Diversity is a word that is frequently misused, and is often misunderstood. Diversity in itself is a simple concept to understand. It refers to nothing more than transformation or difference. What muddles the management of the difference is not the difference itself, but the nature and the meaning of the difference as perceived by the individual and others. In other words, diversity means different things to different individuals. One of the biggest misconceptions about diversity is that it relates only to gender and race, as most studies to date have focused on gender diversity. Conceptually, diversity management goes beyond demographic profiles. It is closely linked to organisational culture and includes the management of a number of aspects of human resources including age, ethnicity, gender, personality, race, skills and cognitive style.
Diversity management is not just a numbers game. Instead, it is about the human experience and relates to how an organisation treats its people. Organisations that seek global market relevancy must embrace diversity, in how they think, act and innovate. However, many business leaders pay lip service to diversity, they don’t really live it. Diversity requires authenticity and responds to the needs of stakeholders in a holistic way. Although experts have advocated the benefits of diversity for several years, they have often suffered from a lack of quantifiable evidence to support their beliefs. However, as part of a continued collaboration to encourage independent, high-quality research that informs and shapes business, ACCA and ESRC (Economic Social Research Council) have run a series of projects to explore the issues surrounding diversity in business.
Diversity management is the key to growth in today’s fiercely competitive global marketplace. More and more CEOs across the globe are concerned about diversity. According ACCA’s report, Towards better diversity management, diversity has risen high onto the agenda of business leaders. It has moved away from a “nice-to-have”, to a “must-have” for organisations as a strategic business imperative. Moreover, it has moved from just a value, to being operational. Organisations can no longer hide behind their lack of cultural intelligence.
Though diversity management has received much needed attention, South Africa is one of the many countries still wrestling with issues of diversity. It currently faces the challenge of leading a unique and indigenous approach to diversity management. Local organisations need to examine their goals and determine how the right mix of diversity can aid organisations to attain those goals. Fortunately, there are various systems that organisations can implement to ensure workforce diversity. Firstly, it is important for organisations to approach diversity authentically. In order to achieve diversity in the workforce, corporate leaders must take ownership of the process. When leaders “walk the talk,” aligning their personal values with corporate diversity goals, it can have a positive influence across the company. Secondly, diversity must drive the formation of new business models. Leaders must consider the changing landscape. The economy is changing rapidly thus altering the traditional fashion that business has been conducted. Leaders need to question how diversity can be utilised as a strategic enabler in today’s ever-changing landscape. Lastly, corporate leaders must think of diversity beyond demographics, and instead think of it in terms of human experience. Establishing diversity as a priority is just the first step in the process. Implementation is where many organisations seem to stumble. In order to successfully implement diversity, processes must flow toward the organisation’s objectives. The importance of strategically positioning diversity management as part of an organisation’s strategic bearing cannot be over emphasised. Essentially, how you manage diversity in your organisation from today onward will determine the organisation’s long-term success or failure in the marketplace.