The Changing Workplace

Diversity is no longer just the right thing to do; it has become a business imperative  and perhaps the single most important factor of the twenty-first century for organizational performance.125  One reason is the dramatic change taking place in the workplace, in our society, and in the economic environment.  These changes include globalization  and the changing workforce and customer base.126 Earlier chapters described the impact of global competition on business in North America. Competition is intense. At least 70 percent of all U.S. businesses are engaged directly  in competition with companies  overseas. Compa- nies that ignore diversity have a hard time competing in today’s multicultural global envi- ronment. As Ted Childs, director of diversity at IBM,  puts it, “Diversity is the bridge between the workplace and the marketplace.”127

Companies that succeed in this environment  adopt radical new ways of doing business, with sensitivity toward the needs of different  cultural practices. Consider the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. In the 1970s, most consultants were American,  but by the turn of the century, McKinsey’s chief partner was a foreign  national  (Rajat Gupta from India), only 40 percent of consultants were American,  and the firm’s foreign-born  consultants came from 40 different countries.128  Many other companies  based in the United States reflect  a similar mix of native- and foreign-born  managers. The other dominant trend is the changing composition of the workforce and the customer base. The average worker is older now, and many more women, people of color, and immigrants are seeking job and advancement opportunities.  The demographics of the U.S. population  are shifting dra- matically.  The people who used to be called minorities  now make up a majority  of the U.S. population. Nonwhite  residents are the majority in 48 of the nation’s 100 largest cities, as they are in New Mexico, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and California—the  largest consumer market in the country. Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans together represent $1.5 trillion in annual purchasing power.129  During the 1990s, the foreign- born population of the United States nearly doubled, and immigrants  now number more than 34 million, meaning that almost one in eight people living in the United States was born in another country, the highest percentage since the 1920s.130  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2008, women and minorities  are expected to make up fully 70 percent of the new entrants into the workforce.131   So far, the ability of organiza- tions to manage diversity has not kept pace with these demographic trends, thus creating a number of significant challenges for minority workers and managers.

1. CHALLENGES MINORITIES FACE

A  one-best-way  approach  leads to a  mind-set that views  difference   as deficiency   or dysfunction. For many career women and minorities, their experience  suggests that no matter  how many college degrees they earn, how many hours they work,  how they dress, or how much effort and enthusiasm  they invest,  they are never perceived as “having  the right stuff.” If the standard of quality  were based, for instance, on being white and male, anything else would be seen as deficient. This dilemma often is difficult for white men to understand because most of them are not intentionally racist and sexist. As one observer points out, you would need to be nonwhite  to understand what it is like to have people assume a subordi- nate is your superior simply because he is white, or to lose a sale after the customer  sees you in person and finds out you’re not Caucasian.132

Although blatant discrimination is not as widespread  as in the past, bias in the work- place often shows up in subtle ways: a lack of choice assignments, the disregard by a subor- dinate of a minority manager’s directions, or the ignoring of comments made by women and minorities at meetings. A survey by Korn Ferry International found that 59 percent of minority managers surveyed had observed a racially motivated  double standard in the dele- gation of assignments.133 Their perceptions are supported by a study that showed minority managers spend more time in the “bullpen” waiting for their chance and then have to prove themselves over and over again with each new assignment. Another recent study found that white  managers gave more negative performance ratings to black leaders and white  subor- dinates and more positive ratings to white leaders and black subordinates, affirming the widespread acceptance of these employees in their stereotypical roles.134 Minority employ- ees typically feel that they have to put in longer hours and extra effort to achieve the same status  as their white colleagues. “It’s not enough to be as good  as the next person,”  says Bruce Gordon, president of Bell Atlantic’s enterprise group. “We have to be better.”135

2. MANAGEMENT  CHALLENGES

What do these factors mean for managers who are responsible for creating a workplace  that offers fulfilling work, opportunities for professional development  and career advancement, and respect for all individuals? Inappropriate  behavior by employees lands squarely at the door of the organization’s top executives. Managers can look at different areas of the orga- nization to see how well they are doing in creating a workplace that values and supports all people. Exhibit 9.11 illustrates some of the key areas of management challenge for dealing with a diverse workforce.  Managers focus on these issues to see how well they are address- ing the needs and concerns of diverse employees. One step is to ensure that their organiza- tions’ HR systems are designed to be bias-free, dropping  the perception of the middle-aged white  male as the ideal employee. Consider how the FBI expanded its recruiting efforts.

Recruiting and career development  are only one part of the HR challenge. For example, the increased career involvement of women represents an enormous opportunity to organi- zations, but it also means managers must deal with issues such  as work-family conflicts, dual-career couples, and sexual harassment. Providing  reasonable accommodation for dis- abled employees requires more than putting  in a handicap  access ramp. Demands for equal opportunities for the physically and mentally disabled are growing,  and most companies have done little to respond. “When it comes to dealing with the disabled, we are about where we were with race in the 1970s,”  says David Thomas,  a professor of organizational behavior and HRM at Harvard  Business School.137   In fact, employment rates for disabled people dropped 30 percent between 1990 and 2004. And for the most part, the workers who do find jobs are tracked into low-skill, low-pay jobs rather than being allowed to fully participate in training  and educational programs available to other employees.138 One com- pany bucking that trend is Habitat International,  a manufacturer of carpet and turf based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. David  Morris, Habitat’s owner and CEO, admits that giving disabled workers a chance originally  “had to be forced down my throat.” Today, though, nearly every employee at the company, including  some managers, has a physical or mental disability.  Performance and quality have gone up at Habitat and turnover and absenteeism have gone down since Morris began hiring people with disabilities. The plant’s defect rate, for example, is less than one-half of 1 percent, and every order is delivered on time.139

The growing immigrant population presents other challenges. Whereas in previous gen- erations most foreign-born  immigrants  came from Western Europe, 84 percent of recent immigrants  come from Asia and Latin America.140   These immigrants come to the United States with a wide range of backgrounds, often without  adequate skills in using English. Or- ganizations must face not only the issues of dealing with race, ethnicity,  and nationality  to provide a prejudice-free  workplace but also develop sufficient  educational programs to help immigrants acquire the technical and customer service skills required in a service economy.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

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