Thursday, May 17, 2012

Managing Diversity Research Paper

Managing Diversity Research Paper

(Addressing the managerial implications of increasing diversity in the workforce.)

A great amount of people in our ever changing and globalising world view diversity as an advantage. There are however those of us who find it difficult to deal with and prefer not to make the extra effort, and instead to settle for the familiar. It is natural for individuals to feel more comfortable with a slightly altered version of themselves. This would, to a large extent, prevent communication difficulties, and save people the effort of having to consider and get acquainted with someone different to them. In reality we have no choice but to embrace differences in culture, origin, language, etc. This is especially true in the field of management. This is one of the areas which are most affected by globalisation and the increasing need for coping with diversity.

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Companies are increasing their intercultural and gender tolerant focus when recruiting new employees, and thus encountering new challenges in managing their labour force. Despite the difficulties which might arise as a result of the diversification of the workforce, one cannot help but think that there must be some advantage to this new phenomenon. If not, why would successful companies chose to make the extra effort of having diverse teams?

According to the book “Intercultural Management” by Nina Jacob, leading companies choose to “globalise” themselves internally in order to achieve a good cohesion with their regions of activity, and thus obtain the best possible results in their operations. There are many considerations when dealing with multicultural working environments. Managers must be aware of the numerous peculiarities of diverse groups. If run well, such teams can have astounding success. Optimal outcomes can be achieved by encouraging people to let loose and work freely at the tasks which they are good at. It is no coincidence that leading multinationals are opting for a diverse workforce. They are well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each culture involved in their company, and know how to manage and distil the best of each.

In order to do this however, there are certain prerequisites. These include awareness, knowledge of hard cross cultural facts, and perhaps most important – a firm hand when enforcing tolerance, understanding, and facilitating effective communication. If there is to be success in a diverse team, there needs to be a good fusion between its members. This will enable workers to cooperate and cherish their differences. It is natural for conflicts and difficulties to arise simply because people’s set of beliefs, values, their communication habits, body language, and pretty much everything that comprises them as individuals varies so much. Whether this is because of differences in culture, background, education or even sex it is both the challenge and advantage of managing mixed teams.

If we examine things more closely from a cross cultural point of view, we will find that there are many theories and classifications of the exact differences between cultures. This field of knowledge involves sciences such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and many other aspects of human learning. One particular study and theory about the way cultures can be classified is that of R. Lewis. In his book “When Cultures Collide” he outlines his study of cultural differences and diversity. The theory behind the author’s musings is that world cultures can be classified into three basic groups, namely Linear – active, Multi – active, and Reactive. Each of these has its own characteristics and members. There are few cultures which belong strictly to one of the categories, but each is thought to have a predominant amount of features from one of them. The linear active group is characterised as cool, factual, and decisive when it comes to planning. It comprises countries such as Germany and Switzerland. The Multi – active variety is described as warm, talkative, emotional, and impulsive and includes, among others, South America, Spain, Italy. And the final category is the Reactive one. It is made up of Countries such as Vietnam, China, Japan, etc, and is said to be courteous, amiable, compromising, and good at listening. Apart from providing this basic division, the book also gives many examples from the rich life experience of the writer, and supports the claims with hard psychological and sociological evidence. The author goes on to further define the characteristics of each cultural group by providing insights into each one’s perception of time, sequence of task completion, interpersonal distance, etc.

This gives us a basis for interpreting the managerial implications of such ideas. Let us imagine for a moment that we are managing a team which’s members come from each of the above categories. We as managers may have no idea about the farfetched idea of cross cultural differences and therefore go about the work based on what needs to be done, and who is qualified to complete which task. This may be a good way to start the planning process, but it is bound to lead to devastating results. Can we trust that a team of people with completely differing perceptions of the working process and even of time will manage to magically cooperate without any help or problems? If we make that assumption what will undoubtedly result are conflicts, frustration, and bad final results. We therefore need to cater for such differences within the workforce by assigning the right kind of work to the right people, in the right kind of way and in the mean time monitoring that there is efficient communication and cooperation.

Although cultural differences account for a large part of multiplicity in the work force, they are not the only managerial challenge when dealing with diverse groups. There are many other aspects to be taken into account one of which is gender. It is clear to us even from an early age that males and females have different reactions to any given event. Whether this is inborn, or we are conditioned thus by society is a controversial issue, but the fact that differences exist remains.

While women are more likely to exhibit emotional behaviour and focus more on the maintaining interpersonal relationships, men tend to be more direct. As any other generalisation this can be refuted, but we can all agree that there is truth to this claim and that benefits may be derived from it. In his article Managing Gender Diversity, K. Weiss points out the differences between gender in terms of ways of thinking and planning and gives a few pointers on how to deal with gender differences. An overview of a few these tips could help us to better understand where gender differences arise and how they can be dealt with. The author suggests that women and men should remember that “empathy vs. advice” is an issue. This means that females tend to look for understanding rather than practical advice, and for men the bottom line result is important so they tend to give handy tips. Another interesting piece of advice is that the fair sex should remember that anger is a way for men to deal with stress. With this in mind we can strive to reduce angry outbursts from males in the workplace and reassure women that this is a natural way of dealing with anger for men. These suggestions show us that a key role of managers is to soften the blow of communication differences between men and women. This can help to establish a healthy working environment and enable everyone to contribute to the maximum.

These observations and facts about the diversity in the working environment are all a valid concern for every manager. In order to make differences a strength the coordinator of the workforce needs to have the necessary knowledge, skill, and most importantly intuition to enforce a friendly and productive environment of effective communication and productivity.
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