Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Employee Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Diversity Management in the Australian Public Service: Rhetoric and Reality

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Employee Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Diversity Management in the Australian Public Service: Rhetoric and Reality

Article excerpt

Introduction

Today, the dynamics of the Australian workforce are changing drastically. It has been projected that the labor force of the next decade will be older, culturally diverse, with a greater proportion of women and people with non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB) than ever before in the history of Australia (Dickie & Soldan, 2008). Such projections, along with globalized markets and forecasts of labor shortages, have propelled enterprises--both private and public--to implement equality and diversity programs. Many research studies have highlighted the potential benefits of employing a diverse workforce, suggesting that previously marginalized individuals bring unique perspectives to the workplace, adding wisdom and insight to the collective knowledge of the firm and ultimately enhancing organizational efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity (Ely & Thomas, 2001; Robinson & Dechant, 1997).

Following these forecasts and reports, organizational efforts to proactively leverage diversity for competitive advantage (as evidenced by the plethora of diversity-related information on websites) have become widespread. Although these programs use various human resource management (HRM) strategies, common perspectives focus on targeted recruitment, training and development (T&D), career advancement, mentoring, and benefits programs designed to increase and retain the workforce diversity in organizations (Avery & McKay, 2006; Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006; McKay & Avery, 2005). While a good deal of information is available on the strategies which firms pursue to cultivate environment that values and capitalizes on diversity and addresses diversity challenges, evidence of whether these programs are effective in meeting their intended goals is sparse.

In the Australian context, it is becoming important to understand how organizations, for example, are transforming their commitment to diversity management (DM) into action, to assess whether there is a gap between what is espoused as DM and how it is realized in practice. These key questions remain unaddressed in the DM literature in general (Kellough & Naff, 2004), and in the Australian public service in particular. Answer to these questions may provide evidence to support ongoing DM strategies and policies in the public sector, especially in the context of a resurgent conservative Australian government with ideological concerns about DM. Against this backdrop, the present article seeks to shed light on this DM commitment-implementation gap within an Australian federal government agency, using the findings from a case study undertaken by the authors in 2009-2010.

Why Is There a Commitment-Implementation Gap?

Organizations are complex, adaptive systems with disorderly dynamics. They are influenced by changing values, demographics, and internal and external competition. Various forces--legislative, social, moral, and economic--have driven contemporary organizations to better adapt to their internal and external environments and have provided the impetus for organizations to make a commitment to diversity and equality issues (Gonzalez, 2010). For the purpose of this article, we define commitment as management's DM intention declared externally and internally in a formal written policy statement, or documents such as the Workplace Diversity Plan (WDP). Typical commitment statements include:

   We are committed to creating a supportive, flexible, and fair work
   environment where differences are respected. We are committed to
   ensuring that differences among employees are used to create a more
   productive work environment. In addition, we aim to provide a
   workplace that is free from all forms of discrimination and
   harassment and where all employees are given equal opportunities.

We refer to implementation as the period of organizational transition between the introduction of diversity and equality policies and their adoption by others that is, when the policy is understood, accepted, and embodied by managers and employees in the organization. …

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