In this article for The Conversation, Marina Latukha, a teacher-researcher at EMLV, explores the theme of diversity in business and its impact on organisational success. Focusing on leaders’ commitment, she presents the challenges and opportunities associated with diversity in areas such as gender, age and cultural origin.
The article highlights the importance of measuring results, empowering women, managing generational differences and integrating talent from diverse cultures.
Marina encourages companies to leverage their employees to achieve a significant competitive advantage by proposing keys to effective diversity management.
Towards a measurable approach to promoting corporate diversity
“I am pleased to present the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda as a sign of our commitment and as a source of inspiration. We should all recognise that promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion is about human rights, peace, security, social justice and economic progress.”
In mid-February, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, introduced with these words a new EU-27 document drafted by the European External Action Service, the European Union’s diplomatic service responsible for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, to promote “peace, prosperity, security and the interests of Europeans throughout the world”.
While the objectives set concern external policy, achieving them by setting an example is also a question. Among the commitments made is that of developing the attention paid by the leaders of organisations to the issue of inequality and their ability to deal with it.
New accounting mechanisms that take account of equality, diversity, and inclusion objectives are also promised (points 3.1 and 3.2).(points 3.1 & 3.2).
However, more is needed for government institutions and political decision-makers to set priorities for things to be done in other terms. Nothing happens if the main parties concerned, companies and their managers, do not consider and implement them appropriately.
Diversity a source of benefits for companies
Diversity, whether it relates to age, ethnicity, nationality, gender, physical abilities, romantic preferences, education, income, marital status, religious beliefs, parental status or work experience, can influence the success of organisations.
In particular, researchers have shown that a workforce rich in many individual differences has a higher level of creativity, innovation and problem-solving ability. This is a source of benefits for companies and countries alike.
However, managers must clearly understand the opportunities and challenges involved, which is where academics come in. Cultures and ages communicate and interact differently, calling for different leadership styles.
In a recent book, Diversity in Action: Managing Diverse Talent in a Global Economy co-ordinated by us, authors look at the issue from several angles. So, what do we need to know about diversity to meet global and local challenges?
Gender and autonomy, age and technology
Gender stigma is one of the most widely debated issues among academics, politicians and business practitioners. They can be long-lasting and encompass all areas of women’s lives, from physical and mental health to quality of life, commitment and professional performance. The first challenge for managers is identifying the frequent sources of these problems.
The book suggests, in particular, that women feel more autonomous when there is less gender discrimination, enjoy a better balance between work and home, feel supported by their family, and have other women under their responsibility.
It also shows that to attract, motivate and retain women, companies should put in place individualised human resources management practices that meet the requirements of the different types of female careers, between those who are seeking employment and those whose work is primarily a job that serves to provide resources for other purposes.
The age issue in diversity
Regarding age, differences in motivation, career expectations and attitudes to economic, political and social processes call for different management approaches. One of the issues that regularly raises questions within organisations concerns the use of technological tools. As our book shows, age is a determining factor in their use. In particular, this means adapting the types of social media used to communicate with a specific generational group.
In terms of management, the challenge is often to look beyond one’s network, the one on which one relies to meet the various objectives that one sets for oneself. Different generations come into contact with other circles, so how companies moderate the skills and knowledge flows that emanate from them defines the effects of the presence of different ages. This calls for specific management methods..
The issues associated with age differences are particularly acute in family businesses, passed on from parents to children, and where professional and private lives are more closely intertwined than elsewhere.
Their balance and future managers’ commitment, enthusiasm, and passion for their tasks are the primary educational priorities for an effective succession.
Diversity of origins, a potential to be exploited
Cultural and ethnic diversity cannot be ignored either. Talent is present throughout the world and in migratory flows. Diasporas are often a source of knowledge for the host country. With talent from different origins, a company has more accessible access to foreign countries, mainly through language, as English is not the only means of communicating in a globalised world. By building up a “language portfolio”, the company acquires more significant innovation potential. Diasporas create a ripple effect and ensure the transfer of knowledge. Their positive impact is widely recognised.
However, this is only true if adequately integrated into an organisational context. Immersion in two cultures can lead to misunderstandings and distancing from non-migrant staff. An identity that is firmly centred on the country of origin can also draw a line between groups.
Since companies derive many benefits from the mediating role of diaspora employees, our book stresses the importance of putting unique, well-thought-out human resources practices in place. This means, for example, being trained in the different cultural values the work ethic can take on.
Talent management, in all its diversity, is a strategic imperative, particularly for companies operating globally in the face of demographic change and intensifying competition.
Our book sets out to formulate the keys to help achieve this, including alternative working arrangements, mentoring, flexible working hours and development initiatives based on the characteristics of diversity.
The idea is to take advantage of each employee so that the success of the workforce is more than just the sum of its parts.
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