Utilizing a New Human Relations Framework to Leverage Workforce Diversity

Utilizing a New Human Relations Framework to Leverage Workforce Diversity

Rossella Riccò (University of Milan, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1812-1.ch026
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Abstract

In a global society, leveraging people’s diversities is one of the major challenges faced by organizations of any size in developed countries. Factors such as demographic changes, international and national anti-discrimination measures, globalization, service-economy shifts, stakeholder pressures on organizational commitment to corporate social responsibility, and technological advances are heightening the international attention paid to the increase in people’s diversities, thereby fostering discussion on their management in organizations. Since the end of the 1980s, professionals and academics have been debating how to devise efficient, effective, and equitable ways to manage workforce diversity in organizations; however, they have produced neither a shared definition of diversity management nor a general accepted assessment on the outcomes that diversity management can deliver for organizations and persons. The aim of this chapter is to expand the understanding of diversity management by systematizing it on the basis of McGregor’s new human relations framework.
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Introduction

We live in a global society, ″a diverse social universe in which the unifying forces of modern production, markets, communications, and cultural and political modernization interact with many global, regional, national, and local segmentations and differentiations″ (Shaw, 2000, p. 11). As underlined by McGrew (1992), this global society is a ″shrinking world where relations, networks, activities and interconnections of all kinds″ (p. 64), especially socio-economic, environmental and political, extend beyond national boundaries. In this global society, leveraging people’s diversities (Jayne & Dupboye, 2004; Scott, 2010) is one of the major challenges facing organizations of any size in developed countries.

But what is ″diversity″? Academics have defined ″diversity″ in rather different ways (Carnevale & Stone, 1994; Cox, 1994; Kandola & Fullerton, 1998; Kossek & Lobel, 1996; Milliken & Martins, 1996; Thomas, 1991; Zanoni & Jassens, 2004). Here, by ″diversity″ is meant the multiplicity of differences and similarities that exist among people (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2004) and which, combined together, create each person’s multiple and intersecting identities. These identities define a person’s uniqueness, which is expressed in how s/he lives with, sees, and relates to other people and to the world in general. Kossek and Lobel (1996) emphasize that ″each of these potentially overlapping identity group memberships can affect an employee’s attitudes and behaviors in the workplace, as well as influence his or her ability to work well with other organizational members″ (p. 2). According to Thomas’s idea that ″diversity is inherently neither good nor bad, but rather a reality″ (2004, p. 10), companies have to gain a sense of how to plan and implement ″organizational systems and practices to manage people so that the potential advantages of diversity are maximized while its potential disadvantages are minimized″ (Cox, 1993, p. 11). This induces organizations to shift from a management undifferentiated in terms of strategy, policy, solutions, and tools to a “conscious” diversity management. However, there is no generally accepted definition of “diversity management,” and academics and professionals too often use this concept without stating the meaning that they give to it, thus leaving one unsure as to what they are really talking about. Indeed, even though since the end of the 1980s professionals and academics have been engaged in animated debate on how to devise efficient, effective, and equitable ways to manage people’s diversities in organizations, they have produced neither a shared definition of diversity management nor a generally accepted assessment, be it positive or negative, of the outcomes that diversity management can deliver to organizations and persons (Curtis & Dreachslin, 2008; Kirton & Greene, 2005; Shen, Chanda, D’Netto, & Monga, 2009; Zanoni & Jassens, 2004). Academics are divided into two main groups: those who support diversity management on the basis of the business case, and those who adopt a more critical approach to the issue. Despite this division, it is possible to identify general agreement on certain features regarded as distinctive of the diversity management approach, namely:

  • People are considered key assets for organizational success, moreover they are diverse, and their diversities should be managed by the organization

  • Diversity management is a contextual issue, that is to say, there is no “best” diversity strategy or a “one-size-fits-all” solution

  • Diversity management is a long-term approach that requires the commitment of the organization’s board and managers

  • Diversity management requires organizations to carry out changes in both cultural and organizational terms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Diversity: Is the multiplicity of differences and similarities that exist among people and which, combined together, create the uniqueness of each person.

Business Case: Is the number of economic, competitive and reputational reasons ascribable to a more differentiated, efficient, effective and equitable way of managing people’s diversities.

Integration: Is the process whereby people’s diversities are combined in the organization to create new ways of communicating, collaborating, analyzing, and coping with situations.

Inclusive Workplace: Is a workplace characterized by mutual respect, individual commitment, and cooperation, where people’s diversities are recognized, respected, enhanced, and integrated, and individual needs are taken into account. In an inclusive workplace, people have the voice, space, responsibility, and resources with which they can actively contribute to improving organizational results by means of their uniqueness.

Theory Y: Is a managerial approach proposed in 1960 by McGregor. It focuses organizational attention on persons and their proactive participation in the organization. It maintains that organizational goals can only be achieved through the availability of committed employees and through the integration of the organization’s and the individual’s needs.

Diversity Management: Is an organizational approach aimed at achieving better organizational results by creating a non-discriminatory and equitable work environment where people’s diversities are recognized, respected, enhanced, and integrated, person’s needs are taken into account, and the individual’s potential expression is fostered.

Leveraging Workforce Diversity: Is the process whereby the organization recognizes the importance of people’s diversities for the achievement of business ends, and chooses to manage them in a conscious, differentiated, effective, efficient, and equitable way to maximum advantage.

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