Managing Diversity in the Workplace
Cultural diversity in the workplace is becoming more and more prevalent. Corporations in all industries are encouraging minorities, women, elderly workers, people with disabilities as well as foreign workers to join white males in the workplace. The following analysis will focus on these groups and how companies are encouraging them to join an ever-expanding workplace.
Even if affirmative action is dismantled, diversity of the workforce is clearly here to stay. Business owners and managers, experts say, will still need to maintain or step up efforts to recruit and advance ethnic minorities in the year 2000 and beyond. That’s essentially because having a diverse work force and managing it effectively will simply be good business for various companies.
One business leader who is at the forefront of implementing diversity is the Xerox Corporation. Xerox implemented their strategy for diversification through an “aggressive, hard driving affirmative action plan.” (Managing Diversity: Lessons from Private Sector, AOL Electric Library).
The company has been successful in grasping Diversity by instilling it in it’s organizational culture and making it management priority. Xerox Corporation has taken on the imperative responsibility to implement plans that ensure a true representation of the community in which they are based and upholding a true picture of the globally based customers they serve. Their strategy is one that sets goals to recruit and retain minorities for previously restricted positions and hold management accountable for reaching those goals. It is an approach which has worked well for the organization. Because they are truly committed to tapping into the expanded creativity minorities bring, Xerox has moved from the mandatory focus of Affirmative action programs to the voluntary implementation of a business objective.
According to John Fernandez, author of the book “Managing a Diverse Work Force”, white males would make up only fifteen percent of the net additions to the labor force between 1985 and 2000. White males were already in the minority, representing only forty-five percent of America’s 115 million workers in 1985.
Other facts and figures also support the above mentioned trend. This is pointed out by The Career Exposure Network, a premier on-line career center and job placement service. According to the Network:
? Through the 1990’s, people of color, women and immigrants will account for 85% of the net growth of the nation’s labor force.
? By 2000, women will be 47% of the labor force
? Over the next 20 years the U.S. population will grow by 42 million. Hispanics will account for 47% of the growth, Blacks22%, Asians18% and Whites13%.
? Miami is 2/3 Hispanics.
? San Francisco is 1/3 Asian American.
A more recent survey suggests that smaller businesses have been more successful than larger ones in promoting ethnic minorities into upper management. The study shows that in businesses with fewer than 500 employees, twenty percent of the senior managers are minorities, as compared with about 13 percent for businesses with five hundred or more employees (Thiederman, 162). The reason probably lies in the fact that the highest net increase of small businesses since the early 1990’s have been minority owned. The number of Hispanic-owned business has grown 76% since the early 90’s proceeded by Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives which grew 61% (Nickels, McHugh, McHugh, 4). Naturally, minority-owned businesses are more opt to promote their own into managerial positions. Either because the business is family owned or they have a limited labor pool of applicants.
Managing diversity goes ‘far beyond’ meeting the legal requirements of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. Whereas Affirmative action is based on mandatory compliance regulations designed to bring the level of representation for minority groups into parity, diversity initiatives within organizations are voluntary in nature. It takes Affirmative action a step further. Organizations that incorporate diversity initiatives as a part of their organizational objectives will be the most prepared they will be to meet the challenges of the next millenium. Whereas Affirmative Action focuses on including those on the basis of race, gender, and/or ethnicity, Diversity initiatives, when well implemented, focuses on all elements of diversity. Management must embrace the inclusion of employees not only with regard to obvious differences of race, sex, and age but also without regard to such secondary factors of diversity as marital or family status, sexual orientation and disabilities. Diversity means optimizing the productivity of ALL people in an organization.
As small companies approach the year 2000, there are some compelling reasons for expanding their diversity, according to business leaders and experts. One of the most important reasons is that employers can increase the quality of their workforce. It would be a mistake for small businesses not to embrace diversity, in this sense.
Women are another major group that has often been underrepresented in the workforce are clearly below those of white and black males. According to Barbara Bergmann, “The fall in women’s wages relative to men’s over the last twenty years suggest that whatever help they have received from Affirmative action has been modest at best, and has not been enough to counterbalance the effects of their buffeting from market forces.” (Bergmann, p.38)
In today’s market, more and more small businesses are being owned and managed by women. “The Wall Street Journal reported in 1996 that approximately 5.9 million women-owned businesses were operating in the United States.” (Nickels, McHugh, Mchugh P27). Because of this trend, corporate America needs to recruit women and other minorities into previously withheld positions in management if they choose to remain competitive. The owners of these female-run businesses may find it easier to sell to and more desirable to buy from businesses where women and other minorities are included at management levels.
Resistance to diversity, particularly by white males, poses a major problem. Resentment may be a result of narrow definitions of diversity that has failed to also include white males as well as a perception by some that diversity means preferential treatment for women and other groups. White male anger may also stem from the fear of losing jobs over a minority as a result of downsizing.
Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader, released a statement in 1995. In his statement he said, “Those who have been locked out need the law to protect them from the “tyranny of the majority.” We must look at the remaining gap in wages between men and women, whites and people of color. We must determine it’s necessity by data, not by anecdotes. It is a myth that white males are being hurt and discriminated against because of Affirmative Action programs. White males are 33% of the population, but
? 80% of Tenured Professors
? 80% of the U.S. House of Representatives
? 90% of the U.S. Senate
? 92% of the Forbes 400
? 97% of School Superintendents
? 99.9% of Professional Athletic Team Owners; and
? 100% of U.S. Presidents (Affirmative Action, P.9,10)
In any case, it will be easy to tell when affirmative action is no longer necessary. When an individual can look around the workforce and see that members of all groups are being employed and that they are being employed at the high levels as well as at the lower levels, then it won’t be needed anymore.
It is possible that American corporations are on that road. The increasing PRESENCE of women and minorities has altered the way that companies look. According to the August 14th, 1995 issue of Business Week, companies are using the following methods to hold on to female and minority employees:
? Focusing on bringing in the best talent, not on meeting numerical goals
? Developing career plans for employees as part of performance reviews
? Establishing mentoring programs among employees of same and different races
? Promoting minorities to decision-making positions, not just staff jobs
? Holding managers accountable for meeting diversity goals
? And Diversifying their Board of Directors
Despite such efforts by corporate America, the Glass Ceiling Commission reports that women and minorities hold just 5% of senior level jobs. Of the minorities who have obtained top jobs, they are in “soft positions” such as Human Resources with not much decision-making power (Business Week, Aug.14th ’95). In other words, there is still quite a bit of work to be done.
Diversity training has unquestionably taken off like a rocket. At corporations around the country, the concept, which previously encompassed a narrow range of sensitivity training programs, has broadened and expanded. Today, diversity is a serious corporate initiative that is seen as helping those at a disadvantage.
Through their commitment and involvement of diversity issues, Xerox was awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge quality award in 1989 for its three decade campaign to hire and promote women as well as minorities (Managing diversity: Lessons from the private sector, AOL Electric Library). The company has been a leader in the development of diversity initiatives which include programs designed to improve employee motivation, and teamwork through helping people to understand differences in gender and race as well as disabilities.
Although some of these programs go back over thirty years to the height of the Civil Rights Movement, today’s diversity initiatives refer to a much wider range of
programs designed to create a well running, cooperative workforce. Many initiatives start with benchmarking and company-wide goal setting. This then results in various recruitment, promotional and employee retention programs. These retention programs can include everything from educational grants to multilevel training programs. Another valuable retention program can be the redesign of performance review processes.
One thing is for sure, and that is that in order for it to work, diversity training must be able to incorporate ALL the demographic trends that are taking place in the country.
In recent years, women have become a growing presence in the labor force. As Gary Powell point out, “The proportion of women, which was 42 percent in 1980 and 45 percent in 1990, is expected to be 47 percent in the year 2000” (Powell, P.36).
Elderly workers are another major demographic group that has begun to be included in the workforce due to diversity initiatives and sensitivity training programs. This presents a number of different challenges for businesses today. Older employees may prefer more time off instead of other benefits that the younger employees might prefer. There is stronger resentment against elderly people as compared to women and minorities however, because those individuals are generally expensive to keep. Most elderly people have high salaries along with good and expensive benefit packages, including pensions. This creates a situation where many large companies feel that it is better to downsize these employees and pay severance packages rather than allowing these employees to stay on and collect top dollar on their benefit packages. Others seem to think otherwise, The American Association of Retired Persons believes “that an age-diverse workforce can benefit business organizations in the long run, and has embarked on research, education, and advocacy programs to promote age diversity.” (Employment Relations Today, Winter 1997). Nonetheless, diversity initiative programs have put some pressure on corporations and especially large conglomerates, to include elderly employees into their hiring and promoting practices.
Even when there is a sincere commitment to strive for a diverse workforce, many times it takes work to change deeply rooted prejudices and stereotypes. The desire to make it happen must come from the top down if subordinates are to truly get the message of importance. Unfortunately, many top-level managers are reluctant to change or alter the very system in which their careers prospered. Backlash by white males is too often the byproduct of diversity initiatives. In recent years, many white males have taken a stance against Affirmative Action programs and diversity initiatives claiming reverse discrimination. But there has been no evidence to support the notion that Affirmative Action plans are pushing the traditional white male out the door. A study done by the Department of Labor in 1995 found that 3,000 cases of reverse discrimination were filed that year alone, but fewer than 100 had sufficient evidence to support the claim (Kangas P.2) . In efforts to avoid the “division” that can occur within organizations that implement diversity initiatives, advocates of organizational cohesiveness go beyond efforts to hire individuals simply on the basis of difference. Instead, they focus on hiring those with the skills, and abilities most suitable for the vacancy, regardless of race, age, gender, or ethnicity. Other’s recruit people who represent the company’s underlying core values and otherwise demonstrate a high degree of compatibility. However, it should be noted that when the recruiting and selection process does not achieve “person-organization fit”, the organization may be left with a weak culture that sends unclear messages about values and provides employees no clear direction.
Proponents of a strong organizational culture believe that a high level of person-organization fit is advantageous for all parties; employers, new and current employees, and job seekers. A study of eight large public accounting firms, for example, looked at compatibility between what new staff accountants valued most in an organization and what their employers valued most. Researchers found that high compatibility on the part of employees led to quicker adjustments, higher job satisfaction, and lower turnover.
It should be pointed out that it is estimated that by the year 2000,thirty percent of the workforce will be 55 or older. This essentially means that corporations will be forced into incorporating an ever larger portion of the elderly work force into their sites. Diversity training and sensitivity classes will undoubtedly make this process a smoother one. Elderly employees will have to continually be trained and re-trained so that they become more compatible with the person-organization fit that so many corporations are now stressing and will stress in the future.
Unfortunately, people with disabilities have been excluded from the workforce in the past. As a result, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act in which the key provisions began to take place in 1992, has prompted thousands of U.S. workers to file discrimination complaints against their employers which over time could bring profound changes to the workplace. Many of thee complaints are bringing new issues to the table with regards to how far an organization must go to accommodate every type of disabled person. Through the efforts of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, many restaurants, movie theatres, libraries, malls, and many other public places are being scoured to find possible infractions of ADA non-compliance. Nearly 80,000 complaints are being filed annually with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination, far surpassing the number of complaints filed by women and minorities in the first year after those groups were extended civil rights protection in 1964. The litigation efforts undertaken by the EEOC has been able to recover over 50 million dollars for victims of discrimination and rose to an all time high in 1997 when it reached 111 million (www.eeoc.gov). Maybe it’s human nature not to do anything until you get caught short. But the increasing number of violations should be enough to initiate change that will accommodate the disabled.
The last group to be examined is foreign workers. Unfortunately, have an unjustifiable history of being scapegoated for any economic problems that this country has faced. Because of this, America has culminated a staunch tradition of immigration stretching back to the first white settlers that set foot here.
Survey after survey suggests that Americans do not think of Immigration as a good thing. The recent Immigration reform act only serves to advocate how they feel. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), “Naturalization applications jumped from 110,000 in the first quarter of 1994 to 180,000 for the same quarter of this year”; and the numbers keep increasing (Legislative Update, www.visalaw.com/95may/6may.html). A congressman by the name of Lamar Smith authored the initiation of what later became part of the Immigration Reform Act of 1996 (www.house.gov/lamarsmith/pr-013098.htm). The bill, appropriately called the Smith Bill, only staunches the advancement of immigrants into this country and simultaneously haults the flow of creativity and new skill. Like all other Immigration reform acts, this bill creates more barriers of entry for foreigners. The entire Immigration reform act of 1996 can be viewed at (www.visalaw.com/docs/2202.html).
In conclusion, minorities, women, elderly workers, people with disabilities and foreign workers are all groups that have been excluded from the workplace in the past. Some Federal legislations acknowledge this history and are making substantial effort to assimilate all people regardless of difference. Yet there is still much work to be done and it is only through collective effort that we can acknowledge the disadvantaged past and disadvantaged present of certain groups of people. Embracing Diversity must truly be embraced as our living spaces and working spaces become ever more unified.