Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Diversity Management: Development, Practices, and Perceptions among State and Local Government Agencies

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Diversity Management: Development, Practices, and Perceptions among State and Local Government Agencies

Article excerpt


The subject of diversity has become salient to employers, as demographics have changed within American society. In 2007, labor force participation rates of women were at 57%, of which 71% had children less than 18 years of age. (1) African Americans comprised 11% of the labor force, Hispanic and Latinos accounted for 14%, and Asians represented 4%. (2) Among the 30.6 million individuals between the ages of 21 and 64 who have a disability, 57 percent were employed) Although labor force participation among workers typically declines with age, employment among workers over 65 years of age is expected to double, increasing from 3.6% of the total labor force in 2006 to 6.1% by 2016. (4) As employees increasingly represent a wide variety of different backgrounds and preferences, human resource practitioners have come to view diversity management strategies as critical for the effective performance of organizations.

The concept of diversity management is originally attributed to Roosevelt Thomas (5) and most definitions today include some variation of his original definition, which emphasizes inclusiveness and performance (see table 1). The emphasis on inclusiveness expands social identity categories beyond those that are legally protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Primary dimensions of diversity are factors that are unchangeable (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, age) and secondary dimensions are described as "malleable factors," which may include marital status, parental status, educational background, socio-economic status, geographic location, and work experience. (6) A similar model by Johnson incorporates organizational dimensions including: work location, functional level-classification, division or department, seniority, management status, and union affiliation. (7)

Workforce diversity has the potential to improve service delivery and performance by way of understanding the values and norms of target populations the organization serves, particularly for public employees in service delivery organizations. Recognizing the importance of diversity, many organizations have developed policies and professional development initiatives to attract, retain, and develop employees, as well as facilitate communication and understanding among employees. Recognizing the various factors that make organizations unique (e.g., purpose, size, structure, location, etc.), diversity management initiatives vary.

There has been a wealth of information on diversity initiatives in the federal government, however, less is known about the state and local levels. This article examines diversity initiatives among a variety of state and local government agencies, particularly organizational policies and professional development initiatives in light of previous best practices research on the common components necessary for successful implementation of diversity initiatives.

Diversity Management

Although diversity management has received considerable attention among human resource professionals, many organizations lack an official definition. According to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, only 39% of respondents reported an official definition of diversity within their organization. Among those respondents, 39% represented public sector organizations compared to the private (26%) and non-profit sectors (25%). (8) Though organizations define diversity differently, Thomas (1992) insists that such differences in interpretation must not prevent the benefits diversity brings to organizations and society as a whole. It should be encouraged and managed properly. He asserts, "Managing diversity simply calls for the manager to ensure that cultural and political realities do not advantage or disadvantage anyone because of irrelevant considerations." (9)

Diversity management also emphasizes organizational performance through recruitment, retention, and development strategies beyond the legal framework of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EEO/AA). …

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