Diversity of workforce- A new business challenge !

Introduction
The world around is a mixture of people bringing vitality to our lives. Diversity is not a new phenomenon which we are experiencing today, but the differences between homo sapiens is becoming more prominent. The surge in this can be attributed to rise in reach of media and more important, the rise in activists who fight for the rights of those who are considered different, and thus were cornered into darkness by self-proclaimed most eligible people of the time. Therefore, it is becoming need of the hour for businesses to embrace the hitherto secluded segments of the society in order to stay ahead in attracting talent for their workplace.
 
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“Diversity at workplace”. When these words ring in my ears, a clear segregation strikes me, Indian incorporated workplaces and multinational workplaces. Therefore, following paragraphs will reflect my thoughts according to this bifurcation.
 
Diversity in our minds stem from the Philosophy, “Unity in Diversity”. When we see around, we find human beings all around, the only difference being that of Gender. But on observing a little more closely, some other differences pop up- such as, religion, region, linguistic background, educational background, ability, nationality, appearance etc, on which an individual has limited or no control. These are classified as internal and external dimensions of diversity by Gardenswartz & Rowe (1994) in their “4 layers of diversity” model. The other two layers which form the inner and the outermost circles of the model i.e. personality dimension and organizational dimension, become evident once the thread of relationship becomes stronger. By viewing diversity from the lens of this model, it is crystal clear that diversity is not a phenomenon of single piece of land, but a worldwide reality, which the western world capitalized on to grow their business and hence economy.
Genesis of diversity
For deriving full value from any phenomenon, it is vital to trace its roots so is the case with diversity. If we broaden our prospective of diversity and not get bounded by the word itself, then we find the concept of diversity in Indian constitution (1950) which made workplace diverse by providing reservation on the basis of caste, religion and later on by constitutional amendment, people with different abilities and gender. However, the western world used and popularized the word “diversity” and grabbed the title of “early bird” in the new fields of diversity.
 
Beginning from 1965, governments of USA and other European countries began protecting discrimination on the basis of non job characteristics such as gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability etc through affirmative action (positive action). Gradually, the benefits of government mandate were realized and utilized by companies like McDonalds for expanding locally and globally (Harris, 2009). Quickly other companies, Shell, IBM, Microsoft, etc began moving on the same line. Indian private sector could not grasp the phenomenon happening in rest of the world and only lately became the follower of western world when companies like Wipro and Tata began hiring for different dimensions of diversity.
Diversity- onset of a trend
“Perish or prevail” is the thumb rule for the businesses of competitive 21st century. Every business wishes to be the market leader and a dominant player of the industry. All this entails businesses to attract and retain the best talent available in the market. Amidst global expansion and worldwide shortage of critical talent, companies have stepped up efforts at different speeds and levels to recruit workforce which is diverse in demographics and ideas (Deloitte & NHRD, 2013). These modifications have irrefutably raged the “War for Talent”. The trend was given impetus by researches which prove that organizations that develop experience in and reputation for managing diversity will likely attract the best personnel (Carrel Et Al. 2000). It is argued that organizations, which value diversity, will definitely cultivate success and will have the brightest future in this dynamic global market (Henry & Evans 2007).
 
Organizations are monetary entities. Staying disconnected from and not mirroring the heterogeneous market can be a loss of business opportunity for the organizations. Besides, if one organization attends to the heterogeneity then for others that do not follow suit perhaps it can be a loss of competitive advantage. Driven by this need for heterogeneity, organizations resort to the practice of workforce diversity and inclusion. It has increasingly become a “hot button” issue in corporate, political and legal circles (Henry & Evans, 2007).
Stepping beyond diversity
Today organizations are breaking their cocoons and expanding their feathers to fly beyond mere diversity to touch the green pastures of “Diversity & Inclusion”. Andrés Tapia defines diversity & inclusion in following words-

“Diversity is defined as the proactive management of race / culture, gender, orientation, disability and age to ensure equal outcome in relationships with employees, customers, investors and suppliers.”

“Inclusion is making the mix work by cultivating the conditions to make the most of the diverse mix of complementary similarities and differences to generate productive and profitable outputs to fulfill an organization’s mission.”.

As can be inferred from aforementioned definition and our common knowledge, one size does not fit all. For an organization to dive into the deep sea of diversity & inclusion, it should be armed with the sword of quick adaptability to changing dynamics of workforce. Like any business policy, there should be a diversity policy to make workplace diverse, failing to do so will lead to scattered and unfruitful efforts
Diversity Positioning
After affirming in the above lines that there must be a diversity policy in place for making workplace diverse, I fell back to ask myself- is it really true? Does every organization which embarked aggressively on the path of hiring for diversity have a diversity policy? On googling it quickly, I got the answer as “no”.
 
Than how do organizations approach diversity? Several organizations only hire for numbers, be it for fulfilling some government mandate or as a mere follower or as a tool for attracting more talent, but organizations like Microsoft, Wipro, IBM, Tata, which capitalize on the power of diversity surely have a diversity policy, mission and vision in place.
 
How do all these organizations position themselves? The answer to this is given by Dass& Parker (1999). They modeled different organizations pursuing diversity from different objectives as shown below.
Approaches to Implementation
Title
Characteristics
Episodic
-When pressure for diversity is low.
-Diversity is a marginal issue.
-Initiatives are isolated and disconnected.
Freestanding
-When pressure for diversity is significant but still a side issue.
-Plethora of unrelated initiatives.
Systemic
-When pressure for diversity is high and is seen as a strategic issue.
-Initiatives integrated with the existing and core activities of the organization.
Every organization pursuing diversity will lie at any point on this continuum.
Refusing to form a Gender Grievance cell
Legal battle against affirmative action.
Hiring and firing based on stereotypes.
Training workshops for women.
Reservation for women.
Formation of women groups for assimilation.
Diversity sensitization for managers.
Communication from a diversity cell.
Appraisal system that establishes diversity as a goal for managers.
Gender diversity workshop for all managers.
Diversity cell to facilitate relevant events.
Structural and cultural transformation.
Conclusion
Diversity cannot be pursued in silos. It must go hand in hand with inclusion. Having said that, every organization must decide the objective it wants to achieve through diverse workforce before making it a buzz word for itself. as the organizations differ, so do their operational and competitive scenario. Hence, organizations must not forget its context. Workforce diversity has traveled from fast food chains to IT sector, restaurants and now to cover every sector. In Indian incorporated organizations, IT sector has the upper hand in workforce diversity. Other organizations are in awe and figuring out the best position to win the “war for talent”. 
 
[The article has been written by Swati Saxena. She is presently pursing her MBA in HRM & LR from TISS, Mumbai.]
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Diversity of workforce- A new business challenge !

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