Juliane Hoss – an LSE postgraduate student – reflects on the importance of diversity in the workplace and its impact on the productivity of organisations. This provides a context for the ‘Tackling diversity‘ workshop for students at LSE, which is taking place on 3 December 2016 between 10am and 4pm, in the sixth floor studio in the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre.

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Photo credit: Friederike Horlacher

Wherever you read this blog entry, take a look around you. What and who do you see?

Do the people in your surrounding, your organisation, your university or your social spaces represent the demographics of the (global) society you live in?

Most probably, most of you will denythis question. I realised that this was not true for the student body at LSE as even at this leading global institution, some nationalities or social groups are over-represented, while it is a bigger obstacle for others to study here. And this inequality will become more apparent once you enter and move upwards in the working environment.

Many organisations have realised this and have committed themselves to becoming more inclusive to people from different backgrounds. This was not only a reaction to increasingly louder calls for more social justice but also a business strategy: many studies have indicated that diverse organisations perform better and have a competitive advantage (Kochan et al., 2003).

Therefore, organisations strive to recruit from a pool of candidates that consists of people who identify with different social groups, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds and do not all belong to the same gender or sexual orientation.

Diversity has simply become a ‘business necessity’. But have organisations managed to respond to it successfully?

Browsing through the websites of the biggest educational institutions and companies, it is evident that diversity has become an increasingly important topic. It seems like most organisations consider questions of diversity in their recruitment strategy and even though the current demographics within organisations are still far from representing the societies we live in, they have become more inclusive over the last decades.

However, questions of diversity also affect the experience of individuals after they have joined an organisation. On the one hand, people’s backgrounds shape their values and norms as well as their perceptions. Organisations should acknowledge that not all their employees are the same and might behave differently at times.

On the other hand, people’s characteristics and their identity determine their actual experience within an organisation. An immense body of knowledge has shown policies or practices affect people from different social groups differently and social interactions are still influenced by common stereotypes and prejudices (Barak, 1999). The experience of discrimination remains a reality in today’s world and affects the lives and careers of individuals in significant ways.

Individuals who perceive themselves as being different to other employees usually have a lower sense of belonging and commitment to the organisation and are less satisfied (Bassett‐Jones, 2005). These feelings negatively affect their personal contribution, which in turn decreases the performance of the whole organisation.

This means that organisations that fail to overcome prejudice and to lower all forms of discrimination pay a huge price.

To avoid this, organisations have to create an environment where all individuals can reach their full potential and make a meaningful contribution (Hicks-Clarke & Iles, 2000). Introducing diversity managers and implementing different strategies – such as inter-cultural training or mentorship programmes – can be important steps and have contributed to improving the atmosphere in many organisations. However, the common interventions have certain limitations in their potential to overcome prejudices and lower discrimination:

  • The idea of ‘diversity’ is based on the assumption that people can be grouped into different categories and that there are fundamental differences between individuals who belong to different groups. However, grouping people is a difficult endeavour and forms the basis of all forms of stereotypes and discrimination
  • The idea that people are ‘diverse’ and have specific character traits depending on their backgrounds often reproduces certain stereotypes, such as considering women as caring or creative compared to their male counterparts, who are considered as rational thinkers and competent leaders
  • Many organisations are proud to have ‘diverse’ teams and use this as a characteristic to distinguish themselves from competitors. However, this doesn’t reveal the extent to which an organisation has addressed different forms of discrimination and eradicated prejudices
  • Focusing on ‘diversity’ within teams often overshadows people’s actual perceptions and experiences of discrimination (Gotsis & Kortezi, 2015, p. 31).

But what can be done to work towards more equity within organisations? Real change is only possible if all members want an inclusive organisation and take a strong stand against prejudice and discrimination.

This goal is also the vision of the organisation Bridging Gaps e.V., which runs different programmes to overcome the inequalities that exist within our societies. Bridging Gaps e.V.’s team of students has designed the ‘Tackling diversity’ project, which will start at LSE this month. In two workshops, students will reflect on their own prejudices and learn how different forms of discrimination in the workplace affect people. Students will be encouraged to think critically about equity, diversity and inclusion and to develop alternative and innovative solutions to achieve social justice. Through a photo-project, they will share their new ideas and insights and share them with a broader audience in an exhibition at LSE.

All students and staff members at the LSE are welcome to attend the workshop.

References

Barak, M. E. M. (1999). Beyond affirmative action: Toward a model of diversity and organizational inclusion. Administration in Social Work, 23(3-4), 47-68.64.
Bassett‐Jones, N. (2005). The paradox of diversity management, creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation management, 14 (2), 169-175.
Gotsis, G., & Kortezi, Z. (2015). Critical studies in diversity management literature: a review and synthesis.
Hicks-Clarke, D., & Iles, P. (2000). Climate for diversity and its effects on career and organisational attitudes and perceptions. Personnel review, 29 (3), 324-345.
Kochan, T., Bezrukova, K., Ely, R., Jackson, S., Joshi, A., Jehn, K., … & Thomas, D. (2003). The effects of diversity on business performance: report of the diversity research network. Human resource management , 42 (1), 3-21.