Diversity management as economic value added
Is there such a thing as the value added of diversity management and if so, can/how can it be measured?
The insight that society is made up of a multitude of very different individuals is not new. However, that this fact is recognized and actions are taken in accordance with this knowledge is new. The reasons for this are both that diversity has become more visible due to migration in the course of recent decades and the changed role of women in society. Moreover, the movement of the disabled no longer permits »grieving«, demanding active participation in society instead. On the whole, individual needs are moving more and more into the limelight.
In the business world, among other things this has led to the fact that it is no longer sufficient when the interests of employees and employers and enterprises are balanced in talks between the social partners. If diversity and the ensuing different needs are recognized and taken seriously, then that also implies that interests become more multifaceted and we need new strategies to take them into account. Diversity management is a response to these challenges.
But is economic value added really created by taking an interest in the way staff is composed in terms of gender, age structure, mother tongue, ethnic affiliation, religious conviction or sexual orientation etc.? The answer is yes, but with qualifications. It makes sense to deal with diversity in the enterprise, just as it makes sense to look at how many different needs might be present on the part of customers. But it only makes sense, if concrete considerations follow on how to cope with this diversity, whether there is equality of opportunity irrespective of differences and if all those in the enterprise and their needs are taken into account.
In concrete terms, this means the requirement to examine the overall corporate structure both internally and in its external dimension (customers, suppliers and other contractual partners) to see whether there are barriers or unequal treatment for the members of specific groups. It must also be examined whether everyone is optimally employed according to her/his needs and competences or whether glass ceilings or preconceived assumptions prevent this, giving rise to productivity deficits. And it also means that subsequently an overall strategy must be developed and implemented to shape equal acceptance processes and internal further developments, work sequences and decision-making structures. The competences and needs resulting from differences must be taken into account in such a way that is less problem-oriented than aiming at increasing job satisfaction and the productivity of employees.
Concrete implementation measures might be creating more flexible working conditions or career developments. In the ideal case, they may meet the needs of different groups, be they those of families with small children, those of older employees, those of persons more interested in horizontal careers than vertical ones, those of people wanting to practise their religion and needing time for it, those of employees with relatives with nursing needs or those of people simply wanting to work part-time because that is more in keeping with their work-life balance.
It is difficult to measure the entirety of the economic value added of such measures and the process of organizational development. An approximation can be made by laying down concrete objectives, indices and measures and evaluating the same in terms of their cost-benefit components.
The number of qualified applicants, complaints or even court cases in cases of discrimination, staff fluctuation, the number of staff away sick, the costs for induction training, but also sales figures and feedback on the corporate image are among the indicators that can be used to gauge what diversity management affords.
At any rate, more consideration for the needs of ALL staff members (and also potential applicants) is an investment that is worthwhile in the long run for staff satisfaction and hence the productivity and the image of the enterprise.
MMag.ª Katrin Wladasch is a member of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights, a lecturer at Vienna University, the Danube University in Krems and the Modul University and the chairwoman of ZARA. She is a human rights consultant and diversity expert in research and teaching as well as entrepreneurial practice.