We live in times when global corporations and their reach across the world bring benefits in terms of innovative HR policies as well as challenges in terms of managing the workforce are concerned. The rise of such corporations means that the workforce is composed of diverse races and ethnicities. Further, the issue of gender diversity in terms of more women participating in the workforce has been a trend that has accelerated in the last two decades in India and much earlier in the developed countries. This article looks at the reasons for managing workforce diversity and the issues that such management brings to the fore.
Why is Management of Diversity Important?
When an organization has people of different ethnicities and a greater proportion of women than the industry average, naturally the question arises as to how to reconcile the differences between these employees without causing too much friction in everyday interactions. Managing diversity is important as otherwise the performance of the organization takes a hit and worse, there can be possible lawsuits and legal tangles from disaffected employees who feel aggrieved because of instances of discrimination and harassment based on their ethnicity or gender.
Issues in Managing Diversity
One of the central issues in managing diversity is to do with the majority and the minority perspective. Usually, it is the case in organizations that there is a predominant majority of a particular race or ethnicity and various others in minority groups. And considering that the most pressing issue in managing diversity arises out of the treatment of women, we get a sense of the issues of race and gender as the primary drivers in managing diversity. In recent times, these issues have come to the forefront of the debate because of greater awareness among the minority groups about their rights as well as stricter enforcement of laws and regulations that govern workplace behavior.
Hence, it is in the interest of the management of any firm to sensitize their workforce towards race and gender issues and ensure that the workplace is free of discrimination against minority groups as well as women.
We have devoted a separate section on gender sensitization because when compared to other issues in managing diversity, this is the most pressing issue because of the preponderance of women in the workforce as well as recent trends that point to the emergence of this single issue as the dominant issue that is taking the mind space of managers. The worrying aspect about this issue is that despite policies and rules governing gender specific issues in most organizations, there is little evidence to show that they are being followed. Hence, what is needed is a mindset change rather than more policies and this can only be done if the workforce is sensitized to the needs of women.
Though the situation in Corporate India or India Inc. has not yet reached the stage where lawsuits are routinely brought against management for discriminatory practices, nonetheless, the trend in recent years is towards a more vocal disapproval of such practices from industry leaders and management consultants who repeatedly emphasize the importance of a non-discriminatory workplace. Hence, the onus is on the management, senior and middle, to ensure that they follow the norms that is required of them. In our opinion, the middle management and the managers who directly interact with the teams of people have a greater role as they are the “Sandwich” between the upper management and the workforce and hence are in a position to follow the policies as well as enforce them.