Diversity in The Workplace

Diversity in the working place is a phenomenon that company must endure. Especially at this time of day whereas winning the competitive advantage is one of company’s objectives

By definition, diversity is a multi-dimensional mixture, an infinite variety of possible dimensions, which includes race or gender (R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., 1992).  Such variety, assortment, miscellany of dimensions are related to the employment diversity, such as: the culture background, gender, age, educational background, tenure working with the company, functional background, marital status, life-style, union/non-union members and religion. The objective is to foster effective management of the employment diversity.

Why managing diversity is very important for companies? According to a research by Smilansky, a company led by top management which consisted of the diverse of executives, was more creative and innovative, compared to a company with homogenous top management executives (Jonathan Smilansky, 2007).

Hence, Infosis, the largest IT company in India, deliberately opens up apprentice program for women students, due to the fact that women are not keen to work in IT industries. In Indonesia, companies’ stakeholders’ demand for the diversity is becoming higher, as government’s request to provide job opportunities for the locals and women.

Strategically, companies are also forced to implement diversity, as an increasingly high demand for merger & alliances for the last 15 years has shown that companies which have implemented diversity, were culturally prepared to confront the merger & alliances episodes. Externally, even consumer’s preference to be served by own countrymen has prompted a large foreign airline to recruit Indonesian woman flight attendant.

Managers address diversity as burden given to them and to deal with the realities. Nevertheless, there are also managers who wish they would be able to understand, deal, develop, manage and implement the diversity strategies. These managers realized that diversity was inevitable and existed in the workplace.

To ensure that diversity is implemented with the intention not for window dressing activities, we should learn from IBM, as one of the leading companies which created the position of Vice President for Global Workforce Diversity in its organization structure and from Coca cola, which has settled the largest racial-discrimination lawsuit in history.

Learning from these two leading companies, we may conclude that there are several prerequisites in managing diversity, being:

1. The commitment of top management

Many executives think that diversity is just a window dressing. This attitude should be changed to the way of thinking that creating diversity strategy will enable them to build on the differences to deliver business value.
The implementation of this way of thinking required the responsibility of top management and they are acted as diversity strategy’s champions.
It is not sufficient just to appoint an officer level, since he has to bring in other senior leaders to believe that diversity is not isolated from day-to-day business practices.

2. Alignment diversity and leadership

This change of the way of thinking needed key people at all levels of organization who will guide and support the diversity processes. Thus, once the link between diversity and effective leadership is understood, almost every leader in all levels of organization will become an active support for managing diversity processes.

To achieve this level, Coca cola changed the composition of the executive managerial levels, thus minority representation and the percentage of woman executive are increased.  Coca cola established measurable program and initiatives which are designed to recruit mentor and retain woman & minorities in their workforce. This resulted in Coca cola is being recognized as a leader in fairness and diversity.

3. Listen to your people

The best way to deal with diversity is to recognize, identify and discuss the differences. IBM has successfully created team which focused on different identity groups. The team’s purpose is to help management to get to know these groups, to understand what made them unique and to apply this understanding to improve the company’s performance. Today, IBM has acquired 194 diversity network groups around the world. IBM is an example of a company which is able to replace old mindset to the new one which focused on recognizing differences and learning from them.

On the other hand, other companies increase their managers’ skills in managing diversity through management development program. By involving in this program, the managers are expected to be able to identify cultural differences between their subordinates or colleagues which may cause the performance problems, communication barriers or inter-personal issues.

Octa Melia JalalOcta Melia Jalal.  Director of Executive Development Program at PPM Manajemen, Jakarta . She is also a Head of  Center for Human Capital Development.
mia@ppm-manajemen.ac.id

3 thoughts on “Diversity in The Workplace

  1. Pingback: Five Issues in Managing Workplace Diversity | Media Meme

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