The Management of Corporate Diversity

Celia de Anca. Director. Centre of Diversity. Instituto de Empresa

24 November 2005

Today’s corporate world demands that companies operate with a more diverse workforce. There is no cookie cutter model for increasing diversity, but rather each company must act according to its own needs. But if a diversity plan is to be successful, it must be managed appropriately. Indeed, the key to survival for companies in the 21st century lies in designing appropriate diversity management tools.

Is diversity necessary for organisations? This is one of the most common questions in today’s corporate world. In the last decade, research has provided sound arguments in favour of greater diversity. However, an equal number of studies warns of the hazards of operating with a diverse workforce. Consequently, the opinion that is gaining strength today is that the management of diversity is as important as diversity itself. The key to survival for companies in the 21st century lies in designing appropriate diversity management tools.

Another common question is “What is diversity?” And the answer is not simple. Diversity includes a wide range of parameters and groups that are not always similar or easily combined. We speak of diversity management when designing conciliation policies that enable workers to reach a balance between their professional and personal lives or when developing training programs that foster an understanding of what it takes to do business with other cultures in or beyond our borders. Appreciating the intellectual value of having both male and female opinions on the board of directors is also considered part of diversity management, as well as providing a flexible environment that enables a company to retain a good executive talent despite possible inconveniences.

In short, the diversity within organisations reflects the diversity within society and therefore offers a natural reflection of the components that form part of any company (shareholders, suppliers, customers, public opinion, etc.). Consequently, the correct internal management of diversity helps a company gain a better understanding of society today and the products it demands

The Tools of Diversity

What tools can we use to manage diversity? This question has some clear-cut answers since most large national and international enterprises have adopted a set of tools for diversity management.

For example, in order to encourage the conciliation of family and professional life, IBM has adopted a variety of measures that won the National Flexible Company Award in 2004. These measures include, among others, the application of flexi-time, permission for leaves of absence, as well as tele-worker formulas.

In 1996, JP Morgan Chase, recipient of the Catalyst Prize in 2001, followed the recommendations of the Manual for Flexible Solutions, among others, which enabled executives and employees to jointly examine the possibility of introducing flexible jobs.

Other interesting initiatives include the creation in 2000 by the Ford factory in Almusafes (Valencia) of the Fabricación Modular Valencia or FAMOVA, a workshop for the assembling of vehicle engine parts. In 2004, this factory had a staff of 42 workers, 40 of whom had some kind of disability and whose jobs and workloads were fashioned around their disabilities.

Diversity management practices also include policies drawn up by the Spanish and European governments. Among others, Grupo Santander has joined the Optima Programme of the Spanish Work and Social Affairs Ministry, which involves the implementation of 29 measures aimed at facilitating the entry of women into the workforce. The group also decided to build a day-care center for 500 children at the new Grupo Santander office complex. The nursey has been fully occupied since its opening.

The VIPS Group developed a professional integration model for accommodating the workers of 85 different nationalities on their staff.

Accenture’s Great Place to Work for Women initiative introduced innovative-people management programs, such as geographical scorecards, mentoring programs for women and networking encounters.

These and other initiatives seek to establish organisational models for a corporate culture that is open, dynamic and flexible. In short, these models enable a smooth transition from a culture, characterized by a single organisational model in which all members are expected to ”fit in”, to a culture flexible enough to adapt to the various and diverse needs of its members.

As Liz Mohn points out, corporate culture can no longer be considered the result of organic growth, but rather should be viewed as a jigsaw puzzle (1). The way in which executives fit the different pieces of the jigsaw together to create a single whole with common objectives has become the main challenge facing companies in the 21st century.

There are no formulas and there is no guide for implementing measures. Nor is it a question of drafting an action plan aimed at rendering a radical change at all levels. The practices and values that worked well in the past century do not need to be thrown out. But their focus must be broadened to create a concept of organisation that envisions the company as a dynamic and active system—one whose members can consciously contribute to its successful and harmonious operations.

In keeping with the diversity of its environment, each company will introduce different policies and practices at a different pace. Companies are now facing the ever complicated challenge of how to reconcile long-term sustainability that ensures continuity with the need for short-term results that guarantee survival.

(1)Liz Mohn, corporate cultures in global interaction. Bertelsmann Foundation 2002. pp 9

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