Diversity: A Principle of Human Resource Management

By Mathews, Audrey | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Diversity: A Principle of Human Resource Management


Mathews, Audrey, Public Personnel Management


In a keynote address, for a diversity management conference held at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., Ulysses Ford, Vice President, Waste Management, Inc. explained to the audience how the concept of diversity was initiated.(1) Using history as a backdrop, Ford described how diversity was implemented for the universal good of the United States, in a time of crisis.

During World War II, America's human resources were stretched to the limits. But somebody had to run the factories back home. The only resource left at home . . . women. And they not only manned the factories, they flew the planes to the front for the troops. "Rosie the Riveter" symbolized the efforts of women at work during the war. What you may not know are that many of the productivity improvements made by American factories occurred during the era of "women in the workplace." Hydraulics, robotics and other technologies got their start because improvements were needed to assist women in lifting, moving and operating heavy equipment. Everyone benefited from these changes, especially the men who returned after the war.(2)

The world of personnel management changed drastically when women remained home to operate the factories during World War II.(3) Before World War II, diverse work groups did not exist and when men returned to work at the end of the war, diverse work groups faded into the background. With the legislation of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action laws diversity emerged as a significant issue in human resources management. However, equal employment opportunity and affirmative action programs alone do not create diversity in the workplace.(4) Today, diversity is still not visible at all levels in most organizations. When establishing diversity as an organizational goal, a number of processes must be considered and decisions made regarding how to effectively manage diversity strategies.(5) Before diversity strategies are implemented, the organization's cultural environment, management and evaluation systems should be examined to ascertain if existing personnel/human resources processes will support or hinder diversity in the organization. Then, appropriate strategies can be designed to develop and manage diversity based on these findings.(6)

This article discuses some of the challenges managing diversity presents to personnel and human resources managers, strategies they are employing to address them and suggests implementing diversity as a principle of human resource management (HRM). The article explores processes such as diversity audits to identify diversity issues and aligning workforce planning with strategic plans. It also discusses benchmarking personnel/human resources practices and placing diversity as a top-level management function. Finally, the author examines the benefits of flex management, partnering with management, and educating and training managers/line supervisors.

Challenges to Personnel and Human Resource Managers

An external challenge many personnel and human resources managers face today is convincing their corporations and government agencies to incorporate the demographic, global and economic forecasts of workforce trends into their strategic planning processes. Some organizational leaders are concerned that implementing diversity initiatives is too expensive, upsets productivity, and causes disruption in the workplace. Prejudice and hostile work environments also pose internal stumbling blocks to effectively managing diversity. These trends and internal stumbling blocks challenge effective cultural diversity management.(7)

Environmental changes causing review of human resources programs pose the question of how to transform a slower growing labor force comprising more females, immigrants, minorities and older workers into a more skilled, productive and adaptable resource. Organizations must also address how to successfully manage employees with diverse lifestyles, single parents, unmarrieds with spousal equivalents, gay couples, job-sharers, two-income families or physically challenged individuals. …

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