Managing Diversity in the Workplace: An Immense Challenge for Both Managers and Workers

By Elmuti, Dean | Industrial Management, July/August 1993 | Go to article overview

Managing Diversity in the Workplace: An Immense Challenge for Both Managers and Workers


Elmuti, Dean, Industrial Management


Managing the multicultural workplace is emerging as one of the most important issues facing businesses in the 90s. manging diversity is fast becoming the corporate catchword of the decade, not because corporations are becoming kinder and gentler toward minority groups, but because they want to survive. "It is absolutely clear that we have to manage diversity right now and much more so in the future," says David Keams, president and CEO of Xerox Corp. "American businesses will not be able to survive if we do not have a large diverse workforce because those are the demographics--no choice! The company that gets out in front of managing diversity will have a competitive edge."

Experts predict huge workplace changes by the year 2000, as more women, minorities, immigrants and older workers enter the job market. In order to attract, retain, motivate and promote this new and diverse workforce, management must recognize the unique needs and backgrounds of the workers. Yet, most employers are not prepared to deal with it. Nor are their managers. Managing diversity is conceptually different from equal employment opportunity, which was primarily a battle against racism and prejudice. By valuing workforce diversity, management seizes the benefits differences bring.

Most traditional models of human behavior and management methods are based, at least implicitly, on the assumptions concerning a homogeneous Western white male workforce. So the most widely taught theories of motivation mirror the white male's experiencs and attitudes. Some of these methods can be counterproductive when applied to women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians or American Indians.

Never before in the history of the United States has there been as much uncertainty about the future supply of the workforce. Former Labor Secretary William Brock was asked in a recent interview, "We have had economic growth for seven years, so why worry about a labor shortage?" Brock answered, "The biggest single source of growth came from the surge of women, young people and immigrants into the workforce. That pool of low-skill, low-wage laboris going to dry up. If we are going to have growth, it has to come from greater human productivity."

The basic issue facing corporate managers in the coming decade is whether to respond to these irreversible changes by continuing to regard employees as expend able inputs, or by treating them as valuable assets. The specific challenge will be how to manage a slower, growing labor force comprised of more female, immigrant, minority and older workers into a more skilled, productive and adaptable resource.

This article addresses the problems and opportunities of the demographic reality of the 90s and beyond. Native-born whites whose first language is English will soon constitute the minority in the workplace. The emerging workforce--a mosaic of colors, languages and cultural traditions and values--represents an immense challenge for both corporate managers and employees.

LABOR FORCE COMPOSITION

Arnold Hudson, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute, emphasizes the following five key demographic changes for the workforce in the year 2000:

* Average age of the workers will rise while the pool of younger workers will shrink:

* More women will enter workforce;

* Minorities will represent a larger portion of entry-level workers;

* Population and workforce will include a higher percentage of immigrants than any time since World War I; and

* Population and workforce will grow more slowly than in the 90s.

THE OLDER/GRAYING WORKER

As we move into the year 2000, evidence of the older/graying workforce is increasing. It is predicted that by that year fewer than 40 percent of the workers will be under the age of 34. Companies may experience problems in both motivating older employees to stay abreast of advancing work place technologies and influencing the maturing employee's mobility, flexibility and energy. …

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