Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Managing and Valuing Diversity: Challenges to Public Managers in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Managing and Valuing Diversity: Challenges to Public Managers in the 21st Century

Article excerpt


Over the past three decades, the need for private and public organizations to embrace diversity has been echoed. The rationale for this need is that a number of desirable positive outcomes occur when groups or work teams include diverse perspectives and value that diversity. Diversity as a lexicon in human resource management furnishes immediate access to a large pool of knowledge, skills, and abilities required in the accomplishment of organizational goals and objectives. Indeed, if diversity has many strategic advantages as observed by Robert Golembiewski (1995), then there are many important questions to be examined. Among these questions are the following:

(a) Why should public managers adopt managing and valuing diversity to public personnel systems? and (b) Will diversity create any major challenges for public managers in the coming decades? Answers to these questions will avail themselves in the analysis under review.

Of course, much of the attention in recent years on the need for organizations to embrace diversity was triggered by Hudson Institute's Workforce 2000 (Johnson & Packer, 1987), and a study of state personnel directors (Hays & Kearney, 1992), among others, that predicted the future shortage of potential human capital and its consequential impact on American competitiveness. Recent studies suggest that Hudson Institute's predictions were less dramatic, and unlike the private sector, contemporary public-sector organizations in the United States are more diverse in terms of race and gender, but workers are becoming older (Pitts, 2005; see also Cornwell & Kellough, 1994; Foldy, 2004; Riccucci, 2002). Although there has been increased workforce diversity through legal provisions, the overall proportion of White non-Hispanic workers will decline, as predicted by previous studies, and workers of other ethnic groups would either hold their own share of the labor force or increase.

The changing color, gender, and ethnicity coupled with a shrinking labor pool would create numerous challenges to both private and public organizations. To be sure, the real opportunity to new potential workers would depend on having access to high-paying and meaningful jobs, as African Americans and Hispanics are less likely than their White and Asian counterparts to be employed in management and professional jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006). Nonetheless, the first major challenge to employers of labor is, and will continue to be, managing and valuing diversity by transforming the European American male culture of most organizations into multicultural entities that nurture and sustain all employees. In fact, multicultural understanding is very crucial for public managers who supervise the work of employees from diverse backgrounds, and such understanding can be enhanced through programs designed to bridge cultural gaps (Pitts, 2009; see Adler, 2002).

This analysis explores some of the challenges facing public managers in managing and valuing diversity in the 21 st century. The article begins with a discussion of the underlying conceptual values on the need for diversity in organizations. This is followed by an examination of different approaches to managing and valuing diversity. The last section concludes the analysis and speculates on the future of managing and valuing diversity in public organizations.

Managing and Valuing Diversity: Perspectives on Conceptual Values

Constitutionally, all American institutions are built on a foundation of the protection of minority rights, and diversity contributes a major defense against a coercive majority coalition. In the Federalist 10, James Madison shows that American pluralist model helps guarantee individual rights through the interplay of factions. Also, almost every coin in the United States displays the spirit of E pluribus unum--a sense of national unity and cohesion which can be loosely translated as "unity and strength in diversity. …

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