Magazine article Workforce

A Diverse Workforce Requires Balanced Leadership

Magazine article Workforce

A Diverse Workforce Requires Balanced Leadership

Article excerpt

The human resources department is often called upon to lead the way when companies commit to managing or valuing diversity. The problem is that there are as many ways to approach the task of putting together a diversity initiative as there are companies trying-and there really are no absolutes because of all the variables.

Organizations come in all sizes and shapes, with staffs ranging from mostly homogeneous to totally diverse. In addition, the concepts involved in diversity management are new enough that even its practitioners don't always have a consensus. Some guidelines have emerged, however, based on what has (and has not) worked for many of these organizations.

The human resources department can be the catalyst that finds and develops opportunities and resources that support the company's diversity program. Human resources is the researcher that gathers the comprehensive information the organization will need to develop an effective initiative. The department may be the most effective advocate for the program, using a sort of "shuttle diplomacy" between departments, upper management, the diversity task force, and different employee groups to ensure that the intent and benefits of the initiative are well understood.

In the same way, human resources can be a problem-solver. They find funding sources, for example, and make sure that the staff has enough time to attend diversity task force meetings. The department will often be called upon to be a facilitator, a valuable-if challenging-role, since many of the task force participants will not have the necessary skills to communicate across cultures or genders. Human resources, appropriately, may be called upon to demonstrate communication techniques and open safe channels of interaction.

Finally, human resources is an influencer, wise to the political climate of the organization and able to use this knowledge to protect and nurture the fledgling diversity program. Human resources supports the efforts of all participants, and thinks strategically, ever careful to include long-term as well as short-term goals into the overall planning.

To avoid mistakes, false starts and frustrations, it is also helpful to understand what the role of human resources should not be. It is not, for example, desirable for the human resources department to be the sole, or even primary, focus of the diversity strategy.

Dealing effectively with diversitylearning not just to manage, but to thrive on the rich mosaic of differences-is an issue for all areas of the organization. If efforts to manage diversity are seen as "just another human resources program" (either a one-time event or affirmative action with a new name), they will not work.

What is required is real change-in attitudes, practices, structure and policies-from the executive suite down. The human resources manager should not be the sole person responsible for driving the diversity initiative. Companies must spread out the responsibility, or the program may die early.

Many organizations have used the following five steps as a basic framework for setting up successful diversity initiatives:

1 ) Create a diversity task force.

A diversity task force can provide the leadership, focus and continuity to direct your company's diversity effort. Frequently, its first order of business will be to create a "vision" or mission statement that reflects the organization's goals in beginning the diversity program.

Human resources will often be responsible for putting this task force together. Here are some pointers: Involve a broad cross section of employees when choosing group members; selected people should represent different races, genders, ages, sexual orientations and physical abilities. Involve individuals from different levels and departments within the organization, as well as people with expertise and those with basic knowledge of diversity issues. …

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