficult to find anyone actually arguing that diversity is not a worthwhile goal for society at large or for any particular organization.

Eyring (2006) wrote that the international marketplace, diversity, and the rise of offshoring combine to underscore the importance of understanding different cultures. She provided advice on how to attain success in the international business arena by focusing on international customs and etiquette. It is easy to see how this advice could be translated in ways that could help internally change an organization to make it more diverse as well.

The advice that Eyring provides ranges from understanding differing organizational cultures in different countries to understanding different greetings. The key to this is in the flexibility of the manager. There is no right way to go about doing business. It will vary from country to country and region to region. Hence, the manager must be willing to adjust management styles to accommodate diversity differences both internationally and also within the organization.

Looking at an organization that has failed to embrace diversity can also help to understand the importance of diversity. Fitzpatrick (1997) examined the case of Texaco from the 90s and how a failure to make diversity a priority hurt Texaco’s business. Due to insensitive comments (and a failure to hire a diverse leadership) Texaco was boycotted nationally and had its stock lose value. Fitzpatrick then listed some ideas for making diversity important in an organization.

Fitzpatrick (1997) wrote, “By placing the goal of leadership diversity at the top of the corporate agenda, business leaders can realize many advantages; they will be able to attract an increasingly competent leadership pool and they'll be prepared for the sweeping demographic changes occurring in the national and international business arenas. By tapping into the underutilized skills, perspectives, and experiences of women, minorities and foreign nationals, they're far more effective than their competitors in mastering the complex demands that surround them. Their human resource systems and processes will be on a par with their operational and financial systems and processes, making them potential sources of added value and competitive advantage” (p. 119).

As the population of the United States has changed, so has the workforce. This brings diversity to the forefront for organizations as they need to reflect this in their hiring and marketing efforts. Lien (2004) noted that the American labor pool continues to see increasing diversity. Minorities continue to increase their shares of the labor force, with the rates of growth for these groups expected to be faster than the rate for whites. Helping this trend have been equal-opportunity laws and the realization of organizations of the value of having a staff resembling the composition of the population. Lien examined three occupations (nurses, teachers, and lawyers) to describe how diversity is a benefit at work. Lien’s article again shows reasons why managers may benefit from a contingency approach to diversity. Not all occupations have the same pool of diversity available. How can they then take advantage of any diversity opportunities that certain occupations or regions may offer them?

Hiring for Diversity

Many writers have bee keen on exploring how diversity hiring practices can help an organization become stronger. Diversity is not always the easiest task. In many occupations, there may be a shortage of diversity in the labor pool. In other occupations, a gender considered a diversity hire in one profession may not be one in another. Is hiring a man to be an elementary teacher diversity hire? After all, women dominate this field. Yet, men tend to dominant the majority of professional occupations. Hiring for diversity can be tricky and many authors are reflecting this idea.

Libraries are one area that are having problems hiring a diverse workforce. Gandhi (2000) presented an overview in which she describes the issue of diversity in recruiting for librarians and why it is important. She reviewed demographic information showing that librarians did not reflect the ethnic distribution of the United States of America. She also examined why culturally diversity is important, what libraries were doing to attract more diverse librarians, what impact these efforts were having, and what minority librarians thought about these efforts.

Gandhi (2000) wrote, “It is imperative for libraries in the United States to enhance cultural diversity both in the development of collections and human resources. Without a major effort in this direction libraries may not be able to fulfill their mandate of providing service to all. As we move towards the new millennium and population patterns shift to create a multiethnic society, libraries will also have to change to meet the demands of this new society” (p. 64).

Higher education institutions are having trouble hiring a diverse faculty. What success academics have had is often due to affirmative action according to Smith (2004). Using data obtained from 689 searches from three large public research universities, the Smith examined the use of diversity indicators or special-hiring interventions and whether these explain most of the hiring of underrepresented faculty members of color. Smith concluded this was true based on the data. In addition, he also outlined the implications of the results for institutional policy and practice.

Both Gandhi (2000) and Smith (2004) demonstrate how managers need to be aware of what works in hiring for diversity. The same approach may not work each time. The manager will need to be flexible and respond to varying situations to be successful in this area.

Diversity Training

Once a diverse workforce has been attained, keeping it that way is hard. Many employees may be ignorant of how they should actually behave in a diverse environment. If this is not corrected, it could lead to lawsuits and needless turnover. Again, flexibility on approaches is important for managers.

Haines and Sumner (2006) wrote that diversity training could make a difference in diversity awareness. They noted latency-based measurements that quantified attitudes, stereotypes, and self-concepts. The routine inclusion of diversity training in organizations can inform practice by better predicting behavior in diversity situations. Hence, it is worthwhile for managers to regularly include diversity training in the workplace.

Eckloff (2006) wrote about how sociodrama (an action-based therapeutic practice) could be used to solve group problems. He noted that the aims of the practice are an increase in participants' knowledge about their own and other people's roles in relation to the situation, and an emotional release or catharsis as people express their feelings about the subject. This could then be use to explore the feelings people in an organization have about diversity issues and help to train them to deal the issues in a positive manner. . Eckloff also outlined the different stages of the technique.

Training is important but it needs to be integrated into an organizations culture. Vallario (2006) wrote how organizations can increase their chances of succeeding in a global economy by incorporating diversity programs into their business strategies and priorities. Vallario wrote, “Diversity policies are most effective when they are solidly integrated throughout an organization through executive leadership, ongoing and support, and training accountability” (p. 52).

Conclusion

Diversity is a large issue impacting most organizations. It is a multi-faceted issue with many important sub aspects which include the importance of diversity, hiring for it, and training staff to accept and deal with it. As contingency theory would predict, these issues require a manager to be flexible and engage in extensive environmental scanning to pick the best course of action.

References

Eckloff, M. (2006). Using sociodrama to improve communication and understanding. Etc. 63(3), 259-69

Eyring, P. (2006). Broadening global awareness. T+D 60(7), 69-71.

Fitzpatrick, B. (1997). Make the business case for diversity. HRMagazine 42, 118-20+

Gandhi, S. (2000.) Cultural diversity and libraries: Reaching the goal. Current studies in librarianship, 24(1/2), 55-65.

Haines, E. & Sumner, K. (2006). Implicit measurement of attitudes, stereotypes, and self- concepts in organizations: Teaching old dogmas new tricks. Organizational research methods 9(4) 536-554.

Lien, M. (2004). Workforce diversity. Occupational outlook quarterly 48(2), 28-37.

Smith, D. (2004). Interrupting the usual: Successful strategies for hiring diverse faculty. Journal of Higher Education 75(2), 133-60.

Vallario, C. (2006). Creating an environment for global diversity. Financial executive 22(3), 50-2.

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