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Human Resources: Diverse but not divided

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(3) LIJ, p. 90

Firms which successfully manage the cultural diversity of their workforce can expect to gain a competitive edge.

The Victorian government celebrates Cultural Diversity Week from 17-23 March. The appreciation of cultural diversity is particularly relevant in Victoria where more than 40 per cent of Victorians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. Victoria is also home to people who speak more than 150 languages and practise more than 100 religious faiths.

Managing diversity is broader than, as well as being inclusive of, equal employment opportunity.[1] It allows for the integration of individuals’ differences in attitudes and values in the workplace, and acknowledges the worth of these differences.

The following groups of people are usually covered under a managing diversity program:

  • Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders;
  • women;
  • people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds;
  • people with disabilities;
  • youth (aged 16-25 years); and
  • people with caring/family responsibilities.

Diversity generally refers to differences in race, gender, ethnic or cultural background, level of physical and mental ability, age, sexual orientation and religion.

A productive and fair workplace is one which acknowledges diversity and recognises the need to promote equality and discrimination-free working environments. It means that everyone has the right to:

  • fair and equitable treatment;
  • a harassment-free workplace; and
  • application of the merit principle in job selection.

There are many ways in which an employer can benefit from diversity. A diverse workforce can build on people’s skills, experience and backgrounds enhancing productivity, innovation and creativity. The ultimate aim of managing a diverse workforce is better customer service through an empowered and valued workforce.

A diversity program means choosing the best possible people from the widest pool of potential employees and enhancing your corporate image as an employer of choice.

Managing diversity in the workplace is also about providing, where possible, an opportunity for groups of people that have been subject to discrimination in employment opportunity to access employment programs. These groups are also over-represented in measures of social and economic disadvantage and are either under-represented in employment as a whole or are concentrated in particular areas which are generally low in status and remuneration.

Indicators of an employer that manages or embraces diversity include:

  • the implementation of policies and values that promote merit and equity;
  • flexible work practices and job design;
  • working conditions and benefits which provide maximum flexibility and allow a balance between workplace and family responsibilities;
  • ability to attract and retain a diverse workforce;
  • managers trained to manage a diverse workforce; and
  • opportunities for staff to discuss their careers with their managers and to access training and development.

Business is becoming more and more competitive. The best way to gain a competitive edge is through an organisation’s people. A competitor can copy products, services, technology and prices but cannot match the people.

Teams that are diverse and inclusive find more innovative, feasible and effective ways to overcome challenges and offer a wider range of solutions.

The value of a diverse workforce lies in how effectively it is managed. Managing diversity is about creating an environment in which everyone can achieve his or her full potential. It is about creating an organisation where a broad range of abilities, talents and perspectives are valued and supported.

Diversity and inclusion bring many benefits. Yet to accept diversity requires a change in corporate culture. Organisations need to embrace the fact that it is shared business values and a strong work ethic that make employees valuable, not whether they look the same or share a common history.

At the time of writing DIANNE UNDERWOOD was the Law Institute’s human resources manager. For more information on this column and other HR issues tel 9607 9410.

[1] For further information on legislation, your obligations, policies and procedures regarding managing diversity see the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission website


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