What is diversity?
The term “diversity” is present in our everyday life more than ever before. The newly formed, young democracy of South Africa has been facing a change in the interaction of people, especially in the workplace, for 20 years now Today there are still great inequalities and challenges concerning the human resource sector as the latest 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report (WEF, 2014:13) shows. South Africa ranks on the 56th place out of 144 which is a decrease of 3 places compared to the last year. Especially the position in the field of ‘labour market efficiency’ which is 113 (in 2013: 116) affects the overall rating negatively. This shows that a weak labour market can have effects on the overall economy in a country and therefore attention should be directed towards this sector in terms of finding ways to improve the current situation.
To achieve that, companies and especially HR managers must become aware of the advantages of a diverse workforce and have to foster talent that may have been unrecognised so far.
This essay aims at giving an overview of the concept of diversity and later on practical examples of successfully managing diversity will be discussed. Current issues of HR management and latest research will be included, as well as empiric findings to give a guideline for managers and everyone else involved in the HR sector.
What is diversity?
The term diversity refers to different features or traits of people who work together or have a common goal. It is mostly used when talking about employees and often used as a synonym for affirmative action and employment equity but it is in fact way more than that. There are different dimensions of diversity: Some features and traits are inborn such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation and ethnicity. They form the so called ‘internal dimensions’. In contrast to this, the ‘external dimensions’ can be changed, e.g. income, personal habits, work experience or appearance. When talking about workplace diversity in South Africa, we mostly refer to the following groups: Ethnic groups, women, younger workers, disabled and homosexuals.
Especially in this country, there is a great lack of successfully managing diversity and providing equal chances for everyone. But diversity management goes even beyond that. In fact it is not about only accepting each other and being aware of differences but also about respecting and successfully interacting with one another. If diversity management is implemented in a company, the overall target should be to use the differences for a higher productivity and a better workplace atmosphere. Managers are often not aware of the unused talent or hidden potential that lies within a diverse workforce. Different backgrounds can stimulate creativity and have a positive effect on the success of a company. The famous HR consultant D. Clutterbuck (2002:54) states that: ‘At one extreme, diversity can be seen as a means of overcoming injustice – righting wrongs – and at the other as a means of enhancing individual and group contribution to the organization’s goals.’ How diversity can be managed and which problems may arise will be discussed in the following chapter.
Before implementing a diversity program, the values of the company should be reconsidered and the goals should be formulated. A mission or plan should be developed by managers as well as employees to include them in the whole process and to ensure transparency. Becoming a company that values diversity is a long term process and requires top management that is convinced of the positive aspects. Their leadership should aim at being an example to others.
Diversity management goes beyond complying with regulation and is also about establishing behaviours that can make the company more successful and save money. Staff turnover and training costs will decrease and therefore enhance a better working atmosphere. Moreover, motivation will increase when everyone is regarded equal and being different is seen as a chance and not a disadvantage.
To get started with the process of building a multicultural organisation, stereotypes must be abandoned and a new understanding for each other has to be established. Stereotypes are generalisations and opinions directly connected to a certain trait of a person. These views result in prejudices or sometimes even discrimination. To teach employees but also top management is therefore the first task of implementing a diversity program. It is necessary to have a common understanding and knowledge of each other to interact and communicate. Role playing is an effective method of open one’s eyes for prejudices in the workplace.
Another task is to get rid of the belief that assimilation is the only way how a company can function properly. This is a widespread assumption especially within top management. Basically assimilation means that everyone has to measure himself against a set standard by a dominant group, mostly white male. But assimilation neglects individual behaviour which is essential for diversity management. In the last few years, legislation helped to set up rules against the standard of assimilation in South Africa. But affirmative action is not enough to become a truly multicultural organisation. Every single employee has to value the fact of another co-worker being different to him. To realize this, programs and trainings need to be started, that may have the following outline: