Three useful things to know about managing diversity
Access to different perspectives and experiences fosters alternative solutions
Cultural diversity in the workplace is becoming the norm and is consistent with the composition of the general population.
Embracing difference among co-workers can promote understanding and collaboration. When diversity is managed effectively, an organisation can be more effective, more creative and more successful.
An organisation seen as ethical, with fair employment practices and an appreciation of diverse talent can attract a wider pool of qualified applicants.
And access to their different perspectives and experiences fosters alternative solutions and approaches that are key to problem-solving.
Diversity at a ground level is easily achieved. The challenge is how it’s reflected, or not, through promotion in an organisational hierarchy.
So, how do companies increase diversity in their management teams?
Diversity training programs that aim to reduce managers’ bias and prejudice are probably not the answer, according to Suzanne Chan-Serafin, an associate professor in the school of management at UNSW Business School.
“A large-scale study examining workforces in the US private sector has shown that diversity training has the least effect on increasing the proportion of white females, black females, and black males in managerial positions,” she says.
This research suggests that management should focus their attention on establishing responsibility for diversity.
“This entails making managers accountable for setting diversity goals to achieve fair representation of women and minorities in their workforce, designing a process through which to achieve these goals, setting timetables to achieve and tracking progress of these goals,” Chan-Serafin says.
Organisations would do well to appoint diversity committees or task forces to advocate for and monitor progress.
'Whether employees want to attend the training, and whether they think the training is important, matters'SUZANNE CHAN-SERAFIN
So does it mean diversity training is not effective?
“It depends on the proximity of the outcome of interest and how the training is received,” Chan-Serafin says.
“While such training may not be very effective in increasing representation of minorities in managerial positions, participating in training has been shown to enhance more proximal outcomes, such as commitment and lower levels of discrimination.”
A recent synthesis of past research has demonstrated that diversity training is more effective in enhancing cognitive learning (such as, facts and principles about diversity matters) and skill-based outcomes (abilities to resolve conflicts, self-perceptions of behaviours that contribute to effective diversity management) and less so for affective-based outcomes, such as attitudes toward ethnic groups.
“In general, the effectiveness of such training depends on the trainees’ motivation. Whether employees want to attend the training, and whether they think the training is important, matters,” Chan-Serafin says.
“The design of training matters as well. Training that involves a greater level of participants’ engagement – such as, discussions and role-plays – is more effective than training that is passive – such as online training, videos, or lectures.”
What about mentoring programs?
“Mentoring programs designed to enhance networking opportunities for women and minority workers have shown a modest effect in promoting managerial diversity,” Chan-Serafin says.
In the US, such programs have tended to be most beneficial to black women and to a certain extent, white women, but not to black and white men.
“While mentoring is helpful to those who are not well-versed in the cultures of their organisations or industries, sponsors are generally more effective in helping their protégés advance in their organisations,” Chan-Serafin says.
“Sponsors look out for the interests of their protégés and actively find opportunities for them.”
But the effectiveness of mentors and sponsors often depends on the quality of the relationship between them and their protégés.
“For instance, high-quality relationships can buffer protégés against the negative effects of having witnessed, or being aware, that others in the workplace have been discriminated against,” Chan-Serafin says.