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Diversity – great expectations

Blair McPherson

Whether it’s race, gender, sexuality or faith the more we state that diversity is a good thing the greater the expectation of staff that managers will create a safe, fair, prejudice free work place. Article by Blair McPherson, former director , author and blogger.

We have acted as if the challenge was to have a workforce that reflected the diversity within society and the communities we serve. That success could be measured in numbers, the proportion of staff that were black, gay, Muslims. That if only we could get more women and black staff into senior management posts we would have cracked it. We have given insufficient thought as to how to manage the challenge of a newly empowered diverse workforce or least one that has raised expectations. We have seen in the USA that having a black chief executive, a black city mayor even a black president does not do away with prejudice in society or in the workforce.

Having a diverse workforce does not in itself create confidence within the community the organisation serves. Likewise hitting your workforce diversity targets does not mean your staff believe that the organisation is really committed to Equality and Diversity or that your managers are equipped to manage a diverse workforce.

The qualities necessary to be an effective manager of a diverse workforce are the same as those that make an effective manager, namely being approachable, not dismissing individuals concerns as over reactions or being over sensitive, being willing to challenge inappropriate behaviour, being non judgemental, avoiding making assumptions about individuals, being supportive, getting to know those you manage as individuals with a life outside of work, developing an insight into how your own behaviour as a manager impacts on those you manage, keeping a open mind, demonstrating empathy and being willing to acknowledge that other people’s experiences both inside and outside of work may be very different to your own.

Most managers need help to achieve this level of effectiveness, to understand how their behaviour effects those they manage and to adjust it accordingly. HR can help if managers are receptive rather than defensive. There is a great deal of expertise within HR on managing a diverse workforce if only because they pick up the pieces when managers get it wrong.

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