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How to: Manage Diversity Effectively

30 Oct 2011

A diverse workforce can present the workplace with both new opportunities and difficulties.  This article discusses a number of examples and practical recommendations for managing diversity effectively.

The labour market has branched out in many directions since the ‘assembly line homogeneity’ that was established as an ideal during industrialism. Now, employees can sometimes clock in and out in different time zones, and the workforce is often a diverse mix of different races, genders, economic backgrounds and religions.

As workforces become more diverse, the need to manage this diversity effectively has arisen. And whilst everyday communication may be complicated when employees lack a shared understanding of unwritten codes or cultural references, a recent trend in management has been to strategically aim for turning these difficulties into advantages. There can be significant gains to this. A company with a diverse workforce has the potential to reach a broader market and to attract the best people, across cultural and national boundaries.

Implementation can be difficult

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to carry this process through effectively. Two CIPD studies from 2007 (1) surveying more than 1200 diversity managers and HR practitioners in the UK clearly showed the difficulties in implementing diversity management into business processes and operations:

  • Whilst sixty per cent of organisations recognised that effective diversity management made business sense, it was primarily used as a tool for recruitment and retention.
  • 70% of diversity professionals did not set objectives to progress diversity.

In short, what these studies showed was that whilst a majority of organisations acknowledged the business sense in diversity management, they still failed to implement or measure it effectively.

Best practice diversity management

Two examples of organisations that, on the other hand, did successfully implement diversity management are Ford and the Cultural Diversity Network.

Ford UK

After generating news on a number of embarrassing race-related cases, Ford UK in 2000 admitted that effective diversity management was needed within the organisation. Ford also reaslised that this would require a process of cultural change. The organisation therefore developed and introduced a four-stage change programme aiming to: mainstream diversity, give ownership of the change process to everyone in the organisation, ensure efficient communication of the change plans and evaluate their progress. The approach was immensely successful and Ford is now one of the organisations looked to for best practice diversity management in the UK. In addition, Ford extensively sponsors culturally diverse events and have organised a best practice diversity management conference. In this way, they have effectively reinforced their internal strategy with external actions.

Cultural Diversity Network

In 2000, a number of leading broadcasters came together to form the Cultural Diversity Network (CDN). The aim was to modernise the portrayal of ethnic minorities in mainstream programming to reflect multicultural Britain both on and behind the screen. Eight years on, the CDN have set and created a template to help the television industry achieve diversity, which is also used in both public and private creative industries. CDN’s double-sided approach to managing diversity in this way created awareness of diversity both as it was projected to viewers and internally in the member organisations.



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