Managing diversity ought to be a top priority for managers in all organizations, large and small, public and private, for profit and not for profit. Organizations need to ensure that managers and all levels of employees appreciate the value that diversity brings to an organization and have the ability to interact and work effectively with men and women who are physically challenged or who differ in age, race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or sexual orientation. An objective of today’s manager is to build a team of heterogeneous employees that function at least as productively as homogeneous employees.
Ideally, today’s managers must be able to tap into the reservoir of a multitalented, diverse workforce that will make the organization more resourceful, more productive, more responsive to customers, and a more interesting place to work. Managers across the United States are confronted almost daily with the increasing diversity of the workforce. Workforce diversity refers to the wider variety of today’s employees, who vary with respect to gender, age, culture, and ethnic background, and who may have physical and/or mental disabilities.
Whereas, globalization focuses on differences between people from different countries, workforce diversity addresses differences among people within a given country. The empowerment of the workforce and the increased use of self-managing teams in the workplace continue to blur the distinctions between managers and employees. Now employees often assume such responsibilities as planning staffing and rewarding other employees that used to be typically entrusted solely to managers.
Managers have become more adept at using technology, often assuming word processing, analysis, and communication roles formerly delegated to staff employees. Managers have moved from a directive to a facilitative role and now coach and counsel employees. They create teams of workers, who often differ from the manager in gender, race, language, values, and lifestyle. Managers must then manage this diverse workforce in an uncertain and changing environment Status is the social ranking or social worth accorded an individual because of the position he or she occupies in a group.
Status and position are so similar that the terms are often interchangeable. The status assigned to a particular position is typically a consequence of certain characteristics that differentiate one position from other positions. In some cases, a person is assigned status because of such factors as job seniority, age, or ability. For example, the oldest worker may be perceived as being more technically proficient and is, therefore, attributed status by a group of technicians. Thus, assigned status may have nothing to do with the formal status hierarchy.
Organizational cultures define rules for power, rules for social stratification, and the ways in which social status is determined. Some accord social status and power to people of high achievement. Others base status and power on seniority. Power and status may shift to those who know, understand, and can use the new technology. Such shifts undermine the position of those who had power and status in the culture before the new technology arrived. All those factors can lead to conflict, inefficiency, and possible sabotage of the new technology.
Cultures produce different ways of looking at the world and interpreting language and events. People from different subcultures may distrust those from other subcultures because of their different worldviews. Conflict can erupt between people from different subcultures, especially when they passionately hold to different views. Diversity means differences among people due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, and capabilities/disabilities.
Diversity raises important issues of ethics and social responsibility for managers and organizations. If not handled well, diversity challenges bring an organization to its knees, especially in our increasingly global environment. There are several reasons why diversity is valued, both in the popular press and by managers and their organizations. First, there is a strong ethical imperative that diverse people receive equal opportunities and be treated fairly and justly. In some countries, unfair treatment is also illegal.
Second, when managers effectively manage diversity, they can improve organizational effectiveness. They not only improve morale by encouraging other managers to treat diverse members of an organization fairly, but also use diversity as an important resource that can give the organization a competitive advantage. Organizations are able to influence the development of employee engagement and commitment through their capacity for structuring developmental experiences and supporting high-quality relationships.
To the extent that the nature of experiences and relationships available to an individual are congruent with an important aspect of the person’s sense of self (either current, desired, or ideal), he or she will experience positive emotions and become behaviorally committed to maintaining the attachment to the organization since it provides verification of the person’s identity. Further, it is important that there is consistent feedback available to the person and that the feedback be meaningful and developmental.
The individual job typically requires little or no collaborative behavior although the employee may interact with others to some degree. Individuals are recruited as single entities and proceed through a selection process designed to discover how well the individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities reflect the requirements of the job’s tasks. Rarely are teamwork skills and ability or desire to work with others assessed. The orientation and socialization of a new employee are also individual in nature, and typically focus on acquainting new hires with their new duties.
Traditionally, training emphasizes the development of task work, and not team work, skills. The performance appraisal system is also consistent with the individual nature of jobs. In keeping with the solitary performance of job tasks, teamwork and collaborative skills are seldom assessed. To support teamwork, HR can offer training not only on technical skills, but on key teamwork skills. Teamwork skills training are important both to remedy individual deficiencies and to emphasize that such skills are an important part of meeting organizational goals. As stated previously, there are general teamwork skills.
These skills are adaptability, closed-loop communication, team leadership, back-up behavior, interpersonal relations, and conflict resolution skills. While team training can be offered, some organizations have taken a more indirect approach. For example, one of our interviewees indicated that individual teamwork skills training courses were not offered, because the organization believed that integrating teamwork content into every other type of training, for example, technical and process training, sent employees a clearer message about the value of teamwork to the organizations.
For teams that need their members to support or back-up each other during busy times members can be prepared through cross-training on other team members’ job duties. The literature has identified other instructional strategies that can be implemented when appropriated and needed. These strategies have yet to see their way to corporate America. Team building remains the strategy of choice. However, a recent meta-analysis showed that team building helps only in clarifying roles and does not have effect on performance.
Corporate America and HR practitioners could benefit from the work conducted in aviation and the military. In fact, the aviation and military communities have been the biggest users of team training approaches, and have had some successes. Organizations must hire people who fit with their values, core competencies, and strategic goals. Organizations must continuously train employees to do their jobs and offer them opportunities to grow and develop.
Organizations must develop and adhere to a specific organizational mission, with strategies, goals and values that employees can understand, support and believe in.
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