Diversity Essay

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In contrast  to the equal opportunities stance, there is a growing  body of work  related  to  the  need  to manage what has become known as diversity in the workplace—to be responsible for and sensitive to the different types of individuals who make up an organization. Gender is an important topic in diversity, as are race, ethnicity, class, disability, and HIV status, as well as other issues less prominent in the equal opportunities literature, such as personality, value systems, working style, religion, lifestyle, education  level, and so on. As Patricia  Arredondo  points  out,  the  idea of managing diversity refers to a strategic organizational approach to workforce diversity development, organizational   culture  change,  and  empowerment of the workforce. It represents  a shift away from the activities and assumptions  defined by affirmative action (an equal opportunities tactic involving positive discrimination)   to  management practices  that are inclusive, reflecting the workforce diversity and it potential. Ideally it is a pragmatic approach in which participants  anticipate  and plan for change, do not fear human differences or perceive them as a threat, and view the workforce as a forum  for individuals’ growth  and change  in skills and performance  with direct cost benefits to the organization.

Managing  diversity means  establishing  a heterogeneous workforce to perform  to its potential  in an equitable  work  environment where  no  member  or group of members  have an advantage or a disadvantage. Managing diversity includes a process of creating and maintaining an environment that naturally allows all individuals to reach their full potential  in pursuit of organizational  objectives. Diversity management emphasizes  building specific skills, creating  policies and  drafting  practices  that  get the  best from every employee. It assumes a coherent environment in organizations and aims for effectiveness, productivity, and ultimately competitive advantage targeting everyone within an organization, as opposed to focusing simply on less-represented groups such as women or people of color.  Through  effective integration   of diversity management  principles  in the  key human  resource functions  of recruitment and selection, training  and development, performance  appraisal, and remuneration,  an organization  can  effectively manage  workforce diversity.

However, traditional organizational imperatives may drive decision makers away from an affinity toward or an awareness  of diversity training  initiatives. Highly bureaucratic  and mechanistic  organizations  have traditionally thrived on sameness. The principles of management in the past were generally seen as being based on the concepts of standardization and homogeneity. According to R. M. Kanter, the desire for social certainty causes decision makers to prefer to work with individuals that they perceive to be similar, revealing an unspoken, and perhaps even unconscious, drive to maintain  traditional  demographics  in the  workplace and to accept diversity only in the shallowest of terms.

Moreover, the need for control and the ways in which managers achieve control in the workplace are still seen as being based on standardization of work outcomes, work  processes,  or  skills. However,  while managers may experience a need for control, this is also accompanied by a need to perform and achieve results. Building a business case for diversity is likely to be one of the most persuasive ways of promoting  and encouraging diversity across occupations and hierarchical levels.

Training

Although  organizations  are using a broad  range  of initiatives in their efforts to manage diversity, training is one of the most widely used strategies in effectively managing diversity in the workplace. Diversity training has been categorized in different ways. One perspective, according to P. Nemetz and S. Christensen, looks at four different  classifications: (1) sensitivity training, (2) dissonance creation, (3) cultural awareness, and (4) legal awareness.

Sensitivity training is designed to sensitize individuals to feelings provoked by discrimination.  Content tactics include separating individuals by characteristics like eye color and then arbitrarily discriminating against a group to illustrate the underlying belief that all individuals are hurt by discrimination.  For example, men are separated from women, and women are empowered  through  role-playing  to sexually harass men. This strategy is used to illustrate the belief that men victimize women.

The dissonance creation approach is based on purposely creating  cognitive dissonance  with the  hope that  the target  audience  will resolve inconsistencies by changing attitudes  and ultimately behaviors. Tactics range from requiring  an individual who exhibits initial prejudice to write an essay showing the absurdities of stereotyping to requiring an individual who shows initial prejudice to debate in favor of the idea that the dominant group is oppressive.

Cultural awareness training provides an exploration of cultural differences. Tactics range from discussing stereotypes and unintentional slights to building consensus on ways to avoid stereotyping. Cultural awareness training  also separates  the oppressed  from the oppressive while encouraging  the former  to express their feelings to the latter.

Finally, legal awareness training is based on explaining discrimination laws. Content  includes describing various activities that  violate the law with an explanation of the consequences  of the violation. Content also includes discussing unfairness  and bias in laws and  the  injustice  present  in white-male  dominated justice systems.

A second  perspective,  according  to  M.  Gentile, identifies five categories  of diversity training.  These include: (1) introduction to diversity, (2) focused awareness, (3) skill building, (4) sexual or other forms of harassment,  and (5) integrated diversity training.

The first category, introductory training,  usually includes the presentation of demographic statistics, a brief overview of historical approaches to diversity in organizations,  descriptions  of distinctions  between affirmative action and valuing diversity, provision for basic self-awareness building, and exercises to help individuals see ways in which they may unconsciously harbor  and act upon  various stereotypes.  The purpose of this type of program  is to begin to develop a shared definition and vocabulary around  diversity, to share the organization’s rationale  and goals, and to create a sense of positive interest  in further  individual training.

The second  type of training  is in-depth,  focused awareness   development.   These  programs   feature more  individual and small group  interactions.  They pursue an understanding of the nature, functions, and prevalence of various stereotypes in the organizational setting. Sometimes they focus on race, gender, or particular ethnic groups. The purpose of these programs is to expand individual understanding as a means to changing behavior in relation to other employees and those in the business environment.

A third type of training is the skill building workshop. It is increasingly recognized that specific competencies  and skills are necessary in order  to work successfully as members  of a diverse group. People who are not  equipped  with these  skills will be less able to develop the integrating  group processes that are characteristic  of highly effective diverse groups. This type of training  workshop is designed to teach specific communication skills such as listening across differences, conflict resolution, interviewing, and mentoring with an emphasis on the ways gender, race, culture, or other differences may affect the process.

These skills could in turn be based on the existence of some  key preconditions: A shared  social reality between group members; ability to “decenter” or to consider viewpoints that may differ from one’s own; motivation  to communicate;  ability to negotiate  and endorse contracts  of behavior and ability to attribute difficulties appropriately.  Developing people’s abilities to create such preconditions might form the basis of a competence and skills based training program.

Another  training  technique  in this  category  targets the workshop for specific minority groups within an organization.  For example, some companies have developed programs for middle-management-level women  who are trying to counteract the  effects of the perceived “glass ceiling.” This type of program can have a negative impact  if members  of the  targeted group are perceived as being less prepared  than others to advance within the organization  or if the targeted group is perceived as getting special assistance or attention.  Some organizations  have avoided these problems  by having members  of the targeted  group develop these workshops for other members as a function of a special support network.

A fourth type of training is the workshop on sexual or other  forms of harassment.  Such programs  usually focus on communicating the legal definition  of harassment  and the organization’s policies and practices for dealing with such occurrences.  Sometimes these efforts provide discussion where conflicting feelings and concerns about the definition of harassment can be aired.

Diversity training can also be provided in the form of integrated  diversity training. Such programs  integrate appropriate  diversity issues into the course of pre-existing and new training efforts that target specific functional skills or business goals. For example, in customer  service training programs the particular challenges and opportunities of serving a diverse customer base can be introduced.

Finally, some  of the  goals frequently  mentioned by the  experts  related  to  increasing  organizational effectiveness include connecting  the diversity training to the organization’s strategic goals; and improving organizational culture. According to diversity experts, an organizational climate that emphasizes fairness and equity and promotes  trust, respect, and understanding among all employees motivates  individuals to maximize their individual performance and contributions to  an  organization’s profitability  and competitive edge.

Bibliography:

  1. Adler, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (Thomson  Learning, 2002);
  2. Arredondo, Successful Diversity Management Initiatives (Sage, 1996);
  3. John Bank, Managing Workforce Diversity (PrenticeHall, 2005);
  4. J. Davidson and C. L. Cooper, Shattering the Glass Ceiling: The Woman Manager (Paul Chapman, 1992);
  5. Mary C. Gentile, Managing Diversity (Harvard  Business School Press, 1995);
  6. Carol P. Harvey and M. June Allard, Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises (Pearson  Prentice  Hall, 2009);
  7. Alison Konrad, Pushkala Prasad, and Judith K. Pringle, The Handbook of Workplace Diversity (Sage, 2006);
  8. Joan Marques,  “Workplace Diversity: Developing a Win-Win-Win Strategy,” Development and Learning in Organizations (v.22/5, 2008);
  9. Michàlle E. Mor-Barak, Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace (Sage, 2005);
  10. Carole Spiers, “The Business Benefits of Diversity,” Management Services (v.52/2, Summer 2008).

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