Successful Management of a Diverse WorkforceBeing successful at managing workforce diversity involves attracting and retaining the highest quality individuals in the talent pool.
For managers it means learning how to manage human potential sensitively. It requires an ever-increasing awareness of how people from different backgrounds deal with authority, communication, overall business etiquette, and relate to their communities of affiliation. Successful management of workforce diversity is a process that takes place in many stages and on many levels. It requires managers to first recruit a competent and qualified staff, then to accommodate individual needs within the context of the work team and the organization. However, the key to successfully building a diverse, high-quality workforce for tomorrow begins with a strong leadership commitment and knowledge of where the organization is today. Moreover, experience has demonstrated that successful diversity initiatives depend on positioning the organization first.
(Department of Personnel Management, 2002) Diversity Initiatives: What They Are.A “diversity initiative” is a company’s strategic response to diversity. The initiative looks at the company’s needs in the area of diversity and responds with a strategically aligned approach. The initiative should have a long-term focus, as well as very specific goals and objectives. It should also be easily measurable and tied to the organization’s overall business strategy. In terms of implementing the initiative, the entire organization – from the top down – should be held accountable.
(U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2004)Once the vision has been developed, the organization should then develop a diversity plan.
The plan outlines the goals and objectives for diversity. Many companies see fit to appoint a diversity committee, comprised of a wide variety of people and perspectives, to help implement the plan. The plan may call for training on diversity, enhancing recruiting efforts to attract and retain women and people of color, or looking at succession planning, among other issues. Leading a Diverse WorkforceToday we are more likely to encounter, interact with, work with, report to, or manage numerous individuals of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, belief systems, and cultures.
While we all may have the same values, the levels, degrees, and mixtures may differ and change over time. Thus, diversity remains a prominent topic in government agencies, corporations, schools, and communities. Diversity is not an initiative, trend, or program. It is not tolerance, but acceptance. Diversity is a new reality, and failure to understand, value, and accept diversity can adversely affect an organization. Erroneous AssumptionsDiversity is emerging as a major issue in the workplace today, yet most employers are not prepared to deal with it.
Nor are their managers. Many managers grew up having little contact with other cultures. They are actually “culturally deprived,” and their academic training did not cover the kinds of situations that arise in today’s multicultural settings. (Copeland, 2004.)Most traditional models of human behavior and management methods – as well as many of the recommendations in bestsellers such as The One-Minute Manager and In Search of Excellence – are based on implicit assumptions of a standardized white male workforce.
The most widely taught theories of motivation mirror the white male’s own experience and attitudes. Some of those methods can be startlingly counterproductive when applied to women or to blacks, Asians, Hispanics, or American Indians. HR specialist, Lennie Copeland (2004) cited the following examples (p143):A manager, thrilled with a new technique developed by one of his American Indian employees, rewarded her with great fanfare and congratulations in front of her peers – just as the management books suggest. Humiliated, she didn’t return to work for three weeks.
After learning that a friendly pat on the arm or back would make workers feel good and motivated, a manager took every chance to pat his subordinates. His Asian employees, who were uncomfortable being touched, avoided him like the plague. Several asked for transfers. (If he had treated female employees this way, he could have had other problems on his hands.) Concerned about ethics, a manager declined a gift offered him by a new employee, an immigrant who wanted to show gratitude for her job.
He explained the company’s policy about gifts. She was so insulted she quit. In a similar situation, a new employee’s wife (an Eastern European) stopped by the office with a bottle of champagne, fully expecting everyone present to stop and celebrate her husband’s new job. When people said “hello” and returned to work, she was mortified. Her husband quit within a few days. Some organizations are taking aggressive steps to meet the demographic challenges of the future, appointing specialists to manage multicultural planning and workforce diversity.
What Every Manager Needs to KnowAuthors, Stoner, C., ; Russell-Chapin, L (1997) believe if managers are to be trained to value diversity – to go beyond offering equal employment opportunity and manage in a way designed to employ the benefits that differences bring – what do they actually need to learn, and what barriers must they overcome? EEO and human resources development professionals agree on four major problem areas that need attention: 1) stereotypes and their associated assumptions; 2) actual cultural differences; 3) the exclusivity of the “white male club” and its associated access to important information and relationships; and 4) unwritten rules and double standards for success, which are often unknown to women and minorities.a. Stereotypes and assumptions. Some experts say stereotypes are not necessarily bad – it’s what we do with them.
I disagree. Stereotypes are bad because they are so powerfully effective in preventing differentiated thinking about people who belong to the stereotyped group. By definition, “A stereotype is an exaggerated belief associated with a category.” (Webster’s II, 1984) The function of stereotyping is to justify (rationalize) our conduct in relation to a particular category.Stereotypes hurt individuals when invalid conclusions are reached about them, and when those conclusions remain untested and unchanged.
Take this scenario: A white male manager walks through the office, passing two black men talking at the water cooler. He is slightly irritated. Why are they standing there wasting time? A moment later he passes two women coming out of the ladies’ room talking. He wonders what they are gossiping about and hopes they get back to work quickly.
He comes upon two white men leaning on the walls of a cubicle, also talking. He thinks nothing of it.What are his assumptions? The women and minorities are “goofing off,” but the white men are talking business. Since he hasn’t really listened to the conversations, he doesn’t realize that the women and the black men were talking business while the white men happened to be talking about their children. Instead, his misinterpretation of what he saw will only strengthen his bias that women and minorities don’t work hard enough.Even when an individual seems to fit a stereotype, it’s important to analyze all the assumptions that are being made. For example, take an Asian engineer who is quiet, modest and hard working.
Because he avoids eye contact and doesn’t speak out in brainstorming sessions, his boss concludes that he’s a good technician but lacks management skills when evaluating him for a promotion.It’s entirely possible that the white manager fails to realize that the Asian has successfully (if indirectly) led many of his team’s projects for some time. He could be coached in areas where he is lacking, as a white candidate would be. And what about the criteria the boss is using to define “management skills”? Is aggression really needed, or might intelligence, persistence and the ability to foster group collaboration be equally or more effective in getting to the same goal? Managing a diverse workforce requires managers to learn new ways to recognize talent. This means laying aside some assumptions and looking beyond style to the actual results.b.
Cultural differences. These affect the values that people bring to the workplace. Different people feel differently about their roles in an organization, how they can make a contribution and how they want to be recognized for their efforts.What motivates one worker might completely inhibit another – for example, rewarding people who don’t like to be touched with pats on the back, or publicly recognizing people who don’t like to be isolated from the group. Workers unintentionally humiliated in this manner may become less productive. Then, typically, the manager who made the mistake will fall back on stereotypes to explain an employee’s disappointing behavior: “Well, what can you expect, Hispanics are like that.
“In some multicultural workplaces, many diverse people work side by side: Cambodians, Chinese, Koreans, Salvadoreans, Mexicans, Peruvians and so on. Managers in these mixed settings may ask, with some panic, “How can I possibly learn everything there is to know about all cultures?” But the more you know, the better able you will be to do your job. If you don’t understand and value your employees, how can you hope to motivate and supervise them?c. Membership. Relationships are central to achievement, and being a member of the “club” is as important as hard work and competence. When a man and a woman (or minority) are competing for a promotion, the decision- maker may be heard to say, “I just don’t know Mary as well as Bob.
” People in the mainstream fail to include those who are different, and thus exclude them from important information and relationships.Women and minorities complain that they must prove themselves while white men automatically assume membership in the club. They are kept in training too long, given just one more assignment, one more test. White men are given promotional opportunities sooner under the assumption that they will rise to the occasion. The catch-22 is that when people are not given challenging assignments, they never have the chance to learn by experience or to develop the track record that will reduce others’ feelings of risk about them.Managers impede their own people this way.
They need to learn to make deliberate efforts to include people in work-related and social events. Managing a diverse workforce requires conscious team building, networking, and mentoring.d. Unwritten rules.
Each organization has its own culture, and that culture reflects attitudes about what is important, how the organization does its work, how employees are to behave, and how they are to be rewarded. In most companies, the values are based in European traditions, not because these ways are better than others, but because the organization reflects the values of the people who control it. It is important for all employees to know what those values are because they define the ground rules for success.
Many of the rules are explicit, even written. In most, however, the rules are ambiguous, unwritten and may be completely inconsistent with written policy. Because so many managers are only subconsciously aware of the rules and double standards, they need to learn to identify their organization’s culture and rules, and how to pass on that information to women and minorities. This means providing all employees with what they need to know about career advancement, communication, leadership, management, organizational culture, power, networking, interpersonal skills, and all the other unwritten rules, norms, and cues for success.A Two-Way StreetMany people expect women, minorities and others outside the mainstream to do all the adapting.
But it has to be a two-way street. While women and minorities must perform, build relationships, learn the rules and work to become members of the club, managers must share the rules, invite people into the club, accommodate cultural differences, create climates that support diversity, and establish systems that enable different types of employees to succeed.SummaryRecognizing the importance of leadership diversity is only the first step.
No change will occur unless an effective strategy is developed for achieving inclusion through a commitment to diversity at all levels of the workforce, especially at the senior management levels, where it is most strategically important and least in evidence. Organizations need to recognize the need for providing training and socialization opportunities that employees are not exposed to in other areas of their lives. Organizations need to demonstrate their commitment to inclusion in every policy, procedure, initiative, business practice, and decision. Plenty of companies have given lip service to the idea of managing a diverse workforce, but end up with few changes because they have failed to establish accountability. Making sure you have the right balance in your workforce at all levels is something you have to measure and you have to target just like you do profits.In order to realize the benefits of successfully leading a diverse workforce, both leaders and employees must accept their responsibility in understanding one another’s diversity.
Leaders need to be proactive about learning from diversity and committed to establishing a climate of openness, equity, tolerance, and, most important, inclusion. Leaders need to demonstrate excellent communication, facilitation, and team building skills. Leaders need to possess understanding, humor, honesty, and integrity. ConclusionThe data of the 2003 census removed any lingering doubts about both the “if” and “when” of dramatic shifts in the demographics of the US. The current white majority is aging. The next and future generations will reflect a very different world. This changing demographic landscape is demonstrated in the dramatic increase in the number of same-sex households, an increase in the number of Americans identifying themselves as multi-racial, and the fact that Latinos now surpass African Americans as the largest minority segment.
The census data reveals that by 2008, nearly half of all the nation’s new workers will be individuals traditionally classified as minorities; i.e. women, people of color, and ethnic minorities (US Census Bureau, 2003). The process of managing a diverse workforce is time consuming and requires careful coordination and consistent application. Yet, establishing a culture that truly values and creatively manages diversity is critical as organizations attempt to attract, motivate, and retain employees from a workforce that is growing in variety and complexity. American business will not be able to survive if we do not have a large diverse workforce, because those are the demographics.
The company that gets out in front of managing diversity will have a competitive edge.ReferencesStoner, C., & Russell-Chapin, L (1997).
Creating a culture of diversity management: moving from awareness to action. University of California. Retrieved April 8, 2005 from University of Phoenix, InfoTrac Copeland, L. (2004).
Valuing Diversity training series. Reprinted with permission from the NOAA Training manual, Silver Spring, MD.U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). (2000, June).
Building and Maintaining a Diverse and High Quality Workforce. Retrieved April 7, 2005 from: http://www.opm.gov/Diversity/guide.htm U.S. Census Bureau (2003).
2003 American Community Survey data. Retrieved April 10, 2005 from: http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ACSSAFFPeople?_event=&geo_id=01000US&_geoContext=01000US&_street=&_county=&_cityTown=&_state=&_zip=&_lang=en&_sse=on&ActiveGeoDiv=&_useEV=