Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Managing Diversity: A Twenty-First Century Agenda

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Managing Diversity: A Twenty-First Century Agenda

Article excerpt


Workplace and workforce diversity has become an important issue, partly because of a management literature which has become more aware of such concerns, and partly because of the contemporary international and domestic mobility of the labour force. This article explores the contribution of equal opportunity, diversity management and high-performance work systems approaches to diversity and identifies their strengths and limitations.


The second half of the twenty-first century has dramatically increased the flow of labour internationally, with implications for domestic labour supply and management. In a country such as New Zealand, this has resulted in one in five New Zealand residents being overseas-born, putting the country ahead of Canada and just behind Australia. In the city of Auckland, immigrants comprised between 37% and 41% of the population by 2006, qualifying the city for the epithet of a "super-diverse" city (more than 25% of its residents are immigrants). Added to this has been the urban migration of Maori and their growing demographic and economic presence, along with that of the New Zealand-born descendente of immigrants. The indigenous, ethnic and immigrant diversity of the workforce is particularly important for the workplace, given the demographic profile of non-Pakeha ethnic groups and their proportion of the working age population. The significance of this domestic cultural diversity in the labour force, underscored by global influences and requirements, has recently prompted us to focus on the question of how well New Zealand firms and managers have responded to diversity, cultural as well as other forms of diversity. What follows is an exploration of this question.

Diversity Management

"Diversity management" is a broad strand of organisational management literature that was developed as a means of helping organisations respond to the growing diversity apparent in contemporary labour markets. From the 1980s, discussions of diversity management focused on managing heterogeneity in the workforce in relation to demands for "affirmative action" and "equal employment opportunities" which were intended to increase numbers of workers from "minority" groups.1 Diversity was seen "in terms of factors such as race and ethnic origin, gender, age, sexual orientation and political and religious belief (Tatli, Özbilgin, Worman and Mulholland, 2005: 2). Diversity management was defined as: "voluntary organisational actions . . . designed to create greater inclusion of employees from various backgrounds into formal and informal organisational structures through deliberate policies and programs" (Mor Barak, 2005: 208). However, with the rapid globalisation of labour markets, this strand of literature has evolved to incorporate management of a much wider range of diversity issues. As Kreitz (2008: 106) points out: "Twenty-first century organisations are living with and being challenged by diversity of three levels - an increasingly diverse workforce, a multicultural customer base, and a growing challenge for market share from international competitors".

As well as cost-effective inclusion and the management of diverse workforces at the local level, globalisation means companies must manage workforce diversity across national boundaries. Moreover, cosmopolitan city and global markets mean there is now a greater diversity of client and customer groups. The importance for businesses to manage such diversities in order to achieve improved profit margins and competitive edge hardly needs to be stated. At the same time, in the interests of justice and equity, inherent in any diversity management approach, must be a concern for the employment outcomes of groups who, historically, have been systematically excluded and oppressed (Prasad, Pringle and Konrad, 2006).

The second strand of literature relevant to labour market issues and diversity is that which examines the impact of changes in workplace organisation from Taylorist principles and practices of low-discretion production systems, typically found in twentieth century factory settings, to high-performance work systems (HPWS) in which workers are expected to have a more significant involvement in work decisions. …

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