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Management Concepts & Organisational Behaviour - MANAGING DIVERSITY

Managing Diversity in Organisations

   Posted On :  19.05.2018 10:59 pm

Managing Diversity in Organisations

Managing Diversity in Organisations
 
Since diversity in work place has become a rule rather than an expectation, managers have to understand the fast changing complexion of the workforce and learn to manage the diversity effectively. Management of diversity involves initiatives at two levels, viz., at the individuals and at organisational level.
 

Individual Strategies for Dealing with Diversity

 
One important element of managing diversity in an organization consists of those things that individuals at their level can attend to such as: better understanding, empathy, tolerance, and willingness to communicate.
 

Understanding


Understanding the nature, meaning and complexity of diversity constitutes the core of the whole issue. Some managers take the basic concepts of equity and justice in employment opportunities to an unnecessary extreme. They know that, by law, they cannot discriminate against people on the basis of sex, race, and so forth. Thus in following this mandate they come to believe that they must treat everyone the same.
 
But this belief can cause problems when translated into workplace behaviours among people after they have been hired because people are not the same. Although people need to be treated fairly and equitably, managers must understand that differences among people do, in fact, exist. Thus any effort to treat everyone the same, without regard to their fundamental human differences will only lead to problems. Managers must understand that cultural factors cause people to behave in different ways and that these differences should be accepted.
 

Empathy

 
Related to understanding the issues and problems from the other’s perspective is empathy. People in an organization should try to understand the perspective of others. For example, suppose a woman joins a group that has traditionally comprised men. Each man may be a little self conscious as how to act towards the new member and may be interested in making her feel comfortable and welcome. But they may be able to do this even more effectively by empathizing with how she may feel. For example, she may feel disappointed or elated about her new assignment; she may be experienced or inexperienced in working with male colleagues. By learning more about her feelings, the group members can further facilitate their ability to work together effectively.
 

Tolerance

 
A third related individual approach to dealing with diversity is tolerance. Even though managers learn to understand diversity and try to empathise with others, the fact remains that they may still not accept or enjoy some aspect of others’ behaviour. The intolerance for others increases where the economic and job opportunities are fewer. The scramble for opportunities is the cause for any conflicts among people.
 

Willing to Communicate

 
A final individual approach to dealing with diversity is communication. Problems often get magnified over diversity issues because people are afraid or otherwise unwilling to openly discuss issues related to diversity. For example, a young employee has a habit of making jokes about the age of an elderly colleague. Perhaps the young colleague means no harm and is just engaging in what she sees as good natured kidding. But the older employee may find the jokes offensive. If the two do not communicate, the jokes will continue and the resentment will grow. Eventually, what started as a minor problem may erupt into a much bigger one!
 
For communication to work, it must be two way. If someone is offended by the behaviour of another person, he or she should explain to the offending individual how the behaviour is perceived and request that it be stopped. As long as such exchanges are friendly, low key, and nonthreatening, they will generally have a positive outcome. Of course, if the same message is presented in an overly combative manner or if a person continues to engage in offensive behaviour after having been asked to stop, problems will only escalate. At this point, third parties within the organization may have to intervene. And in fact, most organizations today have one or more systems in place to address questions and problems that arise as a result of diversity. We now turn our attention to various ways that organizations can indeed better manage diversity.
 

Organizational Approaches to Managing Diversity

 
Whereas individuals are important in managing diversity, the organization itself must play a fundamental role. Through its various policies and practices, People in the organization come to understand what behaviours are and are not appropriate. Diversity training is an even more direct method for managing diversity. Therefore, the organization’s culture is the ultimate context from which diversity must be addressed.
 

Organizational Policies

 
The starting point in managing diversity is the policies that an organization adopts that directly or indirectly affects how people are treated. Obviously, for instance, the extent to which an organization embraces the premise of equity and justice in employment opportunities will to a large extent determine the potential diversity within an organization. But the organization that follows the law to the letter and practices only passive discrimination differs from the organization that actively seeks a diverse and varied workforce.
 
Another aspect of organizational policies that affects diversity is how the organization addresses and responds to problems that arise from diversity. For example, consider the example of a manager charged with sexual harassment. If the organization’s policies put an excessive burden of proof on the individual being harassed and invoke only minor sanctions against the guilty party, it is sending a clear signal as to the importance of such matters. But the organization that has a balanced set of policies for addressing questions like sexual harassment sends its employees a message that diversity and individual rights and privileges are important.

Organizational Practices

 
Organizations can also help manage diversity through a variety of ongoing practices and procedures. In general, the idea is that because diversity is characterized by differences among people, organizations can more effectively manage that diversity by following practices and procedures that are based on flexibility rather than rigidity.
 
Benefits/incentives packages, for example, can be structured to better accommodate individual situations. An employee who is part of a dual career couple and who has no children may require relatively flexitime arrangements compared to the couple with no kid. The convenience in scheduling vacations also differs in both the cases. Flexible working hours are therefore, a useful organizational practice to accommodate diversity. Differences in family arrangements, religious holidays, cultural events, and so forth may each warrant some sort of flexibility at the work place. Organization can also facilitate diversity by making sure that its important committees and executive teams are diverse.
 

Diversity Training

 
Many organizations are finding that diversity training is an effective means for managing diversity and minimizing its associated conflicts. More specifically, diversity training is training that is specifically designed to enable members of an organization to function in a diverse workplace. This training can take a variety of forms. For example, many organizations find it useful to help people learn more about their similarities to and differences from others. Men and women can be taught to work together more effectively and can gain insights into how their own behaviours affect and are interpreted by others. In one organization, a diversity training programme helped male managers gain insights into how various remarks they make to one another could be interpreted by others as being sexist. In the same organization, female managers learned how to point out their discomfort with those remarks without appearing overly hostile.
 

Organizational Culture

 
The ultimate test of an organization’s commitment to managing diversity is its culture. Regardless of what managers say or put in writing, unless there is a basic and fundamental belief that diversity is valued, it cannot ever become truly an integral part of an organization. An organization that really wants to promote diversity must shape its culture so that it clearly underscores top management commitment to and support diversity in all its forms throughout the organization. With top management support, however, and reinforced with a clear and consistent set of organizational policies and practices, diversity can become a basic and fundamental part of an organization.

 

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