The constantly changing nature of work brought about by ICT has no doubts, revolutionized the practice, especially, delivery of Human Resource Management. For the same reasons, Human Resource (HR) practitioners all over the world have to keep track of developments in the field so as to be abreast of the latest trends and best practices that must be brought to bear in service delivery. Perhaps more challenging to HR practice at this time is the impending revolution of robots in the world of work, a development that most HR practitioners and employees see as the biggest threat to employment.
But unknown to many, the reality of having to effectively manage a progressively diverse workforce has been the crux of the matter in Human Resource Management. This is much so because the rules of equality and inclusion (that ought to be sacrosanct) continue to be violated in a world of work that is significantly uneven and vastly variegated on all essential human parameters such as gender, age, personality, education, race, ethnic background, political ideology, religion, and nationality. The menacing issues of inequality, segregation, and discrimination at work have always been part of organizations but are becoming more obvious, contemptible, and resistible as advances in ICT continue to shrink interpersonal and inter-organizational distances across continents into a global village.
SHRM (2005) defines workplace diversity as an inclusive corporate culture that strives to respect variations in employee personality, work style, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomics, education and other dimensions in the workplace. Specifically, workplace diversity practices refer to efforts organizations engage in to provide an inclusive corporate culture that values differences and promotes opportunities for all employees (Lockwood, 2005). As these definitions suggest, and regardless of the challenges inherent in workplace diversity, its objectives are always to improve qualities of work and work life for the workforce, while its outcomes have made most organizations that embraced it prosperous.
What Challenges do Workplace Diversity Pose for Human Resource Management and Why?
1. Hiring and Retaining a Diverse Group of Employees: The very foundation of workplace diversity is recruitment and maintenance of employees that are different from one another in all respects. It is the responsibility of the HR department or unit of any organization to see to the recruitment, selection, and placement of competent hands who must be people of both gender, all races, all ethnic groups, all religions, all ideologies, all socio-economic classes, and, possibly, all nationalities. Among other challenges here is the fact that HR professionals must select qualified candidates while promoting diversity, two roles that appear to be at cross purposes to each other. Because of the drive for employing an all-inclusive workforce, what job seekers, some of whom would eventually become employees whose differences are to be harnessed, think or perceive may be easily neglected, an act that is capable of undoing the diversity programme in its entirety. For example, job seekers are known to typically and openly criticize the priority that HR used to give inclusiveness over qualifications in making hiring decisions. As a reaction to this, and informed by research, HR professionals now agree that qualifications should be the most important selection criteria (Bucher, 2000)
2. Overburdening of HR staff with Diversity Matters: As of 2005, about three-quarters of organizations that were practicing in diversity programmes did not have staff dedicated exclusively to diversity, making it very likely that diversity fell under the purview of the HR function (SHRM, 2005). Things have improved significantly over the years as many, but not all corporate organizations now have separate departments/units coordinating diversity/inclusiveness programmes. The burden of combining these duo of enormous responsibilities remains the lot of several organizations in developing countries.
3. Training of a diverse workforce after hiring: All employees, regardless of gender, race, nationality, religion, political ideology, etc, must be taken through an all-inclusive training session to impart, in them, an all-inclusive organizational culture — among other skills. According to SHRM (2005), teaching organizations how to be diverse is spearheaded by HR professionals through diversity training programmes which entail sound diversity communication strategy and an emphasis on employee development via mentoring, coaching, succession planning, etc (Bucher, 2000).
HR professionals involved in the training of diverse groups of employees must also demonstrate sensitivity in delving into various interests and persuasions of others. They also must exhibit expertise in handling the differences that would be obvious in employees owing to their diverse attributes. This responsibility is as daunting as it is important because diversity training can easily create a bias, which is the opposite of HR professional’s intention. It can also condition employees to become more aware of their differences that the training intends to shift their attention away from. They (the employees) may even act on these differences subconsciously—for example, stereotypes or prejudices may be so entrenched and irresistible in an employee that they cannot be trained in a one-off workshop (Nancherta, 2008). Detection of such biases, some of which can even be unconscious can be particularly challenging as several cases of them have been documented. These include modern racism, a more covert form of racism, such as harbouring negative racial attitudes, acting on or judging others based on racial stereotypes, racially-motivated interpersonal mistreatment and incivility, avoidance, and other more subtle displays of racial inequality (Banaji & Greenwald, 1995; McConahay, 1983).
4. Maintaining Workplace Efficiency Despite Inclusiveness and Fair Practices: HR professionals are usually caught up in the dilemma of advocating and implementing diversity programmes (via inclusiveness) and ensuring that employees do their jobs effectively. Under the umbrella of diversity practices, organizations are employing methods of understanding and relationship-building that encourages the voice of all employees to be heard and embraced (Lockwood, 2005). For example, having learned that perspectives of diverse employee groups add value and creativity to organizations’ strategic direction, most organizations now allow employees to take unpaid leave to observe a religious or cultural holiday that was never officially recognized by them (Nancherta, 2008).
Giving employees such wide latitude of freedom can be a good practice where doing so would not involve too many employees or encourage inefficiency. Where the HR manager is not strategic enough in implementing this, it would not be long before employees begin to exploit to go together from work or equate themselves with their fellow employees that may have benefited on what may be generally perceived as free holidays.
The challenges associated with implementing diversity programmes by HR practitioners in organizations have been highlighted in the forgoing. But the overall challenge here lies in the ability and competence of an HR practitioner to evolve strategies for overcoming them. Given the peculiarity of the Nigerian society with her diverse population, ethnic groups, languages, religious persuasions, political leanings and socio-economic classes, the responsibility of diversity management is a challenging one for an HR practitioner whose core responsibilities are already a challenge.
Article Credit: Olufemi Lawal, PhD