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What is Diversity Management?

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idm-Diversity-Newsletter 1-2014

Management von Diversity, Gleichstellung und Antidiskriminierung. Weiterbildungsstudiengang an der CAU Kiel in Kooperation mit idm

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What is Diversity?

Diversity refers to the experience of human differences and commonalities, an experience which is increasingly becoming relevant to people's daily lives in the 21st century.

In order to be successful, all kinds of organisations (business, public administration, NGOs etc.) are obligated to confront the issues involving diversity internally, among management and staff, and externally in their environments (customers, suppliers, contractors etc.).

What is Diversity Management?

diverse people

The purpose of Diversity Management is to tap into the positive potential of diversity and transform this potential into a reality. Organisations are reassessing their structures and processes in light of equal opportunity. Awareness of diversity and competence in its management are necessary prerequisites for success.

Many business and other organisations have already developed diversity management programs with some success. Having originated in the US in the early 1980s, DM is to some extent already established in many organisations. Also, in Europe organisationsare learning to use diversity as an advantage. Valuing differences makes the difference for success!

Background

Diversity Management is a young management discipline, which originated out of a maze of many different historical currents and social issues. In the USA Diversity Management is still associated (rightly or wrongly) with "affirmative action" and "equal opportunity" in multi-cultural (ethnicity, race, gender, sexual preference, etc.) contexts. In Europe the emphasis has been more on the management of language and national differences as well as equal opportunity for women (gender mainstreaming).

Both in Europe and in the USA there seems to be movement away from Equal Opportunity (or in German "Chancengleichheit"), which often, albeit sometimes unintentionally, leads to quotas and pressupposes assimilation as the main adaptation principle, toward a more systematic, positive, organizational approach of diversity management, toward appreciation of diversity and the conscious striving toward a scientific as well as ethical and results-oriented approach. This approach, however, is not easy to put into practice. Conflicts and social issues obviously cannot be overlooked as they are embedded in their complexity and contexts.

This complexity entails the fine tuning and nimble use of different tools for dealing with it, and for describing and assessing each unique diversity constellation of any particular organization, community, region or country. For example, in South Africa diversity takes on a dif-ferent form than in Germany. The different historical and social roots of the South African and German diversities have to be deeply respected and taken seriously. There are no simple recipes. As a consequence, inspite of difficulties in overcoming complexity, DM has to assume that people are able and willing to change themselves and their thinking, and thereby define and redefine diversity in a positive light.

How can such changes be initiated? What are the political implications? Again, we have not got easy answers but there is one important point we would like to keep in mind. Complex systems often react counterintuitively to the attempts at managing or controlling them. To some extent this was the case of "affirmative action" which has consciously been considered very political.

Management meant management of problems and conflicts because some demanded changes and others reacted politically, relying on different perceptions of social justice. Consequently, conflict management was the way to manage. Intercultural conflict management, as it was and still is known, often involves managers' collecting tools in a toolbox to deal with cultures as reified, foreign identities. Modern diversity management does not necessarily see cultures as fixed entities which repel against one another. Rather, the emphasis is on a meeting of different cultures, co-cultures, genders, age groups and other diverse groups and individuals from all directions in a cooperative, dynamic, creative, challenging process.

In this more dynamic, complex light, IDM attempts to develop more sophisticated, theoretical frameworks to bring about better results in organizations and at the same time retain a sense of justice and understanding. And, furthermore, it is holistic in the sense that this broader framework includes conflict resolution and intervention tools; it includes the toolbox to maintain the "machinery" of organizations and the vast variety of possibilities for functioning (and to avert dysfunctioning) in an equally vast variety of types and unique, organizational identities (hospitals, retirement homes, IT Services, textile exports, pharmaceuticals, chemistry industry, government administration, the Red Cross, UNESCO, police, etc.), often further involved in some sort of cross-identity or cooperation (mergers, acquisition, joint ventures, government contracting, etc.).

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