Valuing Diversity

Top managers  say their companies value diversity  for a number  of reasons,  such  as to give the organization access to a broader range of opinions and viewpoints, to spur greater creativity and innovation, to reflect an increasingly  diverse customer base, to obtain the best talent in a competitive  environment,  and to more effectively compete in a global marketplace.111  A recent study of diversity management in the United Kingdom, Scandi- navia, and Continental Europe found managers reporting similar motives,   as well as a desire to enhance the company’s image and to improve employee satisfaction.112  A survey commissioned by The New York Times found that 91 percent of job seekers think diversity programs  make a company  a better place to work, and nearly all minority job seekers said they would prefer to work in a diverse workplace.113   In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management  and Fortune magazine, more than 70 percent of HR executives indicated  that diversity has enhanced their organizations’ recruitment efforts and improved the overall corporate culture.114

However,  many managers are ill-prepared  to handle diversity  issues. Many Americans grew up in racially unmixed neighborhoods and had little exposure to people substantially dif- ferent from themselves.115 The challenge is particularly  great when working with people from other countries and cultures. One recent challenge at IBM  involved  a new immigrant, a Muslim woman who was required to have a photo taken for a company identification  badge. She protested that her religious beliefs required that, as a married  woman,  she wear a veil and not expose her face to men in public. A typical American  manager, schooled in traditional management training, might insist that she have the photo  taken or hit the door. Fortunately, IBM has a well-developed  diversity program, and managers worked out a satisfactory  com- promise.116   Consider some other mistakes that American  managers could easily make:117

  • To reward a Vietnamese employee’s high performance, her manager promoted her, plac- ing her at the same level as her husband, who also worked at the factory. Rather than being pleased, the worker became upset and declined the promotion because Vietnamese husbands are expected to have a higher status than their wives.
  • A manager, having learned that a friendly pat on the arm or back would make workers feel good, took every chance to touch his subordinates. His Asian employees hated being touched and thus started avoiding him, and several asked for transfers.
  • A manager declined a gift offered by a new employee, an immigrant who wanted to show gratitude for her job. He was concerned about ethics and explained the company’s policy about not accepting gifts. The employee was so insulted  she quit.

These issues related  to cultural diversity are difficult and real. Similar complicated issues occur for managers in other countries. For example, the United  Kingdom  and other Euro- pean countries are facing a growing  diversity challenge because of a recent influx of immi- grants. A scan of the classifieds in any major newspaper in the United Kingdom finds numerous advertisements for skilled diversity  management leaders.118  Before discussing how companies handle the challenges of diversity, let’s define diversity and explore people’s attitudes toward it.

ATTITUDES   TOWARD   DIVERSITY

Valuing diversity by recognizing, welcoming, and cultivating differences among people so they can develop their unique talents and be effective organizational members is difficult to achieve. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own group and subculture are inherently superior to other groups and cultures. Ethnocentrism  makes it difficult to value diversity. Viewing one’s own culture as the best culture is a natural tendency among most people. Moreover, the business world still tends to reflect the values, behaviors, and assumptions based on the experiences of a rather  homogeneous,  white, middle-class, male workforce. Most theories of management presume that workers share similar  values, beliefs, motiva- tions, and attitudes about work and life in general. These theories presume one set of behaviors best helps an organization  to be productive and effective and therefore should be adopted by all employees.119

Ethnocentric  viewpoints and a standard set of cultural  practices produce a monocul-ture, a culture that accepts only one way of doing things and one set of values and beliefs, which can cause problems for minority employees. People of color, women, gay people, the disabled, the elderly, and other diverse employees may feel undue pressure to conform, may be victims of stereotyping attitudes, and may be presumed deficient because they are differ- ent. White, heterosexual men, many of whom themselves do not fit the notion of the “ideal” employee, may also feel uncomfortable with the monoculture  and resent stereotypes that label white  males as racists and sexists. Valuing  diversity means ensuring that all peo- ple are given equal opportunities in the workplace.120

The goal for organizations seeking cultural diversity is pluralism rather than a monocul-ture and ethnorelativism rather than ethnocentrism. Ethnorelativism is the belief that groups  and subcultures  are  inherently equal.  Pluralism  means that an organization accommodates several subcultures. Movement  toward  pluralism  seeks to fully integrate into the organization  the employees who otherwise would feel isolated and ignored.

Most of today’s organizations  are applying conscious efforts to shift from a monoculture perspective to one of pluralism. Consider a recent report from the National Bureau of Eco- nomic Research, entitled “Are Greg and Emily More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?,” which shows that employers often unconsciously discriminate against job appli- cants based solely on the Afrocentric or black-sounding  names on their resume. In inter- views prior to the research, most HR managers surveyed said they expected only a small gap, and some expected to find a pattern  of reverse discrimination. The results showed instead that white-sounding  names got 50 percent more callbacks than black-sounding names, even when skills and experience were equal.121

This type of discrimination is often not intentional but is based on deep-seated personal biases and deep-rooted organizational assumptions. Many  managers are not even aware of their own “culture” and don’t see that they are specifically failing  to hire, develop, and pro- mote minorities,  women, or others who are different from themselves.122   In addition, employees in a monoculture  may not be aware of their biases and the negative stereotypes they apply toward people who represent diverse groups. Through effective training, people can be helped to accept different  ways of thinking and behaving, the first step away from narrow, ethnocentric thinking. Ultimately, employees are able to integrate diverse cultures, which means that judgments of appropriateness, goodness, badness, and morality  are no longer applied to racial or cultural differences. These differences are experienced as essen- tial, natural, and joyful, enabling an organization to enjoy true pluralism and take advan- tage of diverse human resources.123

One organization that is making a firm commitment to break out of monoculture think- ing is Hyatt hotels, which  has a diversity council made up of employees and managers from different parts of the company and representing different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The council  meets three  times  a year to review how well the company is recognizing, developing, and promoting minorities. For managers at Hyatt, 15 percent of their bonus is dependent on meeting specific diversity goals.124

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

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