Managing a Diverse Workforce: Challenges and Measures

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Managing a Diverse Workforce: Challenges and Measures
Eugene James, Manager, Switzerland

There is consensus that in general, a diverse workforce is inevitable as much as it is beneficial to the general interest of an organization. Diversity can yield higher productivity in the case of greater representation of women. Diversity is also conducive to fresh and innovative thinking.
Yet managers can easily stray into taking diversity promotion for granted. Worse, it can become a burden as they are forced to comply with policies such as quotas and attend lengthy workshops.

There are steps managers can take in tackling the challenges associated with diversity management:
  1. BUILDING TRUST: Design tasks in a way that builds trust, such as establishing short term goals. This is crucial as it signals the added value of cooperating. Furthermore managers need to be sensitive and culturally aware that trust is built differently from one group to another. In some cultures, trust is developed by engaging directly with a task, while in others it is built through dialogue and establishing friendship.
  2. ADAPT ONE'S CULTURAL LENSE: In interacting with staff, managers must not assume that the same references will be shared with respect to language in general and the manner of conversing. In some cultures, being honest in voicing criticism in public is frowned upon and staff are unlikely to do so. In other contexts, when someone says "No", it may be construed as just the beginning of a discussion and mean that a better offer or proposal is expected.
  3. DEVOTION TO THE TEAM: Managers must guard themselves against merely fulfilling obligations related to diversity policy such as strict legal compliance with affirmative action laws. Instead a genuine effort is needed to build diverse teams, wherein individual members are properly integrated within their team and are able to make a real contribution to the work of the organization.
Source: "Diversity Fatigue", The Economist, February 13 2016

Workplace Diversity: what Works and what Doesnít
Chloe Xu, Consultant, Australia
Workplace diversity encompasses many positive aspects of life. It is about acknowledging the diverse skills, expertise, and perspective that people may bring to their workplace because of their gender, age, language, cultural background, religious belief, socio-economic background, and so on.

It is about removing barriers to ensure all employees enjoy full participation in a workplace that supports the development and achievement of well-informed and culturally appropriate business outcomes. It also involves recognizing the value of individual differences and managing them in the workplace.

Wall Street firms require new hires to sign arbitration contracts agreeing not to join class actions. They also expanded training and other diversity programs. However, equality isnít improving in financial services or elsewhere.

It shouldnít be surprising that most of those programs arenít increasing diversity. Companies are basically using the same approaches theyíve used since the 1960s, which often make things worse, not better. Tools that are designed to pre-empt lawsuits by disciplining managersí thoughts and actions, such as diversity training, hiring tests, performance rating, and grievance systems, are found only to activate bias rather than stamp it out.
  • DIVERSITY TRAINING: While people are easily taught to response correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget to apply the right answers in reality. The positive effects of diversity training only last one or two days, and a number of studies suggest it can activate bias or create a repercussion.
  • HIRING TESTS: Over 40% of companies now try mandatory hiring tests to fight bias. But in fact, managers donít like being told that they canít hire whomever they please and they often use the tests selectively.
  • PERFORMANCE RATING: Companies sued for discrimination often claim that their performance rating systems prevent biased treatment and studies show that ratings donít boost diversity at all.
  • GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES: Nearly half of discrimination complaints made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015 included a charge of retaliation. When employees see that a grievance system isnít preventing bad behavior in their organization, they may become less likely to speak up.
A recent study has found that companies get better results when they loosen the control tactics. Itís more effective to engage managers in solving the problem, increase their on-job contact with female and minority employees, and promote their social accountability. Here is some more detail about what works in workplace diversity:
    1) College recruitment programs targeting women and minorities - Managers who were invited for college visits say they take their charge seriously and are determined to come back with strong candidates from underrepresented groups.
    2) Mentoring is another way to engage managers and chip away at their biases.
    1) Working side-by-side can break down stereotypes. Self-managed teams, which allow people in different roles and functions to work together on projects as equals, increase contact among diverse types of people, and make them to see others like themselves first and foremost.
    2) Rotating management trainees through departments - It has a positive impact on diversity because it exposes both department heads and trainees to a wider variety of people.
    1) Plays on peopleís need to look good in the eyes of those around them and be transparency to activate social accountability.
    2) Corporate diversity task groups - Theory suggests that having a task group member in a department will cause the managers in it to be more aware of keeping fair-minded when making hiring and promotion decisions.
Strategies for controlling bias, which most diversity efforts take, have failed spectacularly since they were introduced to promote equal opportunity. The problem is that people canít be motivated by forcing. Now we know what does work and we just need to do more of it.

⇒ Do you have any further suggestions or experiences on increasing diversity in your team or workplace?

Dobbin, F. and Kalev, A. (2016). Why Diversity Programs Fail and What Works Better. Harvard Business Review, 94 (July-August), p.52-60.



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