This paper aims to look into the differences that lie between the proactive and reactive approaches in managing a diverse workforce.
The demographic developments that the era of globalization brought have affected the composition of the workforce. Generally, the workforce all over the world becomes more heterogeneous in this era. It is because of this that workforces all over the world are continuously being challenged, due to the uncertainty that the future may bring which then gives importance to the utilization of the potential of their entire labour force to cope with the changes brought about by globalization.
As the interconnections all over the world increase, people usually experience day-to-day activities that require people to interact with that of other cultures. More often than not, there are some activities that we perceive as normal may not be applicable to other nations. Because of this, people often struggle as they try to understand communication patterns that are needed in pursuit of a better interaction with other neighbouring countries or those that belong to different cultures
Different researchers in different countries came up with studies that aim to look into cross-cultural differences of different nations. Often, researchers study these differences in compliance training or issues that deal with understanding cross-cultural differences in interpersonal differences. These researchers include Blickhan, Glance & McBain (1996), Burgoon et al. (1982), Reynolds & Cambra (1983), Neuliep & Hazelton (1986), Shatzer, Funkhouser, & Hesse (1984). The said studies are said to be very useful in identifying basic cross-cultural differences is selecting managing strategies that are beneficial to a particular nation.
As mentioned, it is also because of this that practices within HRM change to cope with the emerging cultural and ethnic-based workforce diversity. According to Sippola (n.d.) the discussion behind the diversity of work forces increases due to the fact that the composition of most labour forces is becoming more heterogeneous. The heterogeneous nature of said companies are said to be affected by demographic developments such as ageing and migration. In the same manner, they are also affected by the prevailing zeitgeist of the era: globalization, internationalization, mergers and acquisitions (Konrad, 2003). Cultural differences are always seen as a big issue whenever conflicts and misunderstandings are being discussed on a global level especially now that global trading and other economic activities have gone beyond their traditional boundaries. It has been known throughout history that the so-called disadvantaged groups are the fastest growing labour pools. Disadvantaged groups usually consist of women, ethnic minorities, disabled and aged people as clearly stated by Noon and Ogboona (2001). According to Cox (1993), the divided labour market is now seen to have maintained inequalities that led to discrimination in employment as they are seen to favour in-group members out of those that are considered out-group.
The Diversity of the Workforce
Generally, in an organizational context, diversity is often interconnected with different social identity groups, as stated by Thomas and Ely (1999). Likewise, they are also related narrowly to demographic factors such as age, gender, disability, race, ethnicity and even to characteristics and features that usually includes capabilities, personality, education, religion, culture, language, lifestyle, working style, etc (Sippola, n.d.). In most human resource systems, health, sexual preference, body size, family background and shape are seen to have a significant effect on attitude, behaviour and ability to work of a certain employee, according to Kossek and Lobel (1996). In addition, Cox (1993), also states that traditions, values, culture and systems of various organizations contributes a lot in influencing diversity. Diversity, therefore is a complicated term that can be perceived in so many ways in many organizations that then affects the ability the come up with a single, universal meaning (Omanovic, 2002).
The Different Approaches used to Manage Diversity
In looking into the alternative perspectives used to discuss diversity, especially with regard to challenges it pose to human resources management, there are many strategic approaches that could be used. These include strategic approaches that deal with equality and diversity, type of organization or the degree by which a certain culture has influenced another as Kirton and Greene clearly states (2004). Maxwell et. al (2001) also say that these approaches look into how organizations perceive diversity and the attitudes and motives that they have in dealing with it which become evident in the way by which organizations and companies respond to the said issue.
Different attitudes to adaptation or acculturation (segregation, separation, assimilation and integration) are usually shown to the extent people maintain their own identity and customs in their interactions with other people of another culture as Berry mentions in his work (1992). Thomas and Ely (1999) combined some of these alternative diversity approaches into their diversity paradigm. This paradigm developed divided organization into three types or phases of diversification. The first of which is discrimination-and-fairness, access-and-legitimacy and learning paradigms. These paradigms are said to deal with the causes together with the objectives of diversity which greatly affects key issues and desired outcomes of most organizations. In addition, benefits, challenges, opportunities and risks that companies face are usually related to how they deal with diversity.
The aforementioned approaches present popular ideas combined with different theories in dealing with the diversity of the workforce. One of the rationales behind them is the need for social justice as a moral issue and in the same manner, taking into consideration the needs of a certain organization. Basically, the first paradigm’s concern lies on the equal opportunities and fair treatment that their employees would receive through legislative actions that ensures that everyone is treated in the same manner, Thomas and Ely (1996) mentions. Also, employees are more than just a cost or expense of a certain company. Kirton and Greene (2005) say that organizations, being bureaucratic in nature possessed the control that could examine and pay off the performances of individuals that affect HRM procedures that range from public equality statements to policies that are more formal and comprehensive.
Another paradigm that has been developed looks into the never ending quest for business benefits. In this particular approach, Deresky (2000) mentions that individual differences are being accepted to create a culture and atmosphere of respect. One of the beneficial effects of diversity is often seen as a source of competition, which, according to Sippola is often gained through the reduction of costs (turnover, absenteeism). In the same way, it contributes so much to the facilitation of a new labour market, the increasing market knowledge. At the same time, it also encourages the creative and innovative ideas of teams that could help them in solving different problems, making them more flexible. Finally, Cuuningham and James (2001) gives importance to the reputation and image of a certain company as a multicultural working place contributes so much to their commitment to social responsibility.
Diversity is said to allow companies to gain more profits as it allows the increase of both efficiency and effectiveness of these organizations, as mentioned by Iles (1999). Challenges brought about by diversity are more often than not, related to cultural differences in working habits and customs, misunderstandings in interactions and misinterpretations. In the same manner, Wilson (1996) says that distrust and hostility creates conflicts within a certain organization that contributes so much to collaboration and decision making. However, even though situations are currently improving for those who belong in the minority groups, opening more doors to them, Human Resources Management only reflect the interests of those belonging to the dominant or majority groups, as mentioned by Cornelius et al. (2001). It is because of this that organizations are said to have applied reactive HRM approach to the issues regarding equality and diversity which are often supported by formal policies. Thus, the ways by which they solve issues that are closely related to diversity are not well addressed. Kirton (2003) also mentions that HRM are then encouraged to apply a more proactive approach that could help in eliminating diversity through the breaking down of barriers, mainstreaming and broadening agenda.
The Difference between Proactive and Reactive Approach
The paternalistic culture of a certain organization is not in itself negative, if viewed from the perspective of rewarding the best performing employees. Those who perform exceptionally well may receive intangible rewards apart from financial gain. These favors speak strongly of the culture that the company espouses. In using the reactive approach, culture is a very critical factor to consider when drafting motivational programs or initiatives for employees and in judging which style of leadership is most apt. This is particularly true for organizations which intend to go global and who are bent on sending expatriates to their satellite offices offshore. The research in this area mentions three elements attributable to the leadership styles of different cultures; a stress on market processes, a stress on the individual, and a focus on managers rather than rank and file employees. As a result there is a growing awareness of need for a better understanding of the way in which leadership is enacted in various cultures and a need for an empirically grounded theory to explain differential leader behaviour and effectiveness across cultures (Managing Diversity, 2002). Culture profiles derived from Hofstede’s theoretical dimensions of cultures, yield many hypotheses regarding cross-cultural differences in leadership. Hofstede’s dimensions of culture are: uncertainty avoidance, power distance, masculinity-femininity, individualism-collectivism, and future orientation. High uncertainty avoidance cultures, with the resulting emphasis on rules, procedures and traditions may place demands on leaders not expected in low uncertainty avoidance cultures (Managing Diversity, 2002).
Table 1. The differences that exist between proactive and reactive diversity policies (Strategic Approaches to Diversity.
Legge (1989), Miller (1989) and Schuler (1991) states that unlike conventional personnel management that is characterized as reactive, parochial, and concentrates on rank and file employees, HRM is proactive in finding and establishing practices and policies which are consistent across all organizational policy areas. For Schuler (1991), the HRM orientation necessitates that personnel practices and policies address and adapt to organizational needs. Moreover, Hendy and Pettigrew (1986) and Millr (1989 says that HRM considers employees as valued strategic resources rather than as overhead cost. A main thrust of HRM is the potent and effective management of people within the organization – when carried out, this is expected to yield competitive advantage, as mentioned in Kamoche (1991) and Miller’s (1989) works. Kamoche (1991) also states that when compared to conventional personnel management which regards employees as passive , HRM considers people as strategic assets who should be developed to optimize their potential.
There is also a strong emphasis on the effective management of people, but with a distinct, non-union approach. They made it explicit that the involvement of a trade union was not necessary to keep a motivated and empowered workforce. They deeply acknowledge the importance of labour in building a successful plant. In their ‘recipe’ for success, they recognise that success does not solely lie in investment and technology, but rather in getting the right people on the bus. Without a strong and effective people component, initiatives on getting the structure and systems right would all be futile. Because of their firm resolve to maintaining a non-unionised environment, they create venues for allowing employees to empower themselves through individual expression.
This clearly shows the willingness of management to adapt to the cultural backdrop of the country, because this is in stark contrast with the norms of Japanese collectivist culture where the individual’s voice takes less priority over the sentiment of the group. There is also strong emphasis on the recruitment of young talent, whom they believe are capable of innovation, critical thinking, and of questioning the status quo. In carrying out such a recruitment strategy, they made sure that they had effectively debunked the myths related to Japanese management which was conventionally associated with “the company song, morning exercises, lifetime employment” or even company housing. They were successful at getting people who were at the threshold of their careers, were enthusiastic and were highly opinionated. The profile of the workforce that they wanted consists of those who were confident and ready to take on tough challenges. Upon maturity of the organisation, they then recruited those were older in terms of age.
Commitment and Discipline
Using the proactive approach, personnel is perceived as a conscience and a channel through which valid grievances may be aired. In such cases, management is “ready to step down” to admit the fault or shortcoming. This is not the case in unionised environments. In the latter, the transactions are impersonal since the union is used to represent the person – and that person-to-person interaction, which is very important, gets lost. An organization’s set-up requires a high degree of management maturity. It is good for an organization to promote this notion of HR merely as an arbiter, and not as “police”. The company operates with the thinking that “people will deliver given the opportunity and the correct guidance and discipline”. The company perceives that there is still a need for control if they were to expect optimal performance from employees.
Table 1 shows the differences that exist between two types of diversity policies that are often used as approaches in managing with diverse workforces. As it is clearly seen in the aforementioned table, the reactive approach basically deals with the narrow conception of organizations’ business interests. On the other hand, the proactive approach looks into a wider picture that perceives the organization having social and ethical responsibilities that strengthen the image of the organization as well as its health and capability.
The next section of this paper shall be discussing the adoption of proactive policies and its features as many of the literatures used for this term paper gives more importance to this approach instead of its counterpart due to its potential in transforming organizations to value diversity. Reactive diversity policies are said to be less efficient as they are only constructed to be either short term, superficial, or both. Based on table 1, proactive diversity policies are said to give importance on ethical beliefs and values, which sets the line that separates it from reactive diversity policies. Reactive policies are said to be more concerned in dealing with short-term business interests. In the same way, using the reactive approach in managing diverse workforces could make employees feel exploited due to the adoption of certain policies as Cornelius, et al., mentions (2001).
The adoption of policies that are founded on the social and ethical responsibility of a certain organization is centred on their reputation as a multicultural working place. It is because of this good reputation and image that they could attract new investors and in the same way, meet the demands of their stakeholders. Corporate reputation then is seen to be dependent on the image of the organization as a good employer which is then connected with the extent to which they embrace equality, justice and diversity.
It is also in using the proactive diversity policy approach that organizations give importance to future developments through feedback that is a product of communication and interaction with regard to policy consultation between stakeholders, consumers, community groups, employee groups and trade unions. Because of this, the benefits of diversity are once again being surfaced, disproving the fact that there is no short-term gain in recognizing the diversity of one’s work force. This then leads to the adoption of policies that does not just aim to increase profits but improve their workforce, the main factor behind each organization’s success.
Investing in diversity recommends changes in organization, as clearly stated by Iles (1995). Implementing the said strategies or systems (increase in minority hiring, isolated sensitivity training, cultural audit) usually enforces limited changes (Kossek and Lobel, 1996). Thus, an efficient way of applying a proactive approach in managing a diverse workforce means changes in attitudes, mindsets, structure and culture as well as in regulations, procedures and lastly, power relations (Kossek and Lobel, 1996). These could be done, according to Cornelius et al., (2001) through a structural integration of the concepts related to equality and diversity.
The Role of the HRM in Managing a Diverse Workforce
The adoption of culture change in improving the competitive advantage and adding value to customers do not usually mean an increase in employee commitment, s stated by Ulrich (1997). Generally, cultural changes should include the change of identity of most organizations that could then influence the mindsets of most individuals (Thornhill et al., 2000). In the same manner, processes should be changes with the help of information and finally, behaviour change. In applying a proactive approach in managing a diverse workforce, the roles and tasks of the HRM, as mentioned by Sippola (n.d.) are the following: provide information, realigning and remodelling HRM, replacing the old with new ways of working, designing new systems as well as innovative human resource practices. Although cultural change demands commitment from the CEOs through training and participation, the proactive approach shows that attention from the management could contribute so much to the said change an organization wishes to undertake (Ulrich, 1997).
Employment inequalities that have been brought about by the diversity of the work forces still exist. Policy development have been very popular in order to eliminate these said inequalities to ensure that the interests of all the employees, even those who belong to the minority groups are reflected on the decisions and policies being adopted by the different organizations.
The paradigms developed by Thomas and Ely (1999) provide the reactive approach by which organizations could manage their diverse workforces. However, these paradigms have been said to possess the capacity to actually transform into proactivity. The HRM department plays a very special role in performing its basic tasks related with efficiency and effectiveness objectives. In the learning paradigm of Thomas and Ely (1999), a more proactive HRM should advance cultural change that would consider the opinions and interests of the members of minority groups.
The main difference between proactive and reactive approaches in managing diverse workforces lies in the former’s commitment to work towards valuing diversity instead of viewing it as a challenge that should be managed or resolved. The application of this particular approach requires mainstreaming which, according to Rees (1998) integrates considerations related to diversity and equality in most of the organizations’ policies toward business and employment. This approach also calls the organizations to pay attention to the benefits that common employees would receive from the development of a policy.
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