Managing Cultural Diversity

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HRDI 3:4 (2000), pp. 419–433

PEER REVIEWED ARTICLES
What is managing diversity and why does it matter?
Sharon Mavin and Gill Girling University of Northumbria at Newcastle

Abstract: In the UK, human resource practitioners and academics alike are becoming more aware of the emergence of managing diversity. But what does managing diversity actually mean, how does it translate into practice, and what does it matter? The following paper brie y debates the rhetoric of managing diversity and considers whether managing diversity is a distinct approach to managing people or a means of diluting equal opportunities in UK organizations. With respect to the realities of the concepts in UK organizations, empirical data from a survey of sixty UK human resource professionals and general line managers is presented. We pose a number of cautionary questions, including what does it matter and to whom? By doing so we intend to encourage further critique and challenges in respect to the concept of managing diversity in organizations.

Keywords: Managing diversity, equal opportunities, HRM/D, rhetoric, reality Introduction Today the workforce does not look, think, or act like any workforce of the past, nor does it hold the same values, have the same experiences, or pursue the same needs and desires (Jamieson and O’ Mara 1991). The composition of today’ s workforce has changed signi cantly in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, culture, education, disabilities, and values. Running parallel to these changes is the shift in thinking by human resource theorists and practitioners with regard to addressing equality in the workplace (Cooper and White 1995; Liff and Wacjman 1996). This shift is underpinned by the emergence of the business case argument for equal opportunities, as opposed to the persuasive debate for social justice or equal opportunities as ‘ correcting an imbalance, an injustice or a mistake’ (Thomas 1990). There is now a view that, after twenty years of the ‘ stick’ of legal compliance (which has achieved little), the ‘ carrot’ of underpinning the business case for equal opportunities will perhaps achieve more (Dickens 1994). The business case argument for equal opportunities in organizations is often termed ‘ managing or valuing diversity’ , but, as with most contemporary Human Resource Development International ISSN 1367-8868 print/ISSN 1469–8374 online © 2000 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals

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Peer-Reviewed Articles

management issues, the underlying principles and interpretation of this concept are open to mass interpretation, criticism, and indeed misunderstanding. D. Miller (1996) argues that the significant widening of the meaning of equal opportunities has brought with it more complex and confusing messages for employers and practitioners. By drawing on literature and empirical data, we consider whether managing diversity is a distinct approach to managing people or a means of diluting equal opportunities in UK organizations and pose a number of cautionary questions, including: what does it matter and to whom? By doing so, we intend to encourage further critique and challenges in respect to the concept of managing diversity in organizations.

What is managing diversity?
Thomas (2000) argues that, with the growing number of mergers and acquisitions, workforce diversity will become more of a priority for organizations and, therefore, in the future, people will become clearer on what diversity is and how to manage it. As with the debates surrounding de nitions of human resource management and development (HRM/D), managing diversity as a concept means different things to different people. It can relate to the issue of national cultures inside a multinational organization (Hofstede 1984); it can relate to the further development of equal opportunities or to a distinct method of integrating different parts of an organization and/or managing people strategically. Much of the literature regarding...
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