Diversity is the word on everyone’s lips. It shows up in discussions about gender, the demographic change, or the discrimination workers with migrant backgrounds are facing. Also being talked about are some ways companies can mitigate this problem. Some suggestions – especially in Germany – have been anonymous applications and quotas for women.
Many companies now face the question: Can workforce diversity be sustainable? This question was not brought up for the first time yesterday, it is, and has been, an important part of employer branding. So how should companies deal with the increasing diversity in their workforce, customer base and markets? There are two approaches that have left a lasting impression on the organizational approach to diversity: Equal Opportunity Employment and Diversity Management.
Equal Opportunity Employment – Abolition of Discrimination
The “Equal Opportunity” movement has its roots in the US, which were accelerated by Martin Luther King Jr. Beyond those fighting for their rights, supporters of the movement were hoping to make amends for past injustices. The Canadian version of the anti-discrimination movement is based on the American concept of “affirmative action”. Whereas the American concept narrowly focuses on getting representation for specific group of people in the workforce, the Canadian version uses a broader concept. Either way, the purpose continues to focus on making up for past wrongs. Equal Opportunity mainly refers to HR processes such as HR marketing, recruiting and staff development, which are dictated by external regulations. Diversity was originally achieved by a quota mechanism in the recruitment and promotion of staff. Now, over 40 years later, these gender balance issues will once again be discussed in Germany…
Diversity Management – Recognition and Promotion of Diversity
While pursuing equal opportunities, a new approach was developed: Managing Diversity. Within this concept, everything revolves around one question: How do I, as a business owner, deal with diversity? The goal is less about democratic equality and more about recognition and promotion of diversity within the organizational and economic objectives.
It’s about a fundamental positive understanding of diversity in the company. It should start in the recruitment process with decisions about employee development and continue into the acquisition of new investors and designing customer relationship activities. These measures span a very wide range and are rooted in an organizational culture that recognizes and promotes diversity.
Short-term measures are not sustainable
Contrasting their objective, Equal Opportunity measures are often limited to the personnel selection process. This short-sightedness is one of its biggest weaknesses: How effectively can measures, such as mandating a specific proportion of women in management positions ensure equal opportunities if they are not based in a corporate culture which supports (gender) diversity?
Imagine the following situation: 30% of a conservative international company’s workforce has migrant backgrounds, due to the quota. Thos eemployees are faced with a conservative culture that is focused on the stereotypical “normal worker”: Cultural customs are disregarded; everything conforms to the practices of the “normal non-migrant worker”. Perhaps you can imagine how happy the new employees will be with this environment. They will have a considerably more difficult time working everyday than the “normal worker”.
The need for diversity management
An intriguing question is: How necessary is dealing with diversity?
One thing is for sure: discrimination in the workplace persists in spite of all the best efforts to integrate. This will not change overnight and legal regulations will continue over the next few years. Nevertheless, it will become obvious that diversity should be promoted through sustainable diversity management. This is the only way to ensure that the “forcibly” set external specifications of workers bring long-term satisfaction and performance. Advocates of the diversity management approach stress over and over again the benefits achieved, especially the economic ones, through diversity programs. But these benefits will most likely carry not only economic benefits, but social ones as well.