Diversity in the workplace is both an opportunity and a challenge. Often, it is a source of tension, division or conflict if difference is associated with exclusion, disadvantage or racism. However, it can also be a source of learning and growth that can result in improved work conditions and practices and better quality standards of service.
The benefits of workplace diversity for staff and the organisation are inextricably linked. By encouraging staff to realise that cultural, social and linguistic diversity are assets in an internationally competitive market, they will be less likely to resist working with differences and instead be open to learning new skills and knowledge that can give rise to new ways of conceptualising and addressing issues.
In turn, when staff members feel that their cultural and social differences are being respected, they are more inclined to be able to reach their full potential, which will increase their productivity and minimise stress and absenteeism.
With the changing Australian population, the workforce composition is becoming more diverse (Dessler, Griffiths, Lloyd-Walker 2007). As such, diversity is increasing in importance to all workplaces, as the following case studies, covering the four key diversity groups of gender, age, disability and race show:
Diversity and Gender – QANTAS Diversity Strategy
The 2007/2008 QANTAS Annual Report for the Equal Opportunity (QANTAS 2008) for Women Agency addresses the issues raised in relation to QANTAS diversity strategy in the key diversity group of gender.
The report states that QANTAS diversity strategy is managed at a high level by QANTAS Diversity Council. This consists of senior executives, with an Executive General Manager chairing the Council. It reports directly to the CEO and Executive Committee.
The diversity strategy for women is quite comprehensive. It covers areas such as female representation in the QANTAS Group, women in non-traditional occupations, countries of origin, promotions and transfers, training and development, work organisation and support initiatives.
The report links diversity to strategic business issues, showing that it is adopting a business case approach to diversity management. It seeks to focus on the business benefits the company can accrue from making the most of the abilities and possibilities of the women it employs (Cassell 2000). There was a focus on pay equity, flexible work arrangements, an increase in paid and parental leaves, employer sponsored childcare, and employee assistance programs.
As a result of QANTAS commitment to gender diversity, QANTAS (2008) reports that it has now expanded diversity right across its organisation. They also report a swing towards increased systemic activities supporting women in all parts of the organisation.
The report stated that there had been significant changes in the Diversity Council, which might suggest there is some concerns about it’s function and usefulness. QANTAS, however, choose to suggest that the changes are positive and refreshing. The report also expresses concern that there is still no representation by women at Executive Committee level.
In this respect, the argument by Cassell (2000) that the business case provides a way for women managers to legitimately promote their unique talents seems appropriate. QANTAS recognises it has a shortfall of Executive Managers, and women can use business rationale to promote their unique skills, whilst minimising any backlash fro the equal opportunity controversy.
Future gender diversity strategies for QANTAS include development and training programs for women, increasing nominations of women to the Executive Council and the use of HRIS to identify female talent for women in senior roles (Dessler et al 2007).
This report was written by QANTAS for QANTAS, so some bias can be expected. However, overall, an objective view, rather than subjective, appears to have been used when preparing the report. The writing is neutral and in the businesslike, and all facts appear supported by research and valid argument.
Diversity and Age – Deutsche Bank’s Diversity Strategy
Deutsche Banks’ Ute Drewniak (2009) writes that the bank is addressing the issue of age diversity in a positive way.
Deutsche Bank seems to actually manage diversity in a positive way. Dessler et al (2007) wrote of the differences between managing diversity and affirmative action.
Affirmative action seeks only to address an organisations legal, social and moral requirement, whereas diversity management addresses productivity. Affirmative action includes only race, gender and ethnicity, whereas diversity management addresses all elements of diversity. In the case of Deutsch Bank, this includes the element of age diversity.
One of the initiatives brought about by Deutsche Bank is lifelong learning. This puts special emphasis on older workers. The bank recognises that older workers can train younger workers, and also might want to work shorter hours. This situation is similar to the situation in Pocock (2005), where greater flexibility of work was offered. This important issue was also addressed by Stone (2010) when talking about work-family conflict.
Training and Mentoring are also high on the list of priorities for the bank. Specifically, employees over the age of 40 are assisted in preparing for different aspects of retired life. Along with this, advanced professional programs address age awareness training within the scope required by HR Management.
Most notable is Deutsche Bank’s four learning transfer strategies. All four of these allow for experienced older employees to transfer their acquired knowledge to younger less experienced employees. All four of these programs are reported to have a achieved positive results and acceptance.
Deutsche Bank reports that it has learnt some lessons, and unveiled some challenges, during the implementation of it’s various programs, in relation to age diversity. Similar to as reported in Cassell (2000), Deutsch bank appears to encompass the business case as the foundation of its strategy. It stresses competitive and profit-making strategies as critical for the implementation of age diversity. It recognises that its HR Department must accept and promote successes in these strategies and programs, for the workplace to accept them. It also recognises that the strategies and programs will not be accepted unless clear win-win achievements are gained.
Deutsche Bank also foresees that the ageing demographics in Europe will see younger people entering the workforce, and retirement ages becoming higher. This means longer work life times for the workforce in general (Drewniak 2009).
It is interesting that Deutsche Bank also focus on shorter academic training prior to commencing employment, which seems to suggest that age diversity is paramount in terms of workplace learning and training.
Deutsch Bank conclude by making reference to the two most prevalent affirmative action groups – gender and ethnicity. This could suggest that, although Deutsche Bank seems genuinely committed to workplace diversity, there are still elements of equal opportunity and affirmative action affecting the implementation of true diversity strategies.
Diversity and Disability – ANZ Bank’s Diversity Strategy
The ANZ Bank (2008) reports on its inclusion in the 2008 (Australian) National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy. The report addresses the situation with regard to disability diversity in a straight forward and open way. However, WANZ have expanded their Diversity Management Plan to include not just employees, but also customers.
Overall, the report states what ANZ has learnt through experience, and what the Government, businesses and general community could implement to promote disability diversity.
ANZ have a business case strategy, as expounded by Cassell (2000). They state that a more diverse workforce is a tactical benefit to the Group and vital for achieving the expansion aims the organisation envisages.
They further state that while a great deal of time and effort has been dedicated by employers and Governments to EEO and affirmative action, focussing on gender and race, diversity opens the door for disability diversity to be expanded. In the past, much of the legislation has been concerned with these two groups.
The ANZ, as a key initiative in its report, calls on the Government to follow ANZ’s lead, and form more partnership with disability groups. The ANZ expands this, stating that many employers formed relationships with women and cultural groups, but not with disability groups, when it came to addressing disability diversity.
The report also addresses some of ANZ’s failed attempts in the past, and how they addressed, or intend to address them for the future. As example, its first Disability Action Plan (DAP) in 2005 was not totally successful. ANZ reports that they learnt from this, and launched a second DAP in 2007. The second DAP included training and awareness, and the report states that significant improvements have been achieved in a very short time.
An important issue that ANZ have addressed is stress, specifically acknowledging the increased stress levels that disabled and mentally ill people endure simply because of their fears of rejection due to their disability or illness. While Stone (2010) addresses many of the causes of stress, and ways to deal with them, there appears little or no discussion in the writing of increased stresses caused by disability or mental illness.
Particularly with mental illness, the assumption that “if you can’t see a disability, it isn’t real” is very much entrenched, and causes great anxiety. As the ANZ report says, many people with a disability are reluctant to “come out” for fear of repercussions. Stone (2010) also addresses this “medicalisation of problems in living” which rewards subjective symptoms, but may be having adverse effects on those that suffer real issues.
ANZ also states that it has identified accommodation expenses for disability diversity to be reasonably low, and has complied with all legal requirements in this area, sometimes even exceeding the requirements. It also seems to promote the organisation as a forerunner in disability diversity in Australia, and perhaps this is justified in considerable aspects.
Diversity and Race – IBM’s Diversity Strategy
Organisations can achieve significant benefits through cultural diversity, (Nicholson 2009). Yet important variables can affect the initiatives achieving success. Nicholson examines the impacts of such variables on IBM’s Diversity Strategy in Australia.
IBM clearly states that they have taken a business case approach to diversity management, in that they aim to focus on the advantages and profits to the organisation (Cassell 2000).
IBM reports they have adopted a top-down approach with regards to cultural diversity. This involves implementing policies and formalising training to address the issues. The company have also set up a Diversity Council, as well as diversity contact officers, and diversity champions.
They have set up professional development resources, using computer based training and intranet, on issues of globalisation and multiculturalism, and how these impact on business and management. They also address understanding bias, and its effect and affect on team members.
There are general staff awareness policies, and IBM looks to the future. IBM seem quite committed to the implementation of racial and cultural diversity management systems, and it si reported (Nicholson 2009) that the first formal statement by IBM in this respect was by their CEO in 1953.
For the future, IBM’s top priorities in diversity management include building the business case, collecting reliable data, implementing training and awareness, positioning program for the whole business and communicating successes.
There are many legal requirements that most in Australia are aware of, with concerns to racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in the workplace. The Fair Work Act (2009) (as reported in Gollan 2010) specifically addresses discrimination. Australia has affirmative action legislation in place with respect to providing equal employment for most of the diversity groups (Dessler et al 2007), and so do other countries. All four of the organisations presented above seem to have satisfied their legal requirements, and gone beyond EEO and affirmative action, to embrace workplace diversity, and diversity management. It is hoped that, as larger organisations lead the way with such strategies, smaller organisations will need to adapt to them as well.
ANZ Banking Group. (2008). National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy Submission June 2008
Cassell, C. (2000). The business case and the management of diversity. Women in Management: Current Research Issues, Volume II (eds M. Davidson & R. Burke). Sage Publications, London, pp. 250-262.
Dessler, G., Griffiths, J. & Lloyd-Walker, B. (2007). Human Resource Management: Theory, Skills and Application (3rd ed.). Pearson, Australia
Drewniak, U. (2009), Inside age diversity at Deutsche Bank. HR Leader. Retrieved from http://www.humanresourcesmagazine.com.au/articles/82/0C01FA82.asp?Type=60&Category=919
Gollan, P. (2009), ‘Australian industrial relations reform in perspective: Beyond Work Choices and future prospects under the Fair Work Act 2009’. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 260-269.
Nicholson, K. (2009), Cultural Diversity, IBM Style. HR Leader. Retrieved from http://www.humanresourcesmagazine.com.au/articles/74/0C021774.asp?Type=60&Category=903
Pocock, B. (2005), Work-life “balance” in Australia: Limited progress, dim prospects. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 198-209.
QANTAS Group. (2008). 2007/2008 Annual Report for the Equal Opportunity for Women Agency.
Stone, R. J. (2010), Part 5: Managing Human Resources – Employee Health and Safety. Human Resource Management, (7th ed.), pp. 631-660.