Source | http://www.businesstrainingmedia.com
Diversity management is frequently confused with affirmative action and valuing diversity. Opponents of both concepts use the terms interchangeably, often throwing in the word “preferences” as yet another synonym. It is important to understand the history of each and to use the terms accurately. Affirmative action, valuing diversity and managing diversity are separate points on the continuum of interventions designed to stimulate the inclusion of people from different backgrounds in an organization.
Affirmative Action: Affirmative Action is grounded in moral and social responsibility to amend wrongs done in the past to those Americans who were not of the majority population. These legal obligations are based on numerical measures and were designed to increase the representation of minorities and women in areas of employment where they were previously underrepresented. This effort was a direct result of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Because of a long history of discriminatory practices, federal contractors have been expected to make a positive effort to recruit, hire, train, and promote qualified employees of previously excluded groups. Again, the focus was and has been on increasing the representation of minorities and females in the workforce to reflect their availability in the labor market. It was surmised that creating such a initiative would rectify the social injustices experienced by the nation’s minority population.
To ensure implementation of affirmative action and to enforce the Civil Rights Act, the Federal government created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is responsible for identifying and eliminating discrimination in America’s workplaces. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Initiatives (OFCCP) within the U.S. Department of Labor, however, is charged with implementing Executive Order #11246, which prohibits employment discrimination and establishes affirmative action requirements for nonexempt Federal contractors and subcontractors.
Valuing Diversity: According to R. Roosevelt Thomas, the next evolution of diversity is best referred to as valuing diversity. The main objectives of valuing diversity include awareness, education, and positive recognition of the differences among people in the workforce. Valuing diversity extends beyond affirmative action in that it is not solely based on changing the representation of various types of people in the workplace. Valuing diversity builds upon the critical foundation laid by workplace equity initiatives. The focus of this intervention is on recognizing the uniqueness in everyone, valuing the contribution that each can make and creating an inclusive work environment where awareness of, and respect for, those of different cultures is promoted. It is the quality of the work experience, rather than simply the participation rate of minority employees or women at a particular employer, that is paramount.
Diversity Management: Managing diversity is different from both Affirmative Action and valuing diversity because it focuses on the business case for diversity. Under this scenario, capitalizing on diversity is seen as a strategic approach to business that contributes to organizational goals such as profits and productivity. It also does not involve any legal requirements and is not implemented just to avoid lawsuits. Managing diversity moves beyond valuing diversity in that it is a way in which to do business and should be aligned with other organizational strategic plans.
Affirmative action is based on an assimilationist model that focuses on getting people into an organization rather than changing organizational culture (valuing diversity). Subsequently, managing diversity, while based on cultural change, is a pragmatic business strategy that focuses on maximizing the productivity, creativity and commitment of the workforce while meeting the needs of diverse consumer groups.
While these three interventions build upon one another, when affirmative action is tied together with valuing and/or managing diversity, diversity often becomes tainted by negative perceptions of affirmative action and is therefore frequently misunderstood. Backlash, resistance and polarization often ensue when these concepts are combined.