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Diversity, effectiveness, success... on the values that come with differences.

Małgorzata Lelińska
graduate of the Department of Economy at the University of Warsaw and student of Gender Studies at the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of the University of Warsaw; expert at the European Department of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (PKPP Lewiatan); coordinator of the “Diversity Index,” a Polish, ESF financed project related to managing diversity in companies.

Author: Małgorzata Lelińska

Creating equal opportunities for all individuals working in an organization is still far from standard practice. It is rather something one can boast about, a way to appear exceptional, part of a promotion strategy that includes building the company’s image as a friendly employer. Only rarely does diversity management become a conscious business strategy, despite the wealth of evidence that it simply pays off. Glass ceilings, unequal pay in equivalent positions, hampered access of women to managerial positions – all these regrettable and economically unsound discriminatory practices are everyday realities. The avant-garde is not large at all. Providing equal opportunities to all is a step towards diversity management, the modern approach to tapping the potential of employees, and creating for each of them the optimal conditions for self-development.

On the one hand, most people seem to grasp intuitively how this type of management might function. But on the other hand – in the Polish business environment – it is extremely difficult to define the matter in a concrete way. What diversity are we talking about here in Poland? Aren’t programs promoting equal opportunities for women and men enough? Most of our companies do not employ foreigners,or people of a different race or religion, or disabled people, not to mention persons of a different sexual orientation. But is it really so? And if it is, then is it the best way to run
a business?

Diversity management is no more and no less than an ongoing effort to notice and accept differences (as well as similarities) in individual employees, and to turn these differences into an asset for the organization: a source of greater efficiency and greater profits. There are many axes of difference. Some of them are visible, such as gender, age, race, ethnic background, (dis)ability, while others remain invisible – skills and capacities, educational background, professional experience, attitudes, lifestyles, styles of learning. Diversity management is all about putting these various experiences, skills, talents and sensibilities (not just professional ones, but cultural ones as well) to work for the company. Differences between people influence the way they act, feel, the way they are perceived by others and the way they work. Taking differences into account allows and organization to take advantage
of your team’s entire pool of talent and competence, and thus to optimize the results of its work. Employees who are asked to realize goals while working in internally diverse teams are usually aware that differences among people are being treated as an asset, not a problem. This increases the satisfaction they draw from their own work, allows them to engage in the company’s efforts with greater courage, energy, and an open mind. They are stimulated to work in less schematic ways, drawing on more aspects of their knowledge and experience. What are the profits for employers? Let us mention a few examples: greater creativity of work-teams leads to more innovative products and services; client needs are met more effectively; communication improves and there is and more willingness to share knowledge within the organization; greater motivation, efficiency and loyalty, and – as a result – a decrease in costs associated with employee turnover, an increased capacity to attract the best and the most talented (thanks to, among other things, the company’s positive image and reputation). It is a win-win strategy, where profits for the company are also profits for the employees.

The level of knowledge about diversity management is still far from sufficient in the business community. As a 2008 European Commission study shows, many people working in small and medium size companies in the 27 member states are unable to name any benefits that diversity might bring. What is worse, they assume that diversity management is a strategy designed exclusively for large businesses, that its implementation is associated with many complications and takes enormous amounts of time (which, as we know, is always a scarce resource in business life). All these assumptions are wrong. The concept of diversity works well for companies of any size; its implementation can easily be simplified and adjusted to specific needs of a given firm. Due to changes in demographics, culture and migration, there
are also significant changes in the human resources available to businesses. The strategies of searching for and recruiting new employees that worked in the past may turn out to be not just flawed but totally ineffective today.

We need to promote both the general idea and the practical tools of diversity management. One of the ongoing initiatives in this area is a project realized by the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan together with the Agency of Innovation and Development, backed by EFS funds as part of the Human Capital Operational Programme. One of the results of this project is to be the Diversity Index – a tool that will allow business-people to assess for themselves the level of diversity in their organizations and identify the gaps where diversity can be introduced. In short, it is a tool meant to promote diversity management. There is only one purpose of al these efforts: to help firms achieve greater success, and to make employees really want to work in them…

 

Added: 27 października 2011 Category: General
 
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