Diversity Management Practices and Understanding Their Adoption: Examining Local Governments in North Carolina

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the United States, high retirement turnover from baby boomers and changing demographics such as a growth in the number of ethnic and racial minorities increase the importance that managers recruit, hire, and retain a more diverse workforce (Doverspike, Taylor, Schultz, & McKay, 2000; Dychtwald, Erickson, & Morison, 2006). The working definition of diversity, as developed and used by National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR, formerly National Performance Review) is "all characteristics and experiences that define each of us as individuals" (U.S. Department of Commerce & Vice President Al Gore, 2000). From the NPR's perspective, diversity includes "the entire spectrum of primary dimensions of an individual, including Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Age, Religion, Disability, and Sexual Orientation." This increasingly more diverse workforce brings new challenges and exciting opportunities. Challenges, such as miscommunication due to language differences or cultural misunderstandings as well as organizational factionalism, are likely to arise. At the same time, opportunities, such as accessibility to a wider array of viewpoints and increased tolerance for different work styles, may lead to greater productivity and improved performance (Elmuti, 1993; Mathews, 1998; Seymen, 2006; Trenka, 2006).

Diversity management carries a variety of meanings but generally refers to organizational efforts to aggressively recruit, hire, and retain individuals from a variety of backgrounds and facilitate good working relationships among them (Miller & Rowney, 1999). According to the NPR, building diverse organizations is a moral imperative and a global necessity. Managers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors have experimented with a variety of approaches to deal more effectively with cultural diversity in the workplace (Ivancevich & Gilbert, 2000; Riccucci, 1997). Those approaches, referred to as diversity management practices, are to blend organizational structure with recognition of cultural diversity and representation through training, mentoring and diversity advocacy initiatives.

The present study is one of first endeavors to provide managers in local governments with guidelines of managing diversity: how to respond to diversity management issues. Currently no practical guidelines are available to local government managers, who have to deal with more diverse workforces than ever before and look for confirmatory evidence before adopting diversity management practices (Wise & Tschirhart, 2000). In this empirical study, we try to answer three questions by conducting a survey in North Carolina: (1) what diversity management practices are more frequently adopted, (2) how the adoption level is distributed among local governments, and (3) why local governments vary in their adoption.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUNDS

Diversity Management Practices

Pioneers of diversity management developed schemas for implementing diversity management practices as organizations have evolved from monolithic, comprised of one culture, to pluralistic and multicultural. While some organizations have ignored diversity issues, pursuing a strategy of benign neglect, others are reactive and have only addressed diversity issues as focusing events, such as discrimination lawsuits, capture their attention. Still others are proactive, seeking to manage diversity through active policy development and use diversity to their advantage (Powell & Graves, 2003). Today diversity management is part of strategy for being competitive and as such, public and private entities have put forward an array of best practices designed to recruit employees with diverse backgrounds, foster a better diversity climate, and combat discriminatory behaviors (e.g., Aronson, 2002; Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006; Kellough & Naff, 2004; Riccucci, 1997; Seymen, 2006). Despite the broad scope of suggestions for better managing diversity, however, no hard evidence yet confirms their effectiveness (Kalev, et al. …