The increasing globalization has resulted in increased mobility of people around the world. This in turn has led to the creation of a culturally diverse workforce. Workers are no longer confined within a single country or region but are now part of the global economy competing with each other to secure the best jobs in best organizations (Amadeo, 2016). As a result, organizations have become quite diversified, with those that are yet to diversify seeking to do so in a bid to remain competitive. Within management literature, capitalizing and maximizing on workforce diversity has also become an important issue. According to Podsiadlowski et al (2013), research has shown the importance of organizational conditions that promote the benefits of diversity. They argue that the impact of diversification within an organization is largely determined by the organizational perspective on diversity. This paper explores this issue, with particular attention being on the benefits of diversity at the work place, the management of diversity at the workplace and the barriers to management of diversity at the workplace.
Benefits of Diversity at the Workplace
Diversity can be understood as acknowledging, valuing and accepting the differences that exist among people with respect to aspects such as race, age, ethnicity, disabilities, class to mention but a few (Kirton & Greene, 2015). Diversity occurs when differences in language, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation and even gender are represented within an organization (Amadeo, 2016). It has become important for organizations all over the world to embrace diversity at the workplace given its potential to yield greater competitive advantages and work productivity. This is because people from different cultural backgrounds have contrasting life experiences. These differences inherent in their life experiences has the potential to strengthen the workforce, but only if it is properly valued and integrated into the organizational dynamics (Kirton & Greene, 2015). With the number of people moving from different regions of the world to other new regions increasing, cultural diversity at the workplace is also expected to increase in the coming years. Given the ability of a diverse workforce to increase the competitiveness of a firm, managing diversity has become an important component of effective management of the workforce ( Podsiadlowski et al., 2013).
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The modern day workforce has become culturally diverse because of a number of factors, the most dominant one being demographic changes. These changes have made it necessary for organizations to re-structure their management practices and come up with new and more creative ways of managing people (Nelson & Quick, 2010). The increased number of women professionals in the labor market has made it necessary for firms to employ more women in different capacities and equal opportunity legislations have also forced companies to employ workers from social groups that have historically been segregated (Nelson & Quick, 2010). The dynamics at the workplace have also been changed by issues such as single-working mothers and dual-income families. Workplace practices have also been affected by globalization and advances in technology. All these factors have made managing diversity in organizations an important issue (Kirton & Greene, 2015).
Having a diverse workforce comes with a number of benefits one of them being that it places the organization at a better position to understand the diverse needs of different customers (Amadeo, 2016). Having culturally diverse employees means that a firm can easily interact with a broad customer base, using its employees to reach bases whose needs had never been taken into consideration (Kerby & Burns, 2017). Workers from diverse backgrounds also allow companies to access a wide range of individual talents and ideas. Such group of workers supply organizations with a greater variety of solutions to different organizational problems including allocation of resources, service as well as sourcing. Having a diverse workforce also translates into a broader collection of experiences and skills which makes it possible for organizations to offer a broader range of goods or services (Nelson & Quick, 2010). For instance, an organization employing workers who are able to speak different languages is able to provide its goods and services to a wide range of customers from different parts of the world.
Cultural diversity at the workplace also forms the basis of innovation. This is because workers from different backgrounds and with different working styles and experiences provide a perfect boiling pot for creative ideas and concepts (Kerby & Burns, 2017). With a diverse workforce, chances of creating an innovative and mores successful product are always high because of the diverse information about different markets such a workforce is able to share. Cultural diversity also plays an important role in minimizing employee turnover and absenteeism (Kirton & Greene, 2015). This is because workers are likely to feel more comfortable in a work environment where inclusivity is prioritized. An organization that employs workers from different cultural backgrounds shows the employees that it is committed to promoting equality, which in turn encourages the said employees to be confident about their skills and abilities (Kirton & Greene, 2015). Valuing diversity also allows organizations to attract a wide range of candidates to fill various job positions, a fact that helps companies grow their talent pool. Culturally diverse organizations appeal to a wide range of people from different walks of life which in turn increases the chances of such organizations landing highly talented and exceptional workers (Kerby & Burns, 2017).
Nelson and Quick (2010) state that a significant number of organizations have recognized the benefits of having a diverse workforce and are aggressively working towards having such as workforce. They give an example Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) which had set an objective of hiring and retaining female executives as well as those from minority groups. Nelson and Quick (2010) opine that managing diversity is one way through which organizations can improve their competitiveness. They point out that apart from helping companies attract and retain the best talents in the job market, cultural diversity also help companies improve on their marketing plans by drawing on the insights from the workers who have different cultural backgrounds. They also mention the fact that cultural diversity promotes innovation and creativity, pointing out that companies such as HP have in the past established teams of workers from different cultural backgrounds with the main objective of fostering creativity. Another benefit of cultural diversity at the workplace mentioned by Nelson and Quick (2010) is that it promotes organizational flexibility by making it possible for old assumptions to be challenged.
Managing Diversity at the Workplace
Patrick and Kumar (2012) opine that diversity management is a process that seeks to establish and sustain a positive work environment in which the differences as well as similarities among workers is valued. They point out workplace diversity literature has mainly focused on organizational culture and how it affects diversity openness, institutional environments and human resource practices. According to Patrick and Kumar (2012) successful management of diversity at the workplace can result in a more committed workforce that is more satisfied and productive. This in turn translates into better financial performance by firms. Booth, Robson, Welham, Bartlett & Fosters Solictors of Norwich Staff (2010), state that managing diverse employees involves many issues include acknowledging and abiding by the existing regulations. They report that the bulk of managing cultural diversity falls upon the Human Resource department of any given organization. Booth et al (2010) are of the view that to better manage a diverse workforce, HR managers need to have a broad based knowledge of employment law. In addition to that, they need to a good understanding of the current policies and procedures of their respective organizations and to establish working methods that address all aspects of employment including discrimination. Booth et al (2010) also point out that effective management of diversity requires HR managers to put in place a system that identifies and addresses any employee relations concern.
Milano (2012) states that effective management of a diverse workforce requires managers to keep an open mind, be alert to any discomfort among their employees and to be aware of cultural variations and be sensitive towards these variations. Milano (2012) advices managers to develop an interest in learning about the cultures their employees come from. She adds that reaching out to different employees, especially those who have just been hired, is the best strategy to managing a diverse workforce. On the other hand Kampf (2017) believes that proper diversity management involves release the diverse and rich potential of the entire workforce. He points out that a diverse workforce can be successfully managed by first defining the terms. This simply means that the organization has to establish its understanding of diversity and outline the aspects of diversity it will focus on such as age, race and gender. Apart from that, Kampf (2017) also mentions establishment of metrics, bringing together of resources and educating members of the organization as other steps that organizations must follow to effectively manage diversity.
Barak (2013) also discusses what successful management of a diverse workforce requires. They opine that creating a diverse and successful workforce requires managers to possess certain skills. According to Barak (2013) managers have to develop a deep understanding of discrimination and its impact on employees and the organization in order to effectively manage a diverse workforce. Additionally, the managers have to acknowledge and work on their personal cultural biases and prejudices. Barak (2013) also mentions the importance of communication in successful management of diversity at the workplace. They state that establishing an environment in which open communication is encouraged allows employees to air their grievances without fear.
In their analysis of generational differences at the workplace, Kapoor and Solomon (2011) state that for the first time ever, the modern day work environment is now made up of four different generations namely the traditionalists, baby-boomers, generation x and millennials. They add that each of the above generations is under the strong influence of the events of their times, a fact that poses a great challenge to management. To accommodate the diverse views and approaches to work held by members of the different generations, organizations have been compelled to make workplace adjustments. According to Kapoor and Solomon (2011) employers have the responsibility of ensuring that the separate characteristics of each generation are identified and that the employees are given the skills and information needed to gain an understanding of the generational characteristics of their colleagues at work. Kapoor and Solomon (2011) go a step further and mention some of the ways managers can ensure that employees appreciate the generational diversity at work. These includes enhancing communication, providing generational diversity training and establishing mentor training programs. The popular consensus among management scholars is that the management of diversity at the workplace should be part of organizational culture. This is because as the global population becomes increasingly homogeneous, it will be impossible for any single company to employ people who are strictly from one culture, gender, religion, age group and even race (Barak, 2013).
Barriers to the Management of Diversity at the Workplace
Managing diversity at the workplace is quite complex since it goes beyond just acknowledging the differences that exist among employees. It requires leaders of the organization to acknowledge the value of the differences among employees, discourage discrimination and at the same time promote inclusiveness and tolerance. However, successful management of diversity is often undermined by several factors including poor communication, resistance, stereotypes and prejudices, lack of mentors, challenges in balancing work and the family, discrimination as well as harassment.
Having a poor communication framework is a great barrier to management of a diverse workforce given the different communication approaches that the different groups of employees are used to. It is quite easy for employees to misunderstand what is being communicated by the management and even colleagues if the said employees are from different cultural and social backgrounds (Podsiadlowski et al., 2013).. Misunderstanding between a group of employees and management as well as among employees often results in poor office relationships that make it difficult for organizations with a diverse workforce to reap the benefits of having such a workforce. Cassidy and Kreitner (2009) argue that poor communication is probably the leading cause of conflict at the workplace. They are of the view that workplace communication usually breaks down due to failure of the people within the organization to share information. Employees or management may chose not to share information for a variety of reasons including assuming that the said information is not important to others or assuming that everyone is well familiar with the information in question (Barak, 2013). To overcome this barrier of poor communication as far as the management of a diverse workforce is concerned, managers need to encourage their workers to learn about each other and to get familiar with different communication methods.
Another barrier to the management of diversity at the workplace is resistance to diversity. Some group of employees do not believe in the benefits that a diverse workforce might bring to both the organization and those who work in it. As such, they might not treat a firm’s effort to have a diverse workforce with the seriousness it deserves. This type of behavior may result in slowing down of positive change and damaging of morale (Brief, 2008). Employees who are resistant to a firms efforts to diversify create an environment that is hostile to other groups of employees who are different from them. The problems of resistance to a diverse workforce can be addressed by allowing workers to attend diversity seminars and workshops, encouraging employees to freely interact with each other and organizing office retreats (Brief, 2008).
Stereotypes and Prejudice are other barriers to the management of a diverse workforce. Brief (2008) describes stereotypes as the categorical associations that perceivers make of certain group of people based on their memberships. This categorical associations include behaviors, traits and roles. On the other hand, he defines prejudice as the affect that result from intergroup perception. Stereotypes and prejudice often form the basis of discrimination which according to Brief (2008) is the perceiver behaviors that place one group of people at an advantage over others. Stereotypes and prejudice bring about implications of inferiority and superiority and are therefore destructive. In most organizations, Stereotypes and Prejudice have been found to affect non-traditional workers such as women, older workers and those with disabilities the most. It creates tension between the group of workers who perceive themselves to be superior and those who are perceived to be inferior, making it difficult for employees to collaboratively work towards achieving organizational goals (Podsiadlowski et al., 2013). Managers can address this problem by conducting diversity education during which workers should be allowed to reflect on the prejudices and stereotypes they have ever experienced. This way, employees will be able to recognize the origins and contexts of stereotypes and prejudices and work towards avoiding the same (Brief, 2008).
Effective management of workplace diversity is also hindered by harassment. Despite the many changes that have occurred at the workplace over the years, harassment remains one of the main key challenges. It occurs in many different forms, both obvious and subtle (Barak, 2013). Sexual harassment has emerged as one of the most dominant forms of harassment at the workplace. Apart from affecting the productivity of employees, harassment also comes with extra costs in terms of litigation and settlement. Harassment cases, when brought forward, often creates tension among employees and even between management and employees who might feel that the said cases have not been handled properly (Podsiadlowski et al., 2013).. A workplace environment that condones harassment does not support the formation of high-performance work teams and therefore makes it hard for managers to successfully manage a diverse workforce (Podsiadlowski et al., 2013)..
Difficulties in striking a balance between work and family is another significant barrier to managing diversity at the workplace. This is especially the case for women, many of whom have been forced to quit their jobs to focus on family responsibilities such as taking care of children. This has significantly limited the contribution of many skilled and talented women in the job market, with many organizations having a significantly higher number of male employees compared to female employees (Barak, 2013). Lack of role of models and mentors is also an important barrier to the management of workplace diversity. This refers to people from marginalized groups who have been able to succeed in areas that were previously not reserved for them. Mentors are quite important for groups such as women, those with disabilities and people of color who have historically been subjected to discrimination and isolation at the workplace. Through mentorship, such groups of employees get motivated to work extra-hard to become meaningful members of their respective organizations even in face of the many challenges they might be facing at the workplace. Absence of mentoring for vulnerable groups of workers such as women and individuals with disabilities predisposes them to poor career decisions that make it even more difficult for diversity at the workplace to be managed (Brief, 2008).
The world has significantly changed over the past decades and this is reflected in the contemporary workforce which has become diverse. Workers are no longer confined within a single country or region but are now part of the global economy competing with each other to secure the best jobs in best organizations, organizations have become quite diversified as a result, with those that are yet to diversify seeking to do so in a bid to remain competitive. Diversity occurs when differences in language, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation and even gender are represented within an organization . It has become important for organizations all over the world to embrace diversity at the workplace given its potential to yield greater competitive advantages and work productivity. Diversity at the workplace comes with a number of benefits including helping companies attract and retain the best talents in the job market. Additionally, cultural diversity helps companies improve on their marketing plans by drawing on the insights from the workers who have different cultural backgrounds and forms the basis of innovation and creativity. However, managing a diverse workforce is not an easy task given the many barriers to management of diversity. These barriers include poor communication, resistance, stereotypes and prejudices, lack of mentors, challenges in balancing work and the family, discrimination as well as harassment.
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