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Equal Opportunities And Managing Diversity Approaches Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 3426 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘equal opportunities’ and ‘managing diversity’ approaches. Equality policies emerged in the UK in the early 1980s, following the introduction of the Equal Pay Act (1970), Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the Race Relations Act (1976) (Moreau, Osgood and Halsall, 2008; Kirton and Greene, 2010). To a large extent, ‘Equal Opportunities’ (EO) approach is a product of “the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the liberal political philosophy” (Webb, 1997 in: Shen et al., 2009:238). It has now become part of employment policy and standard business practice for many organisations.

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Traditional ‘equal opportunities’ approach concerns with social justice and correcting imbalances, injustices and mistakes from the past (Thomas, 1990). The fundamental purpose of EO approach has been described as searching for equality (McDougall, 1996). It aims to create an atmosphere where people will be treated the same and will not be advantaged or disadvantaged because of their social categories. It is assumed that the removal of collective obstacles to the “expression of individual talent” will enable the best individual to stand out (Jewson and Mason, 1986: 314).

However, equality legislation and policies have long been criticised for presenting strong in theory while weak in practice (Kirton and Greene, 2010). Collinson et al. (1990) and Cockburn (1991) have enumerated a multitude of examples where legislation was being ignored in daily practices and the incidence of discrimination in workplace remained unabated. Webb (1977) explains this gap as a result of lacking political will underlying the policies, institutional weakness of people who carry out equality policies and the absence of equality initiatives support from senior management.

In addition, as EO approach is “rooted in the social and political agenda of the 1960s and 1970s” (Wilson and Iles, 1996:62), some scholars argue that this approach can no longer meet the requirements for the new millennium (Wilson and Iles, 1996; Lorbiecki, 2001). Managing diversity (MD), as “a movement away from or an alternative model to traditional EEO policies and practices or the second generation of EEO” has now getting more and more attention (Thompson, 1997:195).

It was not until the middle to late 1990s that MD approach came into fashion. The principles and goals of MD have been defined as accepting the fact that the workforce is made up of a diverse population (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998). The diversity takes forms of visible and non-visible, which includes differences like “sex, age, background, race, disability, personality and workstyle” (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998:8). MD approach not only acknowledges but also values and harnesses these differences. It is believed that “harnessing these differences will create a productive environment in which everybody feels valued, where their talents are being fully utilized and in which organisational goals are met” (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998:8).

Existing literature on diversity management can be broadly divided into two groups. The first group view managing diversity as just being “a new label” rather than “a new approach” to equal opportunity (Kirton and Greene, 2010:130). Despite of their juxtaposed definition (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998), whether there is a clear theoretical or practical distinction between them is debatable (Kaler, 2001).

The second literature group on the other hand, indicates significant difference between EO and MD approach. EO approach starts externally and is forced through legislation, while MD approach starts internally and seeks to create an equal environment and a fully inclusive organisational culture (Gordon, 1995). In short, equal opportunities can be perceived as “indicates ‘don’t’ and favors the negative”, while managing diversity can be regarded as a concept that “indicates ‘do’ and favors the positive” (Mavin and Girling, 2000:423). In other words, EO approach tends to protect minority groups and states clearly what should not been done in the workplace. MD approach, on the other hand, perceives diversity and differences as positive attributes rather than problems to be solved (Thompson, 1997). It tends to highlight individuals’ difference and even suggests that’s the point worth celebrating (Ross and Schneider, 1992).

Kossek et al. (2005) conclude that MD approach includes a commitment to EO approach and have a lot broader scope. Equal opportunities “is typically perceived as about and for women, ethnic minorities and disabled people” (Thomas, 1990; Ross and Schneider, 1992; Kandola and Fullerton, 1998). If one cannot fit into one or more of these groups, it is then beyond the jurisdiction of equal opportunities (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998). While diversity management tends to solve labour market segregation by addressing all individual differences caused inequality (Horwirz, Bowmaker-Falconer and Searll, 1996). Furthermore, MD approach stress that individual differences should be valued and full utilized, which is “beyond the legal compliance-oriented equal opportunity approach” (Shen, 2009:238).

The value of a diverse workforce has been widely acknowledged. Lynch (1994:32) regards diversity management as the “new future-orientated proportionalism”, which “helps business harness this demographic destiny by cleansing white male culture” (In Kandola and Fullerton, 1998). Cox and Blake (1991) also claim that effective diversity management can reduce organisational turnover, absenteeism and attract the best candidates when the labour market shrinks. McLeod, Lobel and Cox (1996) and Wilson and Iles (1999) further contend that firms with diverse workforce performs better in brainstorming tasks and presents more cooperative behaviour comparing to homogenous groups, which will enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and profitability of the organisation. In a similar vein, The European Institute for Managing Diversity (2000) asserts that effective diversity management will increase organisational profits by creative a supportive climate for all employees to take part in and contribute, and therefore achieve organisational objectives. It is suggested that valuing diversity may provide organisation a source of competitive advantage and improve the quality of organisational life (Cassell, 1996). Scholars propose that if managed properly, diversity management will be able to support key organisational development initiatives (Agocs and Burr, 1996; Liff and Wajcman, 1996; Storey, 1999). Research conducted by the Australian Centre for International Business confirms that workplace diversity offers better-quality management decisions, innovations and better solutions to organisational problems (ACIB, 2000). Furthermore, organisations may be able to enhance “marketing capabilities to reflect and to be more responsive to customer demographic change” through workplace diversity (Shen, 2009:239). Evidence indicates that firms with effective diversity management continue benefiting through bottom line returns.

Just like the ‘equal opportunities’ approach, the ‘managing diversity’ approach has been criticised for “promise more than it can deliver” (Kirton and Greene, 2010:130). Kandola and Fullerton (1998) contend that the long list of presumed benefits are debatable and require further research to examine whether the model is successful. Even to this day, there is still not solid evidence to prove that diversity approach is any more advancing than the traditional equality approach (Greene and Kirton, 2009). In addition, there have been some doubts about the basic assumption of managing diversity. Scholars worry that emphasizing the differences of employees may turn into a way of reasserting inferiority and justifying exclusion (Webb, 1997). The idea of diversity utilization has also been challenged, stating that it might serve to reinforce the stereotype of people with different social background (Kaler, 2001). Furthermore, managing diversity approach has also been criticised for failing to realize the importance of issues of power. It is suggested that the opinions of individuals or groups who have always been under-represented in the past may not be given full attention in the workplace (Vince and Booth, 1996).

In general, both EO and MD approach has great contribution to employee welfare. It is suggested that despite the multitude benefits of managing diversity, equal opportunities should not be replaced by diversity management. Otherwise issues concerning equal opportunities may be “lost in the general search for valuing all aspects of differences” (Mavin and Girling, 2000:424). This point has been confirmed by Childs (1996), stating that there are three pillars in IBM (US) ‘diversity house’: equal opportunities, affirmative action and work and personal life balance programs. In this case, EO ensures employees to get equal opportunities to be employed and stay in a harassment free working environment; affirmative action helps individual to compete by eliminating disadvantage; the work and personal life balance programs seeks to eliminate any barriers relates to attitude, policy and practice, which will influence employee productivity and their ability to balance work and personal life (in Mavin and Girling, 2000). With the presence of both EO and MD approach can an organisation realize the maximum of employees’ potential and therefore achieve organisational objectives.

2. Discuss what the ‘equal opportunities” and ‘diversity’ approaches could each contribute to the development of an organisational programme to counteract disadvantages of members of sexual minority groups

It is estimated that there are around 1.7 million gay people in the UK workforce (Stonewall, 2009). Historically, people who were openly lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (LGB) commonly suffered overt discrimination from their employers based on their sexuality (Kirton and Greene, 2010). According to the survey results gathered in the 1990s, around 10% to 14% of LGB employees claimed that they have been either declined by a job offer or promotion because of their sexual orientation (Palmer, 1993; Snape et al., 1995). Heterosexuals also believed that homosexual people were less favorable to employers (Snape et al., 1995). Moreover, people with high income found it more difficult to disclose their sexual orientation at work (Palmer, 1993). In addition, respondents asserted that it was unacceptable for people in certain profession fields like teaching, military to be openly homosexuals (Snape et al., 1995). Many LGB individuals have to spend majority of their lives isolated from other minority groups, as they live and work in a heteronormative environments (Meyer, 1995; Waldo, 1999). As the minority status of LGB individuals are not that visible as other minority groups do, many LGB employees tend to conceal their sexual orientation to avoid discrimination or harassment (Oerton, 1996b).

Even today, situation hasn’t changed much. It is only from the year of 2003 that lesbian and gay workers have been protected by law from employment discrimination (Kirton and Greene, 2010). According to the research carried out by Ryan-Flood’s (2004), lesbians and gay men employed in low level of jobs tend to “stay in the closet” and change employer when coming across difficulties at work. Whereas those worked in ”higher echelons of the labour market” are more likely to choose careers in sectors which seem to have a more tolerant environment (Ryan-Flood’s, 2004:4). Stonewall (2009) suggests that there are still one-third of homosexual workers feel unable to disclose their sexual orientation.

From the perspective of sociology, employment discrimination and inequality patterns occur as the result of the actions of organisations and individuals, and therefore are evitable and surmountable (Kirton and Greene, 2010). Organisational policies tend to resolve workplace inequality by implementing formal rules and procedures to treat all employees in the same way regardless of their social category. This policy approach is usually referred to as ‘equal opportunity’. Aiming at ensuring employers do not break the law, EO approach contributes little to actually promote equality or diversity (Kirton and Greene, 2010). Within traditional EO policies, some employers did nothing more than produced an equality statements to indicate their intentions (Liff, 1995). Others put forward new policies with clearly stated aims and objectives. No matter what form it takes, EO approach has been widely criticised for failing to deliver equal outcomes (Kirton and Greene, 2010).

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Most UK organisations are now in possession of a formal equality and diversity policy. However, literatures concerning the progress in UK organisation equality and diversity policy and practice found low correspondence between equality policies and practice (Jewson and Mason, 1986; Cockburn, 1991; Young, 1992; Dickens, 2005). According to Colgan, et al. (2007:591), “evaluation of progress within the UK thus far has pointed to the weakness of anti-discrimination legislation and the uneven application over time and within organisations of arguments based solely on the social justice and business cases”. With a few notable exceptions (Cockburn, 1991; Kirton and Greene, 2000; Dickens, 2005; Cooper, 2006), few progresses have been made concerning the sexual minority category (Colgan, et al., 2007).

Ward and Winstanley (2006) summarize previous literature concerning inequality and discrimination in the workplace, conclude that sexual inequality and discrimination can take forms of “verbal harassment, property violence and loss of credibility or acceptance” (Zuckerman and Simons, 1996:40), decisions not to promote (Badgett and King, 1997), to fire or not to hire (Snape et al., 1995), or to pay less based on employees’ sexual orientation (Badgett, 1995). Lacking consensus over the ethical worthiness of the gay rights, equality for homosexuals is perceived as the most contested and disputable equality projects (Cockburn, 1991).

EO approach endeavors to treat all employees equally regardless of their social background. Equality of sexuality within EO context, therefore, seeks to ignore the difference between heterosexual and non-heterosexual people and make sure they get the equal chance for recruitment, training, promotions, etc. From the perspective of equal opportunity, a series of policies are suggested to counteract the disadvantage of sexual minority group:

Formalize standard procedures for recruitment procedures

According to Shen (2009), despite of decades of equality legislation and declaration of commitment to equal opportunities, systematic discrimination still exists in the recruitment and selection process. ACAS (undated) proposes that organisations should develop formalized and standard procedures for recruitment and selection and make it transparent and justifiable (in: Kirton and Greene, 2010). In this case, the possibility of non-heterosexual people being declined by a job may be greatly reduced. It is also suggested that sticking to rigorous procedure can challenge or even stop “the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and myths” (Kirton and Greene, 2010:207), gay people therefore may get the chance of enjoying equal treatment as heterosexuals do.

Offer benefits for spouses to partners of same sex

LGB employees have long been suffering from unequal access to certain employee benefits like special leave arrangement, pensions and spouse benefits, etc (Kirton and Greene, 2010). As for special leave, employees with same-sex partners may either get declined or have to use annual leave instead of original “time-off to care for a sick partner or compassionate leave following the death of a partner” (Kirton and Greene, 2010:40). Moreover, organisational pension schemes commonly specify that widow’s or widower’s pension can only be offered to a married partner, which also rule out the chance for same-sex couples to getting dependant’ benefits (EOR, 1997). EO approach in this sense stresses that LGB employees and their partners should be entitled to all employee benefits regardless of their sexual orientation.

Rather than treat all employees the same regardless of their social background, diversity approach seems to encourage organisation to recognize differences. It argues that such difference should be “acknowledged, and responded to, rather than ignored” (Liff, 1996:13). MD approach focuses on the acknowledgement of one person and intends to help him or her to make the best of their talents and finally, to reach their own goals (Liff, 1996).Whether to disclose their sexual orientation is considered as one of the most important career decisions for LGB workers and an essential part of lesbian and gay equality (Lucas and Kaplan, 1994; Bowen and Blackmon, 2003; Kirton and Greene, 2010). Van Den Bergh (1999:23) indicates that “for lesbians and gay men to be the most productive at the workplace and the most involved within organizational cultures, it is critical that they feel safe in not hiding their sexual orientation”. It has also been confirmed by Day and Schoenrade (1997, 2000) that out LGB employees are more committed to their organisations and are likely to be more responsibility taking and do a better job. The process is less stressful in organisations with homosexual-friendly environment (Creed, 2006). In this sense, a series of polices are suggested in the context of managing diversity:

Run diversity awareness training referring specifically to sexuality

With increasing focus on sexuality issues in policy development and diversity programs, there has been a growing interest in learning about their management (Ward, 2003). It is suggested that leaders and non-supervisory employees might need the help from HRD practitioners to move through the stages of awareness development (Kormanik, 2009). A clear understanding of sexuality may help the organisation to be a more gay-friendly environment and therefore make it more easier for LGB employees to disclose their sexual orientation.

Establish a lead person for sexuality issues at Board/Chief executive level (Stonewall, 2005)

Huffman, Watrous-Rodriguez and Kind (2008) suggest that comparing to heterosexual coworkers, lesbians, gay and bisexual workers many require different types of support from their supervisors, such as support for their sexuality. This has been confirmed by their research results of different types of support, namely, supervisor support, coworker support and organisational support toward LGB workers. Research reveals that supervisor supports are more strongly related to job satisfaction. Therefore, offering official supervisor support can better serve the needs for LGB employees and enhance their job satisfaction, and finally increase the organisational efficiency.

Outline workplace diversity (including sexual orientation) as a company value

Griffith and Hebl (2002) contend that employees in LGB-friendly organisational are more likely to disclose their sexual identity than those who are not. A supportive environment encourages sexual orientation to be disclosed, therefore enabling positive attitudes like job satisfaction and organisational commitment to occur (Huffman, et al., 2008). With clearly stated company value, LGB workers may be more dedicated to organisation, and therefore enhance organisational efficiency and effectiveness.

As Day and Schoenrade (2000) indicate that organisation should have the proper policies and procedures in place to achieve greater commitment from its LGB employees. It is believed that with these policies enforced, the disadvantaged situation faced by lesbians, gay and bisexual employees will be eased.


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