Diversity in the Workplace
Diversity is a term used most often to describe the different types of race, religion, and nationalities but in today’s business world, it is used to describe the different individual behaviors of employees. Diversity is about characteristics and demographics that differ from person to person and how they affect human behavior. To understand how diversity affects the work place let us look at four types of diversity–Differences in skill and abilities, Values and attitudes, Occupation differences, and Age.
Differences in skills and abilities
“Aptitudes are potential abilities, whereas abilities are the knowledge and skills that an individual currently possesses.” (Schermerhorn 2003) Professionals such as Doctors, Lawyers, and even professional drivers all require a specific level of skill and knowledge to be able to do their jobs. For anyone of these professionals they could not perform their jobs if they had skill but no knowledge or knowledge and no skill. Skills and knowledge are important considerations for a manager when choosing to hire a person. There are many different kinds of tests used to measure mental aptitudes and abilities. Some tests are designed to test specific skills and abilities such as a professional driver would be given a drive test and would be asked to demonstrate their knowledge on how to operate specific equipment on the truck and trailer. Some tests are designed to test general skills and abilities, someone applying for a general secretary job may be ask to take a typing test, 10-key, or demonstrate a general knowledge of computers.
These kinds of tests are useful tools for managers and are necessary to screen potential applicants to be sure that they have the ability and skills that are required for the job.
Value and attitude differences
Just as skills and abilities are varied, values and attitude differences are varied as well, they reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be. Values influence the way we react to others and how others react to us. For example, you may value the belief that everyone has the right to be treated with respect and paid equally no matter what his or her gender or age. Lets say you go to work for a company that pays men who are older a higher salary than a person who is younger and female, even though they have equal qualifications. You will probably have the attitude that the company is an unfair place to work and will most likely quit.
There is also a generalization of values that is divided into three primary groups according to a study done by Arthur Mitchell at SRI International (SRI International 1990) the study identifies these as traditional, new, and hybrid. Traditional or older workers with traditional values believe in the company over the person, quantity over quality and uniformity over diversity. New or baby boomers value economic results and social responsibility. The Hybrid or mixture of traditional and new is the young entry level workers who are more concerned with making money than they are about their futures the welfare of the society. As more and more baby boomers take over the corporate positions of retired traditionalists we are seeing a shift in the over all North American values from economic to social/personal. The impact of changing values continues to shape the way companies conduct business, treat their employees, and has resulted in the emergence of a new social conscience.
“Another type of diversity is occupation, with this having an impact on individual behavior. For example, an individual in a professional occupation is more likely to make her own decisions and is more likely to reject being managed too strongly. The case of a medical doctor is one example. A medical doctor considers themselves an expert in their area and is likely to consider that nobody else has the same expertise. Based on this, the individual is likely to make her own decisions and to act independently. The same also applies to other professional occupations such as lawyers and scientists. Where as a person just entering the workforce in an entry level position would not be an expert and would require the help and knowledge of the management or leader. The new worker would look to the leader for direction, answers, and guidance until they have gained the experience to go it alone. This passing of knowledge from expert to beginner also builds upon the culture of a company.
Age is a great contributor to the diversity of the workforce considering that companies today employ people from as young as 18 years of age, to as old as 85 years of age. With a range this big there are bound to be differences in experiences, values, and education, all which contribute and influence human behavior. There was a time when people thought about retiring at age 55, then it was 65, now when you ask someone when they plan to retire, their answer is, “when I die.” More and more of today’s workforce are staying past 65which is causing a change in how companies view the older worker. There was a time when we thought at 55 you had nothing left to offer, your skills were outdated and you had become obsolete and “put out to pasture” or forced to retire. Older people have the advantage of experience, education, and job tenure. They also tend to be more reliable, miss fewer days of work, and have lower turnover rates. While larger companies are finding these older workers have outdated skills, smaller companies are finding value in their age with higher performance, stability, experience, and lower avoidable absences. Considering the aging of the workforce in the US today it would be wise for the larger companies to hold on to the old folks for as long as they can. It will take many years for the next generation to acquire the experience, skills, and knowledge of what they are replacing.
The younger inexperienced worker that is fresh from college brings with them a completely different view on how things should work. They have new ideas, they are all about what is right, and good for the whole company not just themselves. Young people have preconceived ideas that older people are stuck in the past and they do not want to listen to how things used to be done. As well, the older worker thinks that the new ways are a waste of time and money and they want to stick with what is tried and true.
This can cause considerable conflict between the old and the young and will require the company to find ways to incorporate the two ideas to build on a totally new idea. The melding of these two groups will create a stronger workforce and build stronger work cultures.
There are many different forms of diversity that effect human behavior and the culture of companies. These many different values, skills and abilities, ages, and occupations will be a challenge for managers today to find creative new ways to incorporate each individual’s ideas into their business and to create a productive culture that values every form of diversity.
http://www.aicpa.org/cefm/change_management_08.asp – March 15, 2005
Schermerhorn, John R., Hunt, James G., Osbom, Richard N., Diversity and Individual Differences, 2003, ch. 4