Cultural Diversity in the Workplace
Managers, as is widely known, play a critical role in modern day organisations. With businesses having grown rapidly over the course of the second half of the 20th century, ongoing developments like the growing separation of ownership and management, the ever increasing sizes of businesses, and increasing specialisation have made managers critical to the successful functioning of all but small and tiny owner handled enterprises. Modern day managers, especially those who work with people in line and staff positions are responsible for supervising and enhancing the activities and productivity of their workers.
They play an important role in managing the performance of their staff, and are deeply involved in selection of employees, the development of their careers, planning of succession, and in many other aspects of human resource management, including compensation, rewards and training (Devoe, 1999). With modern day managements increasingly thinking of their employees as their most important organisational resource, managing employees is among the most important of managerial responsibilities (Devoe, 1999).
The second half of the 20th century has seen increasing diversity in the workplace, particularly in the UK and the USA because of a number of socio-economic reasons related to immigration, economic and educational emancipation of ethnic groups, and
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With effective communication between managers and the members of the workforce being critical for managerial effectiveness, this essay deals with the importance of communication between managers and the organisational workforce, the challenges and opportunities to management that have arisen out of increasing workplace diversity, the hindrances that can arise in communication in organisations with workplace diversity, and the importance of managers to have a good understanding of workplace diversity to be able to fulfil their responsibilities effectively.
2. Commentary and Analysis Role of Communication Modern day organisations, business or otherwise are substantially dependent upon communication, horizontal and vertical, external and internal, for their successful working. All organisations, large or small, business, governmental or not for profit, have agendas that could range from the very complex to the extremely simple. Communication is a demanding organisational issue and vitally important to organisational functioning for the execution of these agendas, regardless of size, nature or industry type.
Professor Leif Aberg (1998) of the Department of Communication, University of Helsinki states that communication gives these organisations momentum by fulfilling four basic functions, namely (a) supporting core functions, (b) profiling, (c) informing and (d) socialising. While the relative importance and scope of these four functions depends, to a great extent upon the size and nature of individual organisations, all four functions, taken together, undoubtedly account for most of the formal communication that occurs within organisations.
Managers depend upon the effectiveness and scope of communication with employees for optimising organisational working and performance. Core functions of different organisations could range from manufacturing products to providing services; or as is the case with many governmental bodies, executing administrative work (Harris, 2002). Core processes, irrespective of their nature, can occur only through effective communication between organisational members (Harris, 2002). Communication can be top down, bottom up, horizontal or diagonal.
Again it can relate to any or more of the issues involved in the carrying out of core functions (Harris, 2002). Effective communication between the management and the workforce has, as such, become an accepted imperative for organisational excellence, and breakdowns in this area are inevitably regarded as issues of major concern (Harris, 2002). The dissemination of information within an organisation is another key component of organisational communication structure (Harris, 2002).
Very typically, significant amounts of information are regularly processed within an organisation. These can (a) relate to events as well as developments that are internal or external to the organisation, or (b) concern organisational decisions taken at senior levels (Harris, 2002). Such information may need to be conveyed to members of the establishment (Harris, 2002). Decisions to communicate this sort of information are usually taken by members of senior management in consultation with communication managers.
Information about internal decisions could cover a very broad ambit and possibly include details about organisational performance, targets, personnel policies, promotions, increments and the like (Harris, 2002). It is imperative to ensure that real time business information reaches all ranks and functions in the organization (Harris, 2002). Considering the bulk of such information, it is thus but appropriate that the majority of communication matters within organisations deal primarily with dissemination of routine information (Harris, 2002).
The last regular function of communication concerns socialisation. Socialisation is primarily a process wherein members of an organisation or group learn to assimilate and internalise the behavioural norms, attitudes, thought processes and work ethics of the parent body (Harris, 2002). In most cases socialisation occurs when new entrants join organisations and take up their responsibilities (Harris, 2002). Its need could arise for existing organisational members too if they have to be transferred to different locations or departments (Harris, 2002).
Socialisation is essentially a learning process and could be needed, both at the time of induction of employees into an organisation, or at the time of their induction to work (Harris, 2002). It is one of the primarily responsibilities of the Human Resources function and normally takes place through training and induction protocols (Harris, 2002). These protocols are obviously dependent on communication through written, audiovisual, personal interaction, mentoring, or classroom mediums for their actual operation (Harris, 2002).
Apart from these four standard functions, informal communication takes place constantly within organisations and groups and serves to increase social interaction between colleagues and co-workers; thereby helping in building relationships, inculcating feelings of belonging and strengthening organisational loyalty and commitment. Communication is not thought of any more as a routine and peripheral function. Its role as a driver of organisational success is well accepted and managements are increasingly trying to ensure its optimal use in the shaping and steering of organisations.
Richard Luss and Steven Nice (2004) of Watson Wyatt state that communication serves organisations because (a) employees feel connected to the business and understand how their actions can support it, (b) new employees exhibit solid connections to the company culture starting from their initial days on the job, (c) it quickly connects employees to changing business challenges, facilitating faster adjustments to fluctuating market conditions, and (d) connects management with employees through strong leadership during times of organizational change.
While managers have for long been told about the importance of communication and in fact constantly trained to improve their communication skills, recent years have seen the emergence of challenges to effective communication that have arisen from the progressive diversification of the workplace. Diversity in the Workplace
Achievement of diversity in the workplace is an essential constituent of the last boundary that needs overcoming in the effort to ensure equal opportunity for all segments of society, locally, nationally and globally. While democratic systems and liberty have provided people in most countries the right to vote and fairness before law, equality in employment opportunities in the workplace is yet to arrive (Esty & Others, 1995).
Employment opportunities are by and large exploited by the more powerful segments of society, thus increasing economic disparities between the privileged and the disadvantaged (Esty & Others, 1995). In multicultural countries like the UK and the USA, a responsive society has guaranteed the progression of suitable laws to ensure the elimination of inequitable practices in the workplace on account of issues of sex, race, religion, age or sexual orientation of potential or present employees (Esty & Others, 1995).
Governmental intentions and public laws however still need to be carried forward into unswerving actions in the workplace, more so with smaller organisations, which form a large part of the existing business configuration (Esty & Others, 1995). Business firms, public offices policymakers and many business leaders are seriously considering and implementing measures to enhance the representation of various communities, as well as women, at many levels, in their places of work (Fine, 1996).
Achievement of diversity in the workplace has now become an area of priority and important for image, as well as political correctness. With there being little abnormal for democratic and developed countries in the modern age to strive for equality of faith, religious conviction, gender, age and ethnicity, a really multicultural and essentially civilised society should, in the normal course, have the ability to provide the same opportunities to all its people.
Similar work opportunities in the place of work, the same value systems for all individuals, ought to be an indisputable and irrefutable actuality, and the very fact that it continues to be an issue for deliberation, debate, and discussion, and that too in the modern day, and not in the historical perspective, is very distressing. Diversity in the workplace, in actuality, is still a distant phenomenon. The employment configurations of most firms tilt in favour of recruiting white males, despite the availability of perhaps more appropriate persons from other social sections.
(Fine, 1996) While the official electronic and physical information dissemination vehicles of many business firms have suitably framed statements about equality in matters of employment, as also the organisational commitment to the achievement of greater diversity, very few businesses and companies can actually even come near achieving the local or national demographic structure in their workplaces, the single accurate gauge of workplace diversity (Fine, 1996). The tendency to place individuals in compartments and to approach different social segments separately continues to survive.
Reasons for the Need of Managers to Understand Workplace Diversity There is nevertheless, an increasing consciousness of the huge and enduring advantages that can come the way of western firms businesses and society through the realisation of diversity in the workplace. Much of this awareness is being provided by large transnational corporations, which, owing to their substantial familiarity with managing workforces drawn from various nations, ethnicities and social segments, have come to understand the advantages of a varied diversified workforce (Allison, 1999).
Many of these organisations, e. g. Philip Morris, British Petroleum, and Citibank, have been able to achieve considerable diversity in their organisations with consequent corporate advantages (Allison, 1999). With business firms realising the substantial advantages that can accrue out of diversification of their staff structure, it is being predicted that diversity will progressively become integral to western corporate frameworks (Allison, 1999).
Again, with many firms already putting programmes for diversification in place, management experts stress that accomplishment of workforce diversity will become important for achieving competitive advantage (Allison, 1999). Whilst it is inevitable that enhancement in the numbers of suitable people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds will result in the erosion of the proportion of white males in western organisations, it also needs to be realised that delays in such actions will also lead to gradual declines in the availability of internal talent pools and in the erosion of competitive advantage (Fine, 1996).
Progressive organisations are in the process of building up skilled, creative and innovative manpower resources by providing unobstructed workplace surroundings, clear objectives and a range of skills, knowledge and abilities (Fine, 1996). It is also becoming widely accepted that the achievement of diversity in the workplace leads to a substantial increase in the production of ideas and in the innovative ability of organisations (Allison, 1999).
NASA stands out as an example of a culturally diverse organisation where a multicultural and mixed workforce has contributed in the building of one of the world’s greatest institutions (Diversity and NASA, 2002). Managers across a broad spectrum of industries and organisations in the advanced nations are now actively progressing diversification programmes with varying commitment and results. There also appears to be general agreement on its utility in bringing about a significant number of business and operational advantages, along with the accomplishment of social equity.
In fact organisations that have diversified workforces become far more flexible and are able to provide a greater number of solutions to workplace challenges. Employees from different backgrounds add depth to organisations and enable them to understand the nuances of the marketplace far more effectively. A range of abilities and skills, including knowledge of different languages and cultures, empowers organisations to absorb different viewpoints, absorb different ideas and deal better with the demands of the global marketplace.
Diversified organisations are able to draw from a larger reservoir of experiences and awareness for purposes of strategy formulation and satisfaction of customer expectations (Fine, 1996). With organisations becoming progressively diversified it becomes essential for managers to develop a sound understanding of the various social and organisational issues that relate to diversity; such awareness will help them to relate to a diversified workplace, appreciate the needs of employees, respond more appropriately to workplace challenges and optimize the working of their organisations (Fine, 1996).
The lack of understanding of such issues will invariably lead to mistakes in communication efforts, misunderstandings, resentment, and adverse impact upon productivity and operational and financial performance (Fine, 1996). Managerial Responsibilities in Diversified Workplaces Managers of modern day western businesses face significant challenges in understanding, coming to terms with, and effectively utilising their progressively diverse work environments.
Most of the difficulties faced by organisations in implementing diversification and effectively utilising diversified workforces arise from issues that exist in latent form under the working and public surface. “Many remarks made by people that appear to be harmless or throw away may assume only opposite sex relationships are valid. This is demeaning for LGB (Lesbians, gays and Bisexuals) people and they may fear a negative reaction if the assumptions are challenged. Whenever they do challenge these assumptions, they must come out to the person who made them. This can often be a daily occurrence and can be very draining.
” (Fair for all, 2006) Concealed mindsets, attitudes, and emotions emerge by and large at the time of taking important decisions, be they at the time of selection of potential employees, allocating work or giving promotions to existing workers. “Negative attitudes and behaviors can be barriers to organizational diversity because they can harm working relationships and damage morale and work productivity. Negative attitudes and behaviors in the workplace include prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, which should never be used by management for hiring, retention, and termination practices (could lead to costly litigation).
” (Fair for all, 2006) Business firms that have adopted some rudimentary and preliminary policies to put diversity into operation, but do not have a plainly expressed and decided plan are quite likely to experience adverse results with their diversity actions. Such companies, whilst visibly recognised to be unbiased, often overlook and agree to influence and authority disparities between groups of employees. Diversity policies in such circumstances become symbolic rather than actual, and ethical and principled issues become cloaked by the need to be lawfully and politically proper.
Diversity frequently becomes a publicly appropriate pretense rather than a strategic and agreed aim, the dismantling of fences and obstructions to diversity in stated policies not being backed up by its actual accomplishment. Women, individuals from different ethnic backgrounds, and disabled people, in such workplaces, are given place but expected to behave in accordance with the expectations of the prevailing male, white employees. Gaining understanding of diversity issues will enable managers to recognise deep rooted prejudices, not only in their employees, but also in themselves, and empower them to build an equitable workplace.
Redesigning of social systems, according to Stein (1994) is dependent upon the acknowledgement of the “silences and denials” that surround positions of privilege and the need to progressively dismantle such beliefs and mindsets. Many managers may also suffer from their lack of exposure to multiculturalism, making it more important for them to understand the benefits of a diversified workplace, the challenges that arise during the implementation of diversity and the ways and mans by which such challenges can be overcome.
In many cases, members of the dominant group suffer from a severe lack of exposure to minorities and while they are sincere in their desire to promote diversity, tend to feel much more comfortable with what they feel to be familiar, with consequently undesirable consequences. Conclusion A diverse workforce is a manifestation of an evolving society and its various constituents. Diversity augments competitive advantage and adds value to organizations.
With most workplaces progressively becoming diverse in their staffing, managers need to understand that the acknowledgement of individual differences creates advantages in the workplace and increases productivity. The effective management of diversity creates a safe and equitable environment that provides equal opportunities and challenges to all employees. Understanding of diversity issues by managers helps in improving communication between managers and members of the workforce, both in formal and informal communication processes. Efficient and productive managers must contribute to the building of successful and diverse workforces.
Managers must first realise of the complexity of discrimination and its consequences. They must also learn to become aware of their own cultural predispositions and prejudices. Lastly managers must be willing to bring in necessary changes in missions, strategies, policies and procedures, to bring about workplace diversity. “Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for success. It mainly depends on the manager’s ability to understand what is best for the organization based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace. Managing diversity is a comprehensive process for creating a work environment that includes everyone.
When creating a successful diverse workforce, an effective manager should focus on personal awareness. Both managers and associates need to be aware of their personal biases. Therefore, organizations need to develop, implement, and maintain ongoing training because a one-day session of training will not change people’s behaviors. ” (Rooselvet, 2001) References Aberg, L, 1998, Organisational communication as a strategic resource, Retrieved January 10, 2007 from www. valt. helsinki. fi/staff/aberg/iabclast/ Allison, M. T. , 1999, Organizational Barriers to Diversity in the Workplace, Journal of Leisure Research, 31(1), 78+ Black Enterprise, (2001), Managing a multicultural workforce.
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