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Gender and Diversity in the Workplace

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Diversity encompasses characteristics that categorizes individuals and allows for self-identification. Diversity presents itself in two different forms, visible and invisible. Those that are visible forms of diversity include ones physical appearance, sex, race, age, ethnicity, speech patterns and language. Those that are nonvisible include characteristics such as religion, national origin, illness and sexual orientation (Clair 2005). When discussing diversity in the work environment, most often times they are discussing the outward, visible characteristics, however invisible social identities are common in the workplace. Gender is one of the most common viewed issues when looking at diversity in the workplace. The glass ceiling and equality issues are analyzed and discussed frequently. Discoveries have been made that support the idea that woman should be on more Boards and should be making more decisions on allocations of monies. This paper seeks to address how diversity impacts an organization and how managers can make diversity work for them.

Introduction According to Gibson, Ivancevich, Donnelly, and Konopaske (2012), Diversity is a term that describes the cultural, ethnic and racial differences in a population. A more comprehensive definition by Gibson et al (2012) indicates that diversity is “an array of physical and cultural differences that constitute the spectrum of human attributes. There are six dimensions of diversity which include: age, ethnicity, gender, physical attributes, race, and sexual/affectional orientation” (50). All of these elements ultimately have a strong effect on an individual’s behavior and attitudes. The six characteristics listed above are the primary, it should be noted that there are additional forms of diversity which are considered secondary, these can be changed over time and include: education, marital status, health, religious beliefs and lastly, work experience. As the culture of America continues to grow with individuals with different backgrounds, the diversity of the workforce will continue to change. Knowing this, organizations and managers face the issue of how to appropriately address diversity in the workplace. There are those that believe that all individuals within an organization should be treated equally regardless of their differences. There are also those that believe an organization should acknowledge the differences in the diverse workforce and work to capitalize on them. Hanappi (2006) highlights the thought process of Walker and Hanson in that traditional management practices treated any differences possessed by an employee as measures of inferiority. It was thought that any individual that was “different” from the leading culture of an organization was considered less desirable. This view appears to be changing as the workforce and consumers in America continues to become more diverse. According to Dreachslin (2007), by the year 2030 four out of ten Americans will associate themselves with a particular racial or ethnic group. Additionaly, the English language is not the only language spoken in about 18% of households at this time and 8% indicate that they speak English less than “very well.” Managers will not be able to simply ignore diversity differences, instead they will have to recognize the differences and study aspects of socialization in order to help them reap the benefits of having a diverse workforce (Gibson et al 2012). Hanappi (2006) indicates that in order for organizations to survive through the changing demographics of the workforce, they must deal with the cultural differences within the organization. He believes that managers must work to understand the talents that a diverse employee pool can provide to an organization. He states that this understanding is imperative for growth and survival during the next century as diverse work teams can bring creativity and effectiveness to a company, but without proper management the teams can fail. Gibson et al (2012) highlights issues that managers must consider and address in order to effectively manage diverse work teams. These include the need to deal with some of the employee’s inability to fully understand the English Language, implementing training to assist with communication skills, as well as bringing forth cultural awareness to those employees already within the organization. Furthermore, managers must work to identify what the members of the diverse work force deem as rewarding while at the same time developing career development programs that fit the needs, skills and values of such diverse groups. While these are measures that managers must take, the organization as whole must recognize the need to reward those managers that are responsible for effectively recruiting, hiring and integrating a successful diverse work team.
Theories of Diversity and its Effect Choi and Rainery (2010) indicate that studies on diversity have shown that there can be great opportunities as well as great challenges for organizations when implementing a diverse workforce. There are theories that believe a heterogeneous work group can look at different perspectives and can develop better solutions than homogeneous work groups. With regard to diversity, some decision making theories believe that “diversity within organizations allows for a broad range of ideas, skills and insights that can improve an organizations ability to make better decisions” (110). In contrast, there are studies that show that heterogeneous work groups have lower levels of integration and increased levels of dissatisfaction and higher turnover rates. These studies coincide with the theories of social identity and the similarity attraction paradigm. These theories indicate that diversity within the workforce can actually burden an organization due to the need for conflict resolution and miscommunication. Unfortunately, the studies that work to examine the effectiveness or hindrance of workforce diversity show inconsistent results
Diversity: Gender “”Men are dominant, women are subservient;" "Men are aggressive, women are passive;" "Men are agentic, women are communal;" "Men are power-centric, women are person-centric;" "Men are single-focused, women are multi-focused;" "Men are bread winners, women are home makers (79)””, these are all differences that are commonly discussed when focusing on the difference between men and women as cited by Kaul (2009). It can be said that these differences are directly related to the thought process of women in organizations. The difference of today is that organizations are not so much focused on how to hire women, but how to retain them. Heeter (2012) indicates that, only 14% of senior executive positions at the Fortune 500 are held by women. This number is has not moved much from 2005. Kaul highlights a study completed by Catalyst in 2007 which focused on companies that had women present on the Board of Directors. The results showed that those with women on the Boards had a higher Return on Equity, Return on Sales and a higher Return on Invested Capital than those organizations that did not have women present on the organizations Board of Directors. Clearly through the studies mentioned above, it is beneficial to have women in leading roles within an organization, the question is how to get those women to those roles and allow them to continue their success. The ever present issue of the glass ceiling is not broken through by very many women as noted above, the reason for this is quite compelling. According to Kaul (2009) when women who felt dissatisfied within their role voiced their decision to leave, options had been offered in an attempt to retain them. These options that included concepts such as more flex-time and other factors that would make a more enjoyable work experience. Unfortunately, this was not enough for many of them women as they cited that their reason for departure was due to the inability to fit in with the predominantly male culture, therefore they became isolated and the pressure became too much. In order for women to succeed in the male dominated culture of the business world, it has been stated that they must act like a “man in a skirt” (Kual 2009,81) . Therefore they must think like a man in the business sense and act in similar manners, all the while maintaining a sense of femininity. The issue is maintaining this dual persona and breaking through not only the glass ceiling but earning the respect of their male counterparts as an equal being. Historically, men created the workforce and the bonding that males partake in together may not be the same type of bonding that women can engage in comfortably. It is up to males within organizations to learn to recognize the differences of their counterparts and work to make them feel comfortable in higher ranking roles. Heeter (2012) is quoted by stating that “Progress is being made, but ongoing commitment, leadership and innovation are required for economies to benefit from the tremendous potential women represent. This is not just a question of trillions of dollars of untapped consumer demand, but the potential for better, more informed decision-making in our societies, an educated and diverse source of talent for private and public institutions, and role models who can be an inspiration to billions of women and men worldwide. Government, business and society must continue to integrate women's experiences, perspectives and voices into the fabric of their organizations and systems. Only then will we truly benefit from the gender dividend” (27).
Affirmative Action Over thirty years ago the concept of affirmative action was brought to light in an attempt to create a more equal workforce for those that were considered to be in the minority. Thomas (2001) argues that affirmative action’s premises need complete revision as more than half of the workforce is now comprised of minorities, immigrants and women. He indicates that those who benefited the most from the establishment of affirmative action, blacks and women, no longer need a ticket to enter into an organization, instead they need to be able to continue to grow within an organization. He believes that the potential of these populations is not being reached, primarily due to the fact that they plateau in their position and lose their willingness to continue with the organization. Thomas (2001) comments that Affirmative Action served its purpose to correct an imbalance in the predominantly white male workforce, however it is now stagnant and its effect is limited. There is no long term benefit of the action as there is no guidance on how to create upward movement for those hired through affirmative action. He discusses that there is an affirmative action cycle that has six different stages which highlights how the system is set up for failure. The first step in the process is the Problem Recognition stage is which organizations realize that they need to have more women and minorities in their workforce. This stage is followed by the Intervention step in which the management teams put into effect Affirmative Action Recruitment Mode in an attempt to recruit more minorities and women. The third stage is known as the Great Expectation, this is when there has been a large number of minorities and women hired, some of which have been promoted upward. Management becomes laxed in its position. The fourth stage is known as frustration. This is where those that were hired through the affirmative action recruitment start to recognize that they are plateauing, somewhat prematurely. This will cause some to leave the organization while others remain immobile within the company. The fifth stage is known as Dormancy, this is the stage when those within the organization act as if there is nothing wrong within the organization to the outside world. There is no discussion about the failures of the affirmative action recruitment regardless of the personal sentiments of the organizations discrimination and blatant racism and sexism. The final stage is known as Crisis, this is when the complacency can no longer be contained by those that are stagnant in their positions and a call to change is made, when this happens the cycle begins again. (111-112).
How to Manage Diversity Thomas (2001) discusses the traditional image of America as the melting pot in which all individuals from different backgrounds melt their differences into a single American mixture. The thought of this is inherently wrong as many individuals from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds maintain elements of their individualism and express it with fervor. Traditionally, individuals left their individual differences at the door of their workplace as they were expected to conform. Today, many individuals refuse to “melt down” their cultural differences. Because of this, organizations face the task of surviving in the competitive markets with a workforce that is not comprised of conformed individuals. What managers must recognize is that managing diversity does not mean controlling or containing diversity, it means enabling every member of your work force to perform to his or her potential. It means getting from employees, first, everything we have a right to expect, and, second, if we do it well- everything they have to give” (Thomas, 2001, 112). Ollapally, and Bhatnagar (2009) indicates that while organizations know the impact and importance of diversity management, it is clear that initiating change in the workforce is difficult. There are resistances that are likely a result of stereotypes and prejudices that coincide with the thoughts of affirmative action. In some instances, the organizational culture and subcultures make the implementation of diversity management brought through by Human Resources policies ineffective as they refuse to practice them. Furthermore, it is thought that when individuals are asked to partake in the new policies that are designed to manage workforce diversity, the simple question causes even more of a divide among those with cultural, ethnic and gender differences. Many organizations discuss how important diversity is to them, however the actual actions they engage in show little to support this. In order to effectively manage diversity Ollapally, and Bhatnagar (2009) believe that it has to start on the individual level of each person. One must work to improve his or her emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. They highlight the benefits of organizations offering managers trainings on the development of culture intelligence. Furthermore, it has been discussed that minorities of the workforce mentor professionals within their community to assist them in father more information about the differences. With regard to organizations and their management of diversity, it is important that those within top ranking positions recognize the impact of a diverse workforce and how effective management can impact the organization. Ollapally, and Bhatnagar (2009) indicate that “It is important to create a culture of inclusion where the minority groups can feel comfortable and included”(462). According to Riach (2009) “While some conceded that diversity had been seen as another management fad by others in their company, the managers themselves were also keen to focus on how it allowed them to ‘open their doors to everyone’ through acknowledging different groups as potential employees and the particular needs they might have.” Thomas (2001) indicates that managers must expand their focus when effectively managing diversity. They must not thing of a diverse workforce as only those with additions of blacks and women, one must realize that all backgrounds can create a diverse workforce that when manage properly, can bring tremendous talents to a workforce.
From the information gathered through this research, it is clear that the culture of America is changing and will continue to change. The number of minorities and women in the workforce is on the rise and the typically white male dominate workforce will become less dominate. The need for managers to effectively manage diversity will become more important in the years to come. Ollapally, and Bhatnagar (2009) discuss the impact of Globalization,indicating that it “has led to a lot of activity across borders of countries leading to a mobile workforce, which has intensified the diversity related interventions in organizations”(454.) As the environments of business continue alongside the culture of America, it is important for managers to be proactive in their steps to utilize the differences as a competitive advantage. If the differences of individuals are properly acknowledged, an organization can utilize it as part of its strategy to maintain market share.

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