Managing Diversity

‘Diversity’ is yet another of those ‘buzz words’ which periodically do the rounds in the training profession. More often than not, these words are incompletely understood, with the effect that organizations launch into related training programmes with little or no understanding of precisely why they are doing it, or how they can expect to benefit from it. 

So what does ‘training for diversity’ mean? Can it genuinely help to make organizations fitter to face the challenges of the future? And more importantly, is it a relevant issue for your organization? Read on if you need some brief answers to these questions! 

The scope of diversity training

With an increasingly diverse workforce, organizations are finding that a ‘one style fits all’ approach to people management is no longer effective. To get the best results, and to attract the best people, organizations are under pressure to adopt more flexible management approaches which will: 

  • respect and respond to the diverse requirements and needs of different individuals
  • best enable individuals to make full use of the diverse talents and experiences which they bring with them to the workplace.
The purpose of diversity training is to address this need, by helping managers and their staff to create positive environments which support all people, which value their differences and which enable them to contribute to their fullest potential. A comprehensive diversity programme will aim to:
  • raise awareness and understanding of the legal, ethical and strategic reasons for supporting workplace diversity
  • encourage individuals - both managers and staff - to value diversity
  • ensure commitment and support from top management downwards, for flexible practices and approaches to working which respond to the various needs of different working individuals.
Clearly, it takes more than a couple of training courses to do this. Our experiences at DBA suggest that a diversity programme may need to include a range of components:
  • an internal publicity campaign, led by top management and supported by awareness training for all staff
  • a review of management policy, procedures and practices, in particular those relating to recruitment, promotion and training
  • publication of staff guidelines for workplace best practice, and training for managers in how to implement and monitor these
  • training for managers in how to choose from and use a range of different management styles
  • training for managers also, in how to identify and use different people’s talents and working styles to the best possible effect.
Redesigning employment policies, systems and practices

As part of a diversity programme it may be necessary to update and/or change existing ways of doing things. Elements which may need review include: 
Recruitment systems and practices Are these designed to:
  • encourage applicants from all social groupings?
  • minimise the risk of bias in the selection process?
Performance management systems Are these flexible enough to:
  • take account of different working patterns?
  • allow individuals to use their unique talents to full effect?
  • reward good performance in ways which are meaningful to each individual?
Training plans and methods Are opportunities for training made widely accessible and available to all, through using a mix of training methods and media?
Employment practices Do these include job sharing, part time working, flexitime and other flexible practices, so individuals can manage their family and other commitments alongside their work responsibilities?

Needless to say, reviews in these areas need to be carried out as part of the preparation for more extensive workshop inputs, as any recommendations and/or changes here will clearly have an impact on workshop content.

Encouraging people to value diversity

There is strong research evidence (e.g., Meredith Belbin’s 1981 studies on team effectiveness) to support the view that groups which have a diverse mix of experiences, skills, knowledge and working approaches are generally more creative and productive than groups with a more uniform profile. Diversity is therefore a valuable organizational asset, and needs to be perceived as such.

Individuals can be encouraged in workshop inputs to test the validity of this assertion by comparing and discussing:

  • the experiences, skills, knowledge and approaches which they themselves bring to bear in their work with colleagues
  • the contribution which their colleagues make to their work, in introducing different perspectives and ideas
  • ways in which their own personal attributes, and those of their colleagues, complement one another and work together in delivering the results required.
Training for managers in how to manage a diverse workforce

A key issue which may need to be raised in management training is the role which managers play, in leading the influencing the workplace behaviours of staff. To encourage and support workplace diversity, managers need to ‘walk the talk’, i.e., to demonstrate, through their own style of management, that they value and respond to the differences in their people.

Our experiences have shown us that key concepts which may need to discussed in this context include:

  • identifying and specifying what each individual needs from their manager
  • reviewing personal management styles and the messages which these might sent out about management attitudes to diversity
  • identifying specific actions which may need to be taken, to reinforce management’s visible commitment to encouraging diversity in the workplace.
In addition, managers may need to improve their ability to recognise differences in people’s working styles, and to respond to these accordingly with appropriately matched management styles. These may range from empowering and participative management through to more directive, ‘hands on’ styles at the other end of the scale. Different individuals respond more or less positively to different approaches from their managers. Managers need to understand this, so they are able to gauge the approach which will work best for each individual.

More information
DBA has many years’ experience of helping organizations to achieve culture change and to establish new, more effective styles of people management. If you would like to know more about how we can help you to identify and implement approaches suited to a changing workforce, then email us now.

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