The Advantages of Diversity in Educational Institutions
Burbank, California; November 10, 2001; Joan Marques, MBA
This article focuses on the positive aspects of diversity in the workplace, and the necessity for Human Resources to not only identify the importance of workplace diversity, but to implement and accommodate diversity at every level in the work environment as well. Even though there is a wide range of arguments to be enumerated, the focus in this article will be limited to the following advantages of workforce diversity:
· Feeling good to be doing the right thing
· Creating a better work environment while providing better service to customers at the same time
· Making the organization more innovative, productive, and creative
· Increase employee’s commitment by practicing more flexibility
When presented in the course of the article, these points of focus will also be explained briefly.
Although the issues to be discussed are applicable to practically every work environment, the main focus of this article will be higher education institutions. The customers and clients to be mentioned throughout the article could therefore be seen as students, while the product could be regarded to be education.
Diversity means recognizing and respecting differences in people (DeCenzo & Robins, 1999, p.9). Work-force diversity includes the varied backgrounds of employees that are present in our companies today (DeCenzo & Robins, 1999, p.9). In an attempt to predict our future work-force diversity, DeCenzo & Robins (1999) explain that this will be made up of “males, females, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Natiove Americans, the disabled, homosexuals, straights, and the elderly (p.38)”.
In a projected article by Dr. Connie Sitterly, DeCenzo & Robins (1999) state that anyone not sensitive to diversity issues needs to stop and check his attitude at the door (p.33). Sitterly predicted that by the end of the 90s, people of color, white women and immigrants will account for 85% of our labor force (DeCenzo & Robins, 1999, p.33).
The most important advantage of diversity is presented in the aforementioned article when Sitterly states that
[implementing workplace diversity] should be done not only because it’s the law, or because it’s morally and ethically the right thing to do or because it makes good business sense, but also because when we open our minds and hearts we feel better about ourselves (DeCenzo & Robins, 1999, p.33).
This brings us to the first, and maybe most important advantage of diversity, the establishment of a feeling of satisfaction because the choice has been made to do the right thing instead of the easiest thing, which would be, hiring people who fit best. Verespej (2001) asserts that the problem is often not whether companies can find someone who is qualified; it is whether they think someone will fit in (p.23). According to Verespej (2001) companies are trying to make people fit, rather than creating a work environment where people can feel comfortable and can contribute regardless of their backgrounds or culture (p.23). Verespej (2001) discusses a fable told by Roosevelt Thomas Jr., CEO of R. Thomas Consulting & Training Inc., about the friendship and subsequent business partnership between a giraffe and an elephant (p.23). Problems rise when the elephant tries to fit in the giraffe’s house. The story subsequently explains that elephants should not be forced to fit in giraffe’s houses, but rather be accommodated in an environment that fits their shape as well as the giraffe’s, resulting in a general feeling of comfort and increased performance. Verespej (2001) clarifies his point by citing former U.S. Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, who asserts
You can’t treat people the same. That is not how you manage diversity. The single biggest mistake we in management can make is to say that sameness is equality. Understanding and managing diversity means listening to someone else even if you don’t like what you hear (p.23).
Gilbert (2000) states that the advantage for the American industry in the world market will be based upon our success in optimizing and utilizing this richly diverse work force (p.175). According to Gilbert (2000), this prediction suggests that to succeed in the future, organizations must learn how to attract, promote, and retain a diverse group of people in order to sustain a competitive advantage (p.175). Dianah Worman, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) resident equal opportunities guru, underlines this opinion by explaining that it’s in employers’ interest to think smartly about who their potential workers are… A (sophisticated approach) to customers and clients outside the organization should be mirrored in the way they approach their staffing (Centaur Communications Ltd., 2001, p.S03). Alger (1997) asserts that the argument for the necessity of diversity is perhaps stronger in higher education than in any other context (par.4).
The ultimate product of universities is education in the broadest sense, including preparation for life in the working world. As part of this education, students learn from face-to-face interaction with faculty members and with one another both inside and outside the classroom. Racial diversity can enhance this interaction by broadening course offerings, texts, and classroom examples, as well as improving communications and understanding among individuals of different races (Alger, 1997, par. 4).
In a more general scope Thomas (2001) states that diversity is about bringing different perspectives to the company (p.10). Thomas (2001) continues by explaining that the next challenge … is to improve diversity at higher levels. Once that perspective is in place, there will be more mentors and role models creating a win-win situation for both individual employees and the corporation as a whole (p.13).
Richard & Johnson (2001) explain that a diversity orientation results in a diverse culture where employees embrace their differences and use them to enhance organizational effectiveness through creativity and innovation (p.180). Diversity practices can provide firms with the expertise to regularly develop and market competitive new products by enhancing organizational creativity and problem solving (Richard & Johnson, 2001, p.186). According to Richard & Johnson (2001) the relationship between diversity orientation and performance will be contingent on an organization’s business strategy, but also on the organization’s human resource strategy (p. 187). With this statement Richard & Johnson explain that much of the implementation and success of workforce diversity depends on the priorities the organization’s human resource department focuses on. If these priorities are aiming on better long-term performance rather than lower immediate costs, diversity will be accommodated and proven successful. According to Richard & Johnson (2001) the level of racial and gender diversity and diversity orientation will positively affect organizational performance through its interaction (p.190). However, the authors warn that these performance effects will take place over time. A group’s ability to embrace and leverage diversity is going to emerge slowly (p.190).
Dianah Worman, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) resident equal opportunities guru who was cited earlier in this article exclaims that most employees are so grateful for that extra bit of flexibility you give them, they actually become even more committed (Centaur Communications Ltd., 2001, p. S03). Worman (2001) believes developing work/life policies to meet the needs of a diverse workforce must begin with an understanding of the value of diversity in itself. She is of the firm opinion that a healthy approach to flexible working holds benefits not just for employees, but for businesses too (p. S03). Worman’s point of view is shared by Richard & Johnson (2001) who also note that effective diversity management enhances organizational flexibility, simply because more diverse groups consider a wider variety of perspectives. As diversity policies and practices become instituted, increased fluidity and flexibility result in an organizational culture that can react to environmental changes (p. 192).
Grensing-Pophal (2000) asks the interesting question, “if an organization says it is committed to diversity and is attempting to build a diverse workforce, should its HR staff not exemplify diversity in its own ranks? (p.46)” While enumerating the advantages of workforce diversity, Grensing-Pophal (2000) continues to emphasize that any HR department should also have as much diversity as possible (p.47). Grensing-Pophal exclaims that when it comes to diversity, the HR department is viewed as a leader in the organization. “If they don’t do it, other departments will say it’s not possible (p.47).” In Grensing-Pophal’s opinion it’s very important from a credibility point of view that the people who work in the HR department are reflective of the workforce at large and that they understand the diversity of their internal customers (p.47). Richard & Johnson (2001) argue that diversity depends upon human resource policies that are judged and evaluated by employees in a context dependent upon organizational justice perceptions (p. 178). Richard & Johnson continue that human resource policies and practices that fit with the business strategies of the firm enhance firm effectiveness (p.178).
Although there are undoubtedly negative aspects to be enumerated when it regards workforce diversity, such as increased costs, higher employee turnover, and slower corporate progress due to diversity-related misunderstandings, this article presented a brief overview of the various advantages of workforce diversity in an increasingly diverse global workplace. As stated in the introduction, all the advantages as well as the possible disadvantages of workforce diversity, are applicable to all work environments. In this article the academic environment was explicitly mentioned at some instances, however, this does not exclude the applicability of the discussed arguments on other work areas.
In many of the cited articles it was stated that diversity is not a naturally preferred process, because people have a tendency to hire people who are like themselves (Grensing-Pophal, 2000, p.47; Richard & Johnson, 2001, p.180). This is somewhat understandable; especially when corporations are looking for short-term output increase. However, it will be those who implement diversity now, and create a work-environment that brings out the best in a diverse workforce, that will enjoy the profits of this strategic decision on the long run. As Richard & Johnson (2001) state, projections show that increasing diversity in the workplace is a reality, not a myth (p.192), and since the student-body in many higher educational institutions is also diverse, one should not underestimate the importance of association: a student who can find at least one staff- or faculty member like him- or herself, will feel more “at home”.
Alger, J. (1997). The Educational Value of Diversity, [Internet]. American Association of University Professors. Available: http://www.aaup.org/aadivart.htm [2001, 9/23/01].
DeCenzo, D., & Robins, S. (1999). Human Resource Management (sixth ed.). NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Gilbert, J. (2000). An empirical examination of resources in a diverse environment (2), [Internet, proquest.umi.com]. International Personnel Management Association Summer 2000 [2001, 9/8/01].
Grensing-Pophal, L. (2000). Is your HR department diverse enough?, [Internet, Proquest.umi.com]. HRMagazine [2001, 9/8/01].
Richard, O., & Johnson, N. B. (2001). Understanding the impact of human resource diversity practices on firm performance, [Internet, Proquest.umi.com]. Journal of Managerial Issues [2001, 9/8/01].
Unknown. (2001). Vive la difference, [Internet, Lexis.NexisÒ Academic Universe-Document]. Centaur Communications Ltd. Employee Benefits [2001, 9/23/01].
Verespej, M. (2001, June 11, 2001). How to solve the worker shortage, [Internet, Lexis.NexisÒ Academic Universe-Document]. Industry Week [2001, 9/23/01].