Diversity and Inclusion

by Gamiel Yafai

Managing diversity

The aim is to advance diversity not adversity.

Attributed to Ken Chenault, COO of American Express 1997

Managing diversity is, essentially, working to change behaviour.

The successful manager values the contribution that diversity can bring, even if it makes the management task a little harder. In a diverse workforce, much more attention needs to be given to the individual and to his or her needs and wants. The pay-off is a workforce in which people feel valued for who they are, and in which people are motivated and thus more productive.

Good intentions do not go far enough in the practice of managing diversity. Managing diversity can be challenging, but its benefits out-weigh the difficulties across the organisation. The following are some important factors to consider when working towards managing diversity.

Why must diversity be managed?

Because it will not manage itself. Within an organisation, managing diversity means accepting that employees differ from each other in a variety of ways while balancing this acceptance with the need for shared values. It involves harnessing these differences so that everyone can reach their full potential. The introduction of diversity management demonstrates an organisation’s desire to respond flexibly to changes in its environment.

What is managing diversity?

It means utilising those differences in the work force to accomplish organisational goals, finding the balance between developing shared organisational values and valuing diversity, and challenging assumptions that limit opportunities.

In essence, managing diversity is about using all of the talents available to the organisation without resorting to ethnocentricity and stereotyping. By understanding each worker and where he or she is coming from, a manger can select the right motivators for that person and thus produce the best results.

How do we manage diversity?

Managing diversity entails several key factors.

  • Create an environment of acceptance

This goes beyond tolerance, as it means actively welcoming and involving all. It also involves seeking information and input from people from a variety of backgrounds in decision-making and problem-solving processes.

  • Confront prejudging behaviour

We often see others and interpret their behaviour through a framework that does not allow us to get to know the individual, therefore limiting their opportunities. Take the lead in examining your own prejudgements – your pigeonholing tendencies – while challenging others about theirs.

Story

What Sleeping Beauty would have given her right arm for...

This princess was different.

She was a brunette with a genius of a brain.

Refusing marriage, she inherited all by primogeniture.

The country’s economy prospered under her rule.

When the handsome prince came by on his white charger,

She bought it from him

And started her own racehorse business.

  • Confront intolerant behaviour

This involves challenging others’ prejudgments and intolerances and acting on them. This may be done informally or through formal channels, as set down by the organisation.

Example

Many companies opt for awareness raising training to confront prejudging behaviour. This can be very helpful in allowing staff to think differently. It can prove more of a challenge to expect a session of this type to improve all the skills required to manage diversity. A recent study of Royal Mail managers, conducted by the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield, revealed a marked improvement in implementing diversity in those who completed a Diversity Skills Workshop in addition to an Awareness Raising Workshop.

  • Balance the need for shared values

Effective leaders must struggle with the issue of how to include and respect diversity and at the same time develop a consensus on core values. This step is made easier when there is a strong vision in the organisation to embrace diversity and where consultation with the staff is strived for.

  • Utilise the full potential of all employees

Some managers see difference as deficit – others work as though the differences don’t exist. An effective manager recognises the value of having a diverse team by maximising the full potential of all employees and building on complementary skills, backgrounds and cultural knowledge. For example, you should seek to include employees from a variety of backgrounds and experiences in your problem-solving and decision-making processes.

Example

Barclays Bank’s branch in Ealing, London, has recently announced that business has grown by 60-80 per cent. The manager made the link between these profits and an increased number of new accounts. The new account holders were predominantly from the Polish community in Ealing. As Barclays had recruited a Polish employee, more Polish people had joined the bank.

The bank is now able to accommodate the needs of this group, and can see its direct impact on their business. Fiona Lucas, Area Director, Barclays Bank PLC announced that they expect 2000 new Polish businesses over the next year. The area director says that they are now looking to recruit 50 more members of staff, as they are ‘overflowing’... It seems the more Polish speakers we have working for us, the more Polish customers we receive.’

  • Recruit for diversity

This involves a long-term organisational goal to develop strategies to increase the flow of applicants to an organisation. One way to begin is to look at the advertisement policy of the organisation – what newspapers do you advertise in? Do these forms of the media reach all parts of the community?

Example

To truly embrace a diverse organisation, we need to think and problem solve creatively. First Direct Bank, for example, has found that by using coffee mornings in garden centres and shopping precincts they have resolved a potential barrier to their recruitment process. They discovered that the average age of their staff was 34.6. Only 12 per cent of employees were over 45 and only five per cent were under 21.

By carrying out some probing research into attitudes amongst existing employees to their recruitment process, they uncovered the need to overcome the barrier of technology. By introducing their software at the coffee mornings, they have been able to explain the technology and process to potential employees. They have also introduced a process of targeting local universities to encourage younger applicants.

  • Retain diverse staff

This also needs attention and effort. Buddy systems can be a useful strategy, as can having a flexible approach in helping people to use their differences effectively.

Managing diversity

Most of the time, while a complaint may seem too trivial to bother about, not only is it not trivial if the person concerned doesn’t feel it to be so, but it may also be the tip of the iceberg/last straw. Further investigation may reveal that the person concerned has not bothered to mention several earlier incidents, individually small but collectively unsettling, of minor unpleasantness. Is a pattern emerging?

If such complaints are not addressed quickly enough then they could lead to stress, anxiety and even depression, which can result in sickness and long-term absence.

What is the cost?

It is a safe assumption that any organisation introducing diversity management is likely to incur short-term costs, with the expectation of considerable benefits at a later stage.

Organisations that ignore diversity may also incur costs. In the UK, these could include the cost of employment tribunals and settlements, and the recurrent expenses of recruitment and retention when workforce dissatisfaction leads to high turnover. Managerial costs could also increase, owing to the greater need for health monitoring, anti-bullying measures and absence management.

Case study

In the late 1990s, the financial services group, Lloyds TSB, embarked upon a programme to increase the recruitment of minority ethnic employees, particularly to management and management training grades. Focus groups were used to investigate why ethnic minorities might not see a career with the bank as an attractive option. One of the main barriers was the company’s image: advertising literature presented a predominantly white workforce.

Lloyds made significant changes to its advertising literature and began advertising in the minority ethnic press. They printed case studies of minority ethnic graduates and included email addresses of the employees featured.

Lloyds then completed a survey of minority ethnic managers with the aim of looking at the existing barriers to the promotion of minority ethnic employees. One issue was the lack of models for minority ethnic managers. When they looked above them they did not see themselves reflected. This ‘glass ceiling’ affected their confidence, they said, and therefore their motivation to apply for more senior posts.