Diversity: The Most Significant Challenge to 21st Century Managers

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In the 21st century, diversity has become an important component of business, particularly expanding in the workforce environment. As a result, it has become a significant challenge to managers of any level. Diversity can be described as any dimension or criteria that are used to differentiate people from each other, these criteria can be based upon visual or non-visual characteristics (Foma, 2014). Such may include already very well-known factors such as ethnicity, race, gender, cultural background, age, physical factors such as disabilities, and it can also include hidden factors such as political viewpoints, social and economic status, religion, education, medical conditions, along with other factors which differentiate people from one another. Workplace diversity can also be defined as a wide range of differences that influence how people interact and achieve results. Such differences could also be related to the work the people are doing, and the attitude these people have towards it. Workplace diversity also relates to employees’ personal ethics, personal interests, and personal lifestyle decisions. Workplace factors in combination with the more known factors of diversity form a complicated interconnected system of human resources. The potential of these resources is what managers seek to utilize or “manage” in the best way, trying to create a better, more effective and efficient system where people will collaboratively work with each other for a result. The reason why diversity is a challenge to managers is that managers themselves are composed of their personal beliefs, viewpoints, abilities, and preferences. These factors create gender bias, hiring bias, and ethnocentrism. It is often found that people want to be next to someone similar to them. Due to this, it’s a challenge, since, on one hand, they are the ones responsible for creating a more productive, more capable work environment, while on the other hand, they themselves limit it as a result of personal preferences, biases, and decisions. Unlike ethics or intellectual capital, diversity is much harder to implement and regulate, which makes it a challenge for managers, especially in a more globalized world.

Diversity as a factor of globalization

Although globalization is a separate topic, it directly relates to diversity. As a result of increased international interdependence between businesses and organizations, people in some way are forced to interact more with each other. Such leads to changes in the workplace, which means that people will no longer live and work in an insular environment. Now, they are integrated into a larger, more competitive global framework. As a result, businesses try to become more diversified in order to remain competitive and maximize the potential of a diverse workplace (Foma, 2014). Now, managers must adapt to accommodate a multicultural work environment, correspondingly facing personal favoritism and inclination towards particular types of people. Like most people, managers often focus on what’s called the primary dimension of diversity. The primary dimension is the visible or so-called main differences between various individuals. These differences have the most impact on initial encounters and can be easily noticed. These differences also serve as filters through which people view the world. The secondary dimension of diversity focuses on differences that are more personal for every individual, such attributes are often hidden and have the tendency to change. Qualities such as religion, education, economic state, and gender orientated skills often fall in this category. These qualities are rarely used for decision making, however, they become more significant if individuals are on opposite ends of a certain category, or over a certain period of time. Globalization caused a rapid increase in interaction amongst people from different cultures and backgrounds. As a result, people started to focus less on the primary dimension, prioritizing secondary qualities over the visible ones. The challenge here is that a lot of secondary dimension qualities are often associated with the primary dimension traits. Despite the fact that people have become more open-minded towards the primary dimension, it is very difficult to eliminate the stereotypes, biases and cultural differences that people have (Foma, 2014). It is even more difficult if there are conflicting past or current events involved. Putting these factors aside, it is also important to understand that a lot of these biases and preferences are natural to an extent. Meaning that they are formed unconsciously, based on the surrounding environment, the information people receive, and the personal experiences each individual has. In this case, globalization acts as a form of information, giving new knowledge and perspectives to people. This can lead to two situations. One is where people become more convinced in their beliefs and viewpoints, or the opposite, where people will begin to lose the connection between the primary and secondary dimensions, forming a more diverse society. Both cases are possible, making it even harder for managers.

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Workplace Diversity

In order to diversify the workplace, a manager must assume that diverse segments will create a better, more functional workplace and that profit, efficiency, or any of the performance indicators will relatively improve. For managers, this means that they must implement policies or find ways that would allow each employee to show their best work ethic and attitude towards their workplace and their job. There are three main theories which managers need to consider when diversifying the workplace (Foma, 2014). First of all, social justice must be a fundamental idea of the workplace. Meaning that every employee has the same rights and liberties. Such may also include no difference in pay, in benefits, for different people who do the same job. This fundamental is often implemented by law and does not change from job to job (Foma, 2014). With this in mind, it’s very important to go beyond the fundamentals. Often to this day, the meaning of diversifying a workplace is only related to the primary dimension. Meaning that the main focus is on social justice, or to interpret it differently, on the number of people who relate to different categories particularly in terms of gender and race. Conversely, diversity now should focus on creating an atmosphere that fosters connection, and uses the diverse labor to its most efficient and effective way. The second theory suggests that there is no purpose in diversifying the workplace, for the sole purpose of diversity (Foma, 3). A business should leverage diversity in order to attract new clients and open up new markets. By having a diverse team of employees, a business will be better able to reach specific audiences. The principle here is that by not employing people of different demographics, the business makes it harder for themselves, especially if it’s a service-based business. The third theory requires the business to focus on the client demographics, rather than focusing on workplace diversity. In a way, this is difficult for managers, especially if diversity is one of the requirements, and forms a substantial amount of marketing (Foma, 2014). It is important to understand that there isn’t a single definition of diversity and that there is no particular way to achieve it. There are situations where diversity in the workplace is unnecessary and it is forcefully implemented. Often, as a result of a poor diverse workplace, performance indicators drop and the business may potentially lose its clients. On the fundamental level, implementing a diverse workplace will improve social justice levels, increase innovation, and give access to new demographics, but only if it is done properly and with reason. Often managers are obligated to diversify their workplace, either because of trends, marketing purposes, or for the purpose of improving the business. When managers consider adopting a diverse workforce, there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account. Some of these are the company type, organizational culture, company location, domestic demographics, etc. It is very difficult for managers to employ a diverse workforce if the type of company doesn’t properly fit the required criteria. Employing diverse employees would mean that the company will do well or better with them on board. It is even harder for organizations, especially those that focus on a particular demographic. There are five main components to an organization. These include organization practices, vision, values, place, and its origin. Each organization has a unique culture, and that makes it different from a typical business. Therefore any decision regarding a diverse workplace would be based on the organization’s beliefs and norms, and this usually significantly reduces the chances of a more diverse working environment.

Personal Preferences Challenging Diversity

No matter how hard a company will try to implement diversity. Certain things can not be regulated or changed. People’s personal similarity preferences are one of these things. Personal similarity bias is a form of a social barrier. Often employers will hire people that are very similar to them. The employer’s choice may be based upon the persons’ behavior, culture, personality, evident religious affiliation, place of study, and many other factors that the employer may share in common. Such high reliance on personal similarities significantly reduces diversity in the workplace since the workplace will be constructed of people who are similar to the manager in some way. According to a team of world-renowned social psychologists led by Harvard University professor Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, the root of this apparent disconnection between intent and outcome may lie in the unconscious mind. Put simply, our mindset is not as inclusive as we think it is. As mentioned previously, managers will often try to diversify the workforce by hiring people based on the first diversity dimension. Often, as a result, managers create a communication barrier for themselves and their employees (Foma, 2014).

Age Bias and Diverse Hiring

Diverse hiring can relate to many other things besides cultural background and ethnicity, another important but often overlooked factor is age. According to a study by the IZA Institute of labor economics in Germany, when two applicants engage in an identical job search, the older applicant would gain fewer invitations for interviews regardless of her/his experience or superiority for the appointment (Drydakis et al., 2017, p. 1). Such cases have become more common since most nations are currently experiencing aging populations, especially in Europe and North America. Taking other demographic factors in consideration such as pension age, average life expectancy, and a global decrease in fertility rates, little attention has been given to the policies that will extend opportunities of older workers (Drydakis et al., 2017, p. 2). According to a 2015 Mercer survey, it was found that 87% of respondents don’t know whether the managers are hiring workers who are older than themselves, and out of the 13% that do know, more than 50% do not hire people older than themselves (Mercer 2015). Another study by the American Association of Retired Person, indicates that 64% of surveyed older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace (AARP 2014). The same study suggests that 37% of older workers are worried that they will not be able to find a job right away without having to take a pay cut or move. Out of those 37%, 19% of workers believe it is due to age discrimnation and 21% believe that their age acts as a significant limitation (AARP 2014). Another problem that elderly workers are faced with are stereotypes. Such as that older workers are less motivated, less healthy, less caring for the job, and are more distracted by family and work-unrelated occurrences. Unfortunately another factor contributing to age descrimination is that it is very difficult to measure. The problem being is that there is a lack of direct evidence regarding a recruitment bias against older people, which might limit our knowledge of the actual extent of the discrimination that such people may face in the initial stage of the recruitment process (Drydakis et al., 2017, p. 3). Age bias and age descrimination are also found more in jobs without a clear career path, such as low-skilled jobs in the private sector. Since the labor market demand in these occupations is high, and these occupations almost always have fixed pay scales, often advertised with the vacancy, it is often that potential employers will not perceive older applicants as they likely to expect higher wages (Drydakis et al., 2017, p. 4). All these studies and investigations indicate that elderly people have difficulty finding a new job, especially one that is not followed by a career pathway. Managers will hire people who they consider more capable, and age is often found as an advantage, whether or not it actually is.

Gender Bias

Another challenge that managers have to face is unconscious gender bias. Unconscious gender bias is unintentional, and creates automatic mental associations based on gender, as a result of traditions, values, culture, and personal experience (ACT/EMP, 2017). According to an Australian survey that focused on women leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, 70% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that unconscious bias had negatively impacted their career advancement, as well as 60 % agreed or strongly agreed that it had negatively impacted their earnings (ACT/EMP, 2017). Another problem, is that often women have fewer interactions with senior management, and this gap widens with career progression. At the senior management level, only 51 percent of women compared to 62 percent of men reported that they interacted with a company leader at least once a week (ACT/EMP, 2017, pg.5). Another study has shown that unconscious gender bias impacts how employers view parent applicants, particularly mothers. A study compared equally qualified candidates and found that mothers were significantly less likely to be recommended for hire or when they were recommended for hire, they were offered starting salaries on average US$11,000 lower than equally qualified childless women (ACT/EMP, 2017, pg.7). Another analysis shows that women throughout the world are concentrated in less-productive jobs and run enterprises in less-productive sectors, with fewer opportunities for business scale-up or career advancement (World Bank Group, 2014, pg 2. Which as a result, significantly reduces the amount of women in management, and in corporate activity. Another problem that causes this, is that there isn’t a direct solution for unconscious gender bias and gender stereotypes. In most cases gender bias is a factor of context and heavily depends on the company, country, and the job. Specific factors which have been found by socio-psychological research to be particularly important in the development and maintenance of gender stereotypes are: Organizational size and industry, ratio of women and men in the organization overall and within a division, and at different organizational levels, human resources practices, and organizational climate (ACT/EMP, 2017). However, It is difficult for managers to implement, since not only managers must overcome their own unconscious gender bias, but they also must provide and create targeted personnel training on unconscious biases, whether related specifically to gender or other factors. Which is difficult because there is not a single correct way of measuring the success of such training, and the impact it has on personnel. Nonetheless, as of today, women are underrepresented in corporations, and the share of women decreases with each step up the corporate hierarchy (ACT/EMP, 2017, p. 3).


Another factor contributing to a less diversified environment is ethnocentrism. Meaning that often managers and employees evaluate other cultures according to reconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture. Ethnocentrism can lead to a lot of discomfort and problematic situations. Especially if workers show resistance to change or acceptance of others but not in a discriminatory way, such as avoidance or ignorance. Some workers sometimes are stubborn and do not adhere to new rules that are being set up or simply ignore the programs and training that management is required to set up (James W. et al., 2005). Not only does this affect the minorities that may be present, but it also affects the managers, since they have failed to implement a correct program/method that will result in the benefit for not only the dominant category but for those that act as an outlier. This problem is more common in a place with a low minority population, or where the minority population significantly differentiates itself from the majority (James W. et al., 2005). Not only do managers have to create the same work environment for everyone, but they also have to create an environment where multiculturalism is emphasized instead of being blurred out.


The problem with implementing and establishing a diverse workforce is that there isn’t a straightforward way of doing it. Diversity is a complex, multi-dimensional, and interdependent system of people, laws, and norms. Unlike technology, ethics, globalization, and intellectual capital, diversity is a culmination of a lot of factors that make people different. As stated, in order to overcome biases and particularly unconscious biases, managers need to focus on personal development, training programs, and overcome traditional stereotypes. Especially when looking at potential employees of age, culture, and gender. A diverse workplace helps build cooperation, and harmony. If a diversity is established then it will be easier to formulate work practices that will not exclude a certain culture, person, or belief. Also, it will be easier to develop desirable work practices that strive to unite all the employees together despite their differences, no individual will feel left out or unsure about their position and abilities. On the fundamental level it is for the managers to solve and find a successful way of implementing diversity, due to this, it is the greatest challenge to 21st century managers.


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