The Challenges of Workplace Diversity Management

58 responses

By Alvin Chan

Introduction

The role of the Human Resource Manager is evolving with the change in competitive market environment and the realization that Human Resource Management must play a more strategic role in the success of an organization. Organizations that do not put their emphasis on attracting and retaining talents may find themselves in dire consequences, as their competitors may be outplaying them in the strategic employment of their human resources.

With the increase in competition, locally or globally, organizations must become more adaptable, resilient, agile, and customer-focused to succeed. And within this change in environment, the HR professional has to evolve to become a strategic partner, an employee sponsor or advocate, and a change mentor within the organization. In order to succeed, HR must be a business driven function with a thorough understanding of the organization’s big picture and be able to influence key decisions and policies. In general, the focus of today’s HR Manager is on strategic personnel retention and talents development. HR professionals will be coaches, counselors, mentors, and succession planners to help motivate organization’s members and their loyalty. The HR manager will also promote and fight for values, ethics, beliefs, and spirituality within their organizations, especially in the management of workplace diversity.

This paper will highlight on how a HR manager can meet the challenges of workplace diversity, how to motivate employees through gain-sharing and executive information system through proper planning, organizing, leading and controlling their human resources.


Workplace Diversity

According to Thomas (1992), dimensions of workplace diversity include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, parental status, and work experience.


The Challenges of Workplace Diversity

The future success of any organizations relies on the ability to manage a diverse body of talent that can bring innovative ideas, perspectives and views to their work. The challenge and problems faced of workplace diversity can be turned into a strategic organizational asset if an organization is able to capitalize on this melting pot of diverse talents. With the mixture of talents of diverse cultural backgrounds, genders, ages and lifestyles, an organization can respond to business opportunities more rapidly and creatively, especially in the global arena (Cox, 1993), which must be one of the important organizational goals to be attained. More importantly, if the organizational environment does not support diversity broadly, one risks losing talent to competitors.

This is especially true for multinational companies (MNCs) who have operations on a global scale and employ people of different countries, ethical and cultural backgrounds. Thus, a HR manager needs to be mindful and may employ a ‘Think Global, Act Local’ approach in most circumstances. The challenge of workplace diversity is also prevalent amongst Singapore’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). With a population of only four million people and the nation’s strive towards high technology and knowledge-based economy; foreign talents are lured to share their expertise in these areas. Thus, many local HR managers have to undergo cultural-based Human Resource Management training to further their abilities to motivate a group of professional that are highly qualified but culturally diverse. Furthermore, the HR professional must assure the local professionals that these foreign talents are not a threat to their career advancement (Toh, 1993). In many ways, the effectiveness of workplace diversity management is dependent on the skilful balancing act of the HR manager.

One of the main reasons for ineffective workplace diversity management is the predisposition to pigeonhole employees, placing them in a different silo based on their diversity profile (Thomas, 1992). In the real world, diversity cannot be easily categorized and those organizations that respond to human complexity by leveraging the talents of a broad workforce will be the most effective in growing their businesses and their customer base.


The Management of Workplace Diversity

In order to effectively manage workplace diversity, Cox (1993) suggests that a HR Manager needs to change from an ethnocentric view ("our way is the best way") to a culturally relative perspective ("let's take the best of a variety of ways"). This shift in philosophy has to be ingrained in the managerial framework of the HR Manager in his/her planning, organizing, leading and controlling of organizational resources.

As suggested by Thomas (1992) and Cox (1993), there are several best practices that a HR manager can adopt in ensuring effective management of workplace diversity in order to attain organizational goals. They are:


Planning a Mentoring Program

One of the best ways to handle workplace diversity issues is through initiating a Diversity Mentoring Program. This could entail involving different departmental managers in a mentoring program to coach and provide feedback to employees who are different from them. In order for the program to run successfully, it is wise to provide practical training for these managers or seek help from consultants and experts in this field. Usually, such a program will encourage organization’s members to air their opinions and learn how to resolve conflicts due to their diversity. More importantly, the purpose of a Diversity Mentoring Program seeks to encourage members to move beyond their own cultural frame of reference to recognize and take full advantage of the productivity potential inherent in a diverse population.


Organizing Talents Strategically

Many companies are now realizing the advantages of a diverse workplace. As more and more companies are going global in their market expansions either physically or virtually (for example, E-commerce-related companies), there is a necessity to employ diverse talents to understand the various niches of the market. For example, when China was opening up its markets and exporting their products globally in the late 1980s, the Chinese companies (such as China’s electronic giants such as Haier) were seeking the marketing expertise of Singaporeans. This is because Singapore’s marketing talents were able to understand the local China markets relatively well (almost 75% of Singaporeans are of Chinese descent) and as well as being attuned to the markets in the West due to Singapore’s open economic policies and English language abilities. (Toh, R, 1993)

With this trend in place, a HR Manager must be able to organize the pool of diverse talents strategically for the organization. He/She must consider how a diverse workforce can enable the company to attain new markets and other organizational goals in order to harness the full potential of workplace diversity.

An organization that sees the existence of a diverse workforce as an organizational asset rather than a liability would indirectly help the organization to positively take in its stride some of the less positive aspects of workforce diversity.


Leading the Talk

A HR Manager needs to advocate a diverse workforce by making diversity evident at all organizational levels. Otherwise, some employees will quickly conclude that there is no future for them in the company. As the HR Manager, it is pertinent to show respect for diversity issues and promote clear and positive responses to them. He/She must also show a high level of commitment and be able to resolve issues of workplace diversity in an ethical and responsible manner.


Control and Measure Results

A HR Manager must conduct regular organizational assessments on issues like pay, benefits, work environment, management and promotional opportunities to assess the progress over the long term. There is also a need to develop appropriate measuring tools to measure the impact of diversity initiatives at the organization through organization-wide feedback surveys and other methods. Without proper control and evaluation, some of these diversity initiatives may just fizzle out, without resolving any real problems that may surface due to workplace diversity.


Motivational Approaches

Workplace motivation can be defined as the influence that makes us do things to achieve organizational goals: this is a result of our individual needs being satisfied (or met) so that we are motivated to complete organizational tasks effectively. As these needs vary from person to person, an organization must be able to utilize different motivational tools to encourage their employees to put in the required effort and increase productivity for the company.

Why do we need motivated employees? The answer is survival (Smith, 1994). In our changing workplace and competitive market environments, motivated employees and their contributions are the necessary currency for an organization’s survival and success. Motivational factors in an organizational context include working environment, job characteristics, appropriate organizational reward system and so on.

The development of an appropriate organizational reward system is probably one of the strongest motivational factors. This can influence both job satisfaction and employee motivation. The reward system affects job satisfaction by making the employee more comfortable and contented as a result of the rewards received. The reward system influences motivation primarily through the perceived value of the rewards and their contingency on performance (Hickins, 1998).

To be effective, an organizational reward system should be based on sound understanding of the motivation of people at work. In this paper, I will be touching on the one of the more popular methods of reward systems, gain-sharing.


Gain-sharing

Gain-sharing programs generally refer to incentive plans that involve employees in a common effort to improve organizational performance, and are based on the concept that the resulting incremental economic gains are shared among employees and the company.

In most cases, workers voluntarily participate in management to accept responsibility for major reforms. This type of pay is based on factors directly under a worker’s control (i.e., productivity or costs). Gains are measured and distributions are made frequently through a predetermined formula. Because this pay is only implemented when gains are achieved, gain-sharing plans do not adversely affect company costs (Paulsen, 1991).


Managing Gain-sharing

In order for a gain-sharing program that meets the minimum requirements for success to be in place, Paulsen (1991) and Boyett (1988) have suggested a few pointers in the effective management of a gain-sharing program. They are as follows:

A HR manager must ensure that the people who will be participating in the plan are influencing the performance measured by the gain-sharing formula in a significant way by changes in their day-to-day behavior. The main idea of the gain sharing is to motivate members to increase productivity through their behavioral changes and working attitudes. If the increase in the performance measurement was due to external factors, then it would have defeated the purpose of having a gain-sharing program.

An effective manager must ensure that the gain-sharing targets are challenging but legitimate and attainable. In addition, the targets should be specific and challenging but reasonable and justifiable given the historical performance, the business strategy and the competitive environment. If the gain-sharing participants perceive the target as an impossibility and are not motivated at all, the whole program will be a disaster.

A manager must provide useful feedback as a guidance to the gain-sharing participants concerning how they need to change their behavior(s) to realize gain-sharing payouts The feedback should be frequent, objective and clearly based on the members’ performance in relation to the gain-sharing target.

A manager must have an effective mechanism in place to allow gain-sharing participants to initiate changes in work procedures and methods and/or requesting new or additional resources such as new technology to improve performance and realize gains. Though a manager must have a tight control of company’s resources, reasonable and justifiable requests for additional resources and/or changes in work methods from gain-sharing participants should be considered.


Executive Information Systems

Executive Information System (EIS) is the most common term used for the unified collections of computer hardware and software that track the essential data of a business' daily performance and present it to managers as an aid to their planning and decision-making (Choo, 1991). With an EIS in place, a company can track inventory, sales, and receivables, compare today's data with historical patterns. In addition, an EIS will aid in spotting significant variations from "normal" trends almost as soon as it develops, giving the company the maximum amount of time to make decisions and implement required changes to put your business back on the right track. This would enable EIS to be a useful tool in an organization’s strategic planning, as well as day-to-day management (Laudon, K and Laudon, J, 2003).


Managing EIS

As information is the basis of decision-making in an organization, there lies a great need for effective managerial control. A good control system would ensure the communication of the right information at the right time and relayed to the right people to take prompt actions.

When managing an Executive Information System, a HR manager must first find out exactly what information decision-makers would like to have available in the field of human resource management, and then to include it in the EIS. This is because having people simply use an EIS that lacks critical information is of no value-add to the organization. In addition, the manager must ensure that the use of information technology has to be brought into alignment with strategic business goals (Laudon, K and Laudon, J, 2003).


Conclusion

The role of the HR manager must parallel the needs of the changing organization. Successful organizations are becoming more adaptable, resilient, quick to change directions, and customer-centered. Within this environment, the HR professional must learn how to manage effectively through planning, organizing, leading and controlling the human resource and be knowledgeable of emerging trends in training and employee development.




About The Author

Dr.Alvin Chan is a Senior Research Consultant at a research think-tank in Asia.

alvinchan@firstquatermain.com

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Diversity and Team Building are Key to Success in Today’s Economy

4 responses

By Eric Fox

Today's economic challenges are causing firms to operate more cost effectively. As a result, we are seeing business solutions such as international outsourcing, company mergers, and facility closings. The U.S. workforce is now more racially and religiously diverse, including a higher percentage of women and older workers.

Although diversity offers unlimited opportunities to enhance an organization's performance, it also brings new challenges that must be handled properly. These include the need to appropriately value diversity, find the balance between individual needs and group fairness, handle resistance to change, cultivate teamwork, and communicate openly. At the same time, your managers must stay focused on performance, retain valued employees, and leverage opportunities.

With the growing global economy, issues such as knowledge, service, and valuing employee competency has created a need for flexibility to drive the competitive edge. One of the great advantages of the global economy is the new breed of virtual worker and global virtual teams which leverage both competencies and skills from anywhere in the world at any time. As a result, many of these teams have a greater capacity to solve problems and create new solutions targeted at strategic goals. But, in the face of these synergies also come cultural differences and the need to establish trust and rapport. Competitiveness can make or break preparation for future growth. Competitiveness has become one of the most prominent business concerns in today's economy. Organizational responses to dealing with these challenges sometimes place greater stresses on employees struggling to understand their role inside the strategies.

Two areas that can improve organizational success are becoming more proficient at interpersonal skills and team building . Solving issues quickly and effectively can create a greater satisfaction within the workgroup. This requires a great deal of listening, clearly articulating the issues, asking questions, providing answers, and creating solutions. The key to creating a competitive work environment is through an effective management team. Effective managers should be able to accept crisis as an inevitable part of all work situations, and deal with it an order that maintains individual and team focus and productivity. He or she will also recognize the positive and negative impacts of cultural differences, and leverage that to benefit the team and the organization.

Through effective communication and team building techniques, managers can help individuals understand each other and become successful as a team. Today's managers and supervisors are often overextended and too busy to attend training courses. Using learning instruments such as the Discovering Diversity and Team Dimensions profiles is an effective way to help your management team create a successful workgroup in today's competitive market place.

Published by Eric Fox - Corexcel

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Intellect launches online survey into workplace diversity

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Intellect, the trade association for the UK IT, telecommunications and electronics industries, has begun the final phase of a project on diversity in the IT industry. The association is asking all members of the industry to participate in research examining the culture of their workplace and their career experiences.

The research, sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry and a number of private sector organizations, will provide a rich insight into the industry. It will allow inter-industry and inter-country benchmarking and will identify opportunities for government and businesses to create a more positive and equal environment. Based on the results of this research Intellect will develop an action plan to achieve a more equal and diverse sector, which will be disseminated and promoted across the UK IT industry.

The research will initially take the form of an online survey, open to all IT employees. It can be found on the Intellect website www.intellectuk.org/culturalresearch and will be live until the end of February. Intellect is urging all members of the IT Industry to take the time to complete it.

Read the rest of the news release at Intellect PR & Media Centre.

For further information contact:
Deborah Nazareth
T 020 7331 2168
E deborah.nazareth@intellectuk.org

It takes 20 to 25 minutes to finish this survey.

Can ex-felons still get a job?

11 responses

Consider a young ex-offender who seeks employment to live as decent as possible. Consider too a company seeking "honest" workers that are "reliable" and "trustworthy". I have emphasized the words in quotes not to point out the culpability of hiring ex-felons but to underline the main concerns many employers have regarding that hiring practice.

When seeking to diversify a workforce many employers look to immigrants rather than a group that has long been excluded from the list of minorities. Not all ex-felons can be considered criminals. Some were people who committed acts of violence or were involved in illicit activities because of circumstances they were in at that time. They were not committing those crimes as part of their way of life.

Let me quote an ex-felon in Greensboro NC writing an outraged response to society's treatment of him and others like him:
Many of us are nonviolent offenders who have taken great strides to turn our lives around, only to be slapped in the face with criminal background check history that may be more than 10 years old, time and time again. I find it extremely hard to find out where punishment stops and redemption begins.

All we want is to be able to support our families and be productive, taxpaying citizens like everyone else. Instead we are reduced to being slave workers for temporary services.

If we really are rehabilitating ex-felons and helping them "reenter" society, shouldn't we also consider helping them find employment so they can support themselves and their families without resorting to crime? Luckily there is still a goodly number of employers who are felon-friendly.

In a Denver Office of Economic Development 2005 survey, nearly 350 area companies reported they would hire ex felons. Companies who hire ex-felons seek people who are starting anew. They are more likely to be in their best behavior because they are highly motivated to keep their jobs as part of their parole agreement or their release terms.

Another reason for companies to be felon-friendly is that employers can receive federally mandated tax reductions – up to $2,400 per worker – and a free insurance policy. The tax benefit is part of the U.S. Work Opportunity Tax Credit program that encourages employers to hire disadvantaged job-seekers.

Job search questions and answers for ex-felons abound at Yahoo! Answers. One of the best answers was given by Mufasa who recommended "Safer Foundation" (located just west of downtown Chicago, close to Union station). They have contacts with several of the large corporations in Chicago and can get an ex-felon a job. Usually ex-felons first work a couple of smaller jobs until the employers can evaluate how well he or she works and then they'd set the employee up with Commonwealth Edison, Peoples Energy, and other companies which are felon-friendly.

Another organization helping ex-felons find gainful employment is DenverWorks. This nonprofit training and placement organization helps prepare a variety of workers for primarily entry-level jobs, likely in janitorial, food service, manufacturing and warehouse settings.

The organization also conducts job-preparation workshops and provides free clothing for employment interviews and new employees. Its computer lab is open for training and job-search use.

Reach DenverWorks at (303) 433-0300 and online at www.denverworks.org.

For ex-felons seeking jobs from felon-friendly companies try following these job search tips from credible sources:
The JobLounge - Resumes for Ex-Felons
The Ex-Offender's Job Hunting Guide

Definition of Workplace Diversity

6 responses

What is Workplace Diversity? According to Josh Greenberg, "Workplace diversity refers to the variety of differences between people in an organization." However, as simple as it may sound, workplace diversity entails more than combining a variety of differences between people working together in one place. Diversity is a generalized term that encompasses race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, education, background and more that are too many to mention.

However, diversity in the workplace implies there is "mutual acceptance and value placed on differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and other human attributes." (Cultural Diversity Teams In The Workplace And Top Growth Groups, James Davis) A good company aiming to have a diverse workforce should implement an effective diversity recruitment strategy. A good source for a diverse pool of job seekers is DiversityWorking.com, one of the foremost authorities in delivering workforce diversity into your company's employment policies and helping advance the causes of minority groups in achieving employment equality by fair diversity hiring practices.

To maintain a diverse workforce and encourage acceptance of workplace diversity, a good and effective workplace diversity program is needed. According to Wikipedia, "A workplace diversity program (also known as a "diversity strategy") is designed to create an equitable employment system for all employees." Diversity programs in the workplace would include both policies and practices in human resources management.