Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

Diversity in the Workplace: The Human Resources Management Challenges

Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

Diversity in the Workplace: The Human Resources Management Challenges

Article excerpt

Human Resources Management Challenges of the Changing Workforce

Perhaps no organizational issue, in the past five years, has attracted as much attention as diversity in the workforce. This issue focuses on the fact that the U.S. workforce will experience considerable change in its composition within the next decade. Specifically, there will be more women, minority group members, and older workers, suggesting a more heterogenous workforce, which is a significant departure from the largely homogeneous workforces of the past (Johnston and Packer, 1987). Whereas the notion of diversity brings with it opportunities for organizations, it poses serious challenges as well. This paper focuses on one of the most serious challenges and fundamental inconsistencies surrounding the notion of workplace diversity; that is, we claim we value diversity (or heterogeneity) in our workplaces, but we have developed human resources systems (e.g., selection, promotion, etc.) that encourage, reinforce, and, indeed, allow, only similarity (i.e., homogeneity). Through a careful examination of the diversity concept and human resources systems, we propose steps to be taken to circumvent the problems inherent in contemporary human resources systems, and thereby allow organizations to obtain maximum utilization of their available talent. In the global economy of today, organizations cannot afford to waste resources. Indeed, organizations can achieve competitive advantage through the most effective utilization of their entire workforce's competencies and talents.

Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity Defined

The notion of diversity is one of differences in people, and as such suggests different things to different people. Some may consider diversity as a problem, or challenge, that hampers organizational effectiveness. Others may consider diversity an opportunity to expand valuable perspectives and ideas, thus enhancing organizational effectiveness. Diversity may suggest images of alienation of organizational constituencies from one another, it may suggest images of isolated individuals based on some defining characteristics, or it may suggest images of a colorful and interesting environment.

The United States, at the turn of the century, was characterized as a "melting pot," where the immigrants flooding in, especially from Europe, were effectively blended into a homogeneous composite that lost much of the differences and characteristics that defined the various cultures. Even those groups that retained identity, through establishing subcultures, adopted American business norms and the free market economy foundations. These groups, most notably Chinese and Hispanics, often preserved the homogeneity of organizations by restricting social and economic interactions, thus creating separate and homogeneous subcultures.

This homogeneity leads to segregation of opportunities as well as restriction of perspectives and ideas. A more visionary, and useful, concept of diversity suggests that differences in characteristics such as age, gender, race, culture, and so forth, should be recognized and valued, not lost in conformity that produces people who all "look" the same. One Human Resources executive stated "We work hard to understand and value differences, and we celebrate our diversity" (Rosen and Lovelace, 1991, p. 81). So what is the diversity they celebrate? Much of the discussion thus far, and in general, concerning diversity confines it to topics such as gender and race. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that differences in people encompass a broad spectrum of characteristics. It is useful to broaden our concept of diversity. Triandis, Kurowski, and Gelfand (in press) defined diversity as ". . .any attribute that humans are likely to use to tell themselves, 'That person is different from me'". Another perspective from Reed and Kelly (1993) suggested that diversity not only includes race, sex, age, and so forth, but also includes goals, values, role expectations, and thoughts. …

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