Business

The Inclusive Workplace

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In the modern business world employees expect more and have more rights than ever. To accompany this, employees are seen as core contributors to an organization. The workplace has changed from one where employees blindly follow the guidelines of the company to complete tasks, to one where employees are central to the organization. Employees are also more educated than ever before.

In recent decades, issues like employee empowerment, collaboration, teamwork, self-managed teams and cooperation have all become important. Each of these issues have the idea of giving more and getting more at their basis. In Ideas that will shape the future of management practice (Bohl 1996, 8), human resources is described as being the way of the future, “We will see a more mature articulation of the importance of people as a firm’s only sustainable competitive advantage.” The change is described as giving high reward for high performance with the focus on a partnership. Other management trends also show the same focus. Three of these worth looking at are total quality management (TQM), the balanced scorecard, and best practice, all of which have been recent popular management ideas.

Cherkasky (1992, 23) describes the TQM approach as:

Involving everyone in the company, from the boardroom to the mailroom, in a daily search for incremental improvements. Everyone is trained to identify and fix problems, to set performance standards and measure results, and to focus the company’s strategic vision on the needs of its customers.”

Clearly, this approach has the employees of the company as central to it.

The balanced scorecard was first described by Kaplan as a set of measures that gives an overall picture of an organization, “the balanced scorecard is like the dials in an airplane cockpit: it gives managers complex information at a glance” (Kaplan & Norton 1992, 73). Rather than just measuring financial characteristics, it extends to covering other key areas. Kaplan and Norton (1992, 76) divide the scorecard into four different perspectives: financial perspective; internal business perspective; customer perspective; and innovation and learning perspective. The important thing is that both the internal business perspective and the innovation and learning perspective are based on the employees of the business. Again this shows that the employees are becoming a major focus.

Finally, it is worth looking at best practice. A report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology titled Ten years of business excellence for America (1999), looks at the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award as a representation of what makes a company the best. Seven categories make up the criteria for the award, with one of these being human resource focus. Again, this shows that the employees of an organization are a major consideration.

The next consideration is what it means for an organization that employees expect more as well as expect to give more. The major result is that organizations can no longer create a workplace and expect employees to adapt to it. Instead, they have to create the right environment for employees.

This is true because of the business environment and also because of the legal environment. Organizations have to create inclusive workplaces where sexual harassment, cultural biases and other forms of inequality do not exist. The remainder of the report will look at these specific components that make up an inclusive workplace, namely gender and cultural equality. Firstly, these issues will be looked at in detail. It will then be considered how an organization can create such an environment for employees.

Findings and Results

Cultural Equality multicultural organization is one with employees from different backgrounds and with different attitudes, beliefs and abilities. A successful organization needs to recognize the diversity and provide an environment that ensures that every employee is valued for what they bring to the organization.

The reality is that organizations are not in a position to be biased against different cultures. This is a legal necessity based on equal opportunity and discrimination laws. However, looking at cultural equality as something necessary because of the legal ramifications fails to recognize the benefits of cultural diversity. Looking at the benefits for an organization is a better way of looking at the issue.

Firstly, as business becomes more international, organizations need to consider other countries and cultures. This could be to serve customers in other countries, to purchase supplies from other countries or to set up operations in other countries. A multicultural workforce means that employees are available that may represent the other culture. One article argues that cultural barriers are a major reason that companies do not pursue opportunities in other countries. The author argues that business and social networks that operate across national borders can overcome these barriers (Rauch 2001, 1187). Having employees of different cultural backgrounds is an effective way of building these social and business networks. Employees from different cultural backgrounds have an understanding of the other culture. This understanding can be used to allow the organization to move into new international markets.

Another trend in business involves a focus on relationship building. The shift to relationship marketing is described saying, “A shift is clearly taking place from marketing to anonymous masses of customer, to developing and managing relationships with more or less well-known or at least somehow identified customers” (Groonroos 1994, 22). The important thing is that these relationships are based on individuals within the company effectively communicating with individuals outside of the company. Having a multicultural workforce contributes to this by developing the communication skills of all employees and their ability to understand others. The multicultural workplace has a focus on respecting differences. Employees learn to understand and appreciate different cultures and develop the skills necessary for bridging cultural gaps. These skills learnt within the internal environment can then be applied to the external environment. The end result is an organization that has the ability to understand and develop relationships with a wide range of diverse groups.

A culturally diverse organization also has improved flexibility. In any organization there is a need for many different tasks to be carried out. Having a diverse workforce means that there is more likely to be the right person for any task. Having a diverse workforce also increases flexibility as the organization has more options for reorganizing as needs change, than if the organization had all similar staff. The diversity also allows for individual employees to recognize their own diverse skills. This creates a workplace where every employee appreciates what they and others have to offer. The end result is a workplace with a broad skill level, where every employee is motivated into contributing their own set of skills. This wide skill level gives the workplace a flexibility that can be a major advantage.

Individual differences are also useful in creating changes and creating an innovative workforce. Putting a range of different people together is one way to create innovative solutions that a group of similar people would not be capable of. To illustrate how diversity encourages creativity consider the situation where a problem needs solving. If a group of individuals of similar characteristics are asked to solve the problem, every individual is likely to contribute similar ideas. However, if a diverse group of people are asked to solve the problem, a range of ideas will be contributed. Putting these ideas together results in a wider range of options and combining these ideas often results in new and creative solutions being developed. The fact that so many diverse ideas are present tends to force people to question their own thinking and come up with new possibilities themselves. This same process applies to many aspects within the organization. The more diverse perspectives are present, the more innovative and creative the environment becomes.

Overall then, a culturally diverse workplace has many benefits. The most obvious one is the benefits in being able to overcome cultural barriers. In addition to this, a culturally diverse workplace gives all employees the skills to communicate with any individual regardless of individual differences, increases the flexibility of the organization and enhances creativity within the organization. All of these benefits are reasons why cultural diversity can be a major source of competitive advantage for an organization. This means that cultural diversity is not only a good thing for the organization operating internationally, cultural diversity is of benefit to all organizations.

Clearly then, an environment based on cultural diversity is not something an organization should implement just to meet the laws, though this is also a consideration. An environment based on cultural diversity should be implemented for the benefit of the organization.

Gender Equality

Gender equality is about creating an environment where both sexes are treated equally and have equal opportunity. Gender and cultural differences are generally treated the same, both being part of equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws. EEO laws focus on discrimination, where discrimination is defined as, “The hiring or promoting of applicants based on criteria that are not job relevant” (Daft 1997, 417). This applies to discrimination based on race, gender or other factors such as age. The one area that applies to gender equality but not cultural equality is sexual harassment.

Firstly, to define sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2002) provides the following definition of sexual harassment:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

From the angle of the law, sexual harassment is defined as “a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964… Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” (Berlin 2002). The law then further divides sexual harassment into two types: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is defined as “situations where employment decisions such as hiring, firing, or promotions are contingent upon the employee providing sexual favors” (Berlin 2002). Hostile work environment is defined as “situations where the employee’s work environment is made intimidating, hostile, or offensive due to the unwelcome sexual conduct and the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance” (Berlin 2002). This last kind refers not only to individuals making sexual advances but also to factors in the environment, such as posters of a sexual nature being displayed, individuals keeping sexual materials on their computers or discussions of a sexual nature. In short, anything in the environment that makes either male or female employees uncomfortable based in sexual issues, is a form of sexual harassment.

Next, it is important to consider the impact of sexual harassment. The most obvious impact is a court case where the company is sued. A court case involving Mitsubishi shows the effects of sexual harassment. As Grossman (2002) describes:

Mitsubishi settled a sexual harassment case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in which widespread and pervasive harassment within the company was alleged. In the settlement, Mitsubishi paid 34 million to the victims in the class represented by the EEOC, and paid several million more to private plaintiffs bringing similar complaints.”

This case effectively shows the financial cost associated with sexual harassment. As well as the financial cost, there is also the cost to a company’s reputation.

It must also be considered what effect sexual harassment has on the work environment. Sexual harassment causes individuals stress and in a situation where sexual harassment is ongoing, can cause a significant decline in the work environment. This poor work environment then creates stress for all employees, reduces motivation and is likely to increase employee turnover. This effect on the environment can occur where the sexual harassment is in the form of a hostile work environment or in the form where individuals are being harassed. Consider the case where an employee is promoted because of their willingness to agree to giving sexual favors. In this case, the other employees are likely to be effected by this as they will see it as unfair that promotions are not being chosen based on fair criteria. Overall then, other than the obvious problems of the financial cost of being sued, an organization is also impacted in other ways even if the sexual harassment goes unreported.

Clearly, then an organization needs to create an inclusive environment where sexual harassment cannot occur and where diversity in employees, both gender and cultural differences, is respected. This is necessary from a legal perspective and also from the perspective of how best to manage employees. As was noted in the introduction, employees are increasingly being seen as a major source of competitive advantage. The organization that creates an inclusive environment that is best for all employees, gets the most from their employees.

Creating an Inclusive Workplace

The benefits of an inclusive workplace have now been identified. The next step is to consider how an organization creates an inclusive workplace. An inclusive workplace has several major characteristics.

Fair Systems

One of the characteristics of an inclusive organization is the recognition that employees are different. To ensure that these differences do not create bias, systems need to be developed that protect employees and ensure that everyone is treated fairly.

Organizational systems such as performance reviews, procedures and policies provide a concrete and stable system that does not change. These systems are capable of making it clear what is required of employees. They are also beneficial as they remove any bias individual managers may have, ensuring employee receive fair rewards.

Reward Systems

Reward systems are an important part of organizational culture, they communicate to employees what is valued by the organization (Robbins, Bergman & Stagg 1997, 84). Reward is the basic motivation for people. Employees will focus on what they are rewarded for (Billsberry 2000, 59). While there is a focus on monetary reward, this can also include praise and increased self-worth. This is where control impacts on motivation. An employee will only be motivated if they experience adequate reward for their efforts.

The reward systems need to be designed with consideration given to the diversity of the workplace. Diversity means that all employees are not the same. Some employees require money only as a reward, others need a sense of self-worth. By recognizing the diversity of individuals, it can be assured that the reward and control systems work to motivate everyone.

Support Systems

The multicultural workplace also has the potential for problems, such as conflict and communication difficulties. To prevent these from being a problem, support systems need to be developed. These support systems are designed to educate and give employees the skills to be effective in a multicultural environment.

Moss-Kanter (1994, 106) notes that there is a requirement for “people involved in the relationship to have the communication skills and cultural awareness to bridge their differences.”

This requires having people trained, having people aware of the value of a multicultural workforce and having people aware of the cultural differences. It is also important that conflict be expected. If conflict is managed, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Systems need to be developed then, to allow for conflict situations to be managed effectively.

The support systems required then, involve employee training, encouraging awareness of cultural differences and conflict management systems. Having these systems helps ensure the multicultural workplace is as effective as possible and prevents problems from disrupting it.

Organizational Culture multicultural organization is one that has employees of different cultural backgrounds and also one that respects other cultures. To encourage the respect for other cultures, the organization requires an internal culture that supports it.

The culture needs to focus on accepting others differences and having a flexible outlook. This means accepting that there is no ‘one best way’ and being open to the opinions of others. In short, the company needs to develop an internal culture that matches what it expects of its employees.

One of the major causes of sexual harassment is the culture of an organization. The case of Mitsubishi illustrates this. As Grossman (2002) says, “The evidence in the lawsuit showed an environment in which harassment was as routine and commonplace as coffee breaks.” In this case, the culture was one where sexual harassment became routine and accepted practice. This was also evidenced by the fact that the situation did not relate to just one employee. Instead, “More than 300 female employees joined the suit, complaining of groping, fondling, lewd jokes and behavior, and obscene graffiti plastered in work areas” (Grossman 2002). The culture or environment then is one major component of sexual harassment.

Grosenik expresses the importance of getting to the base of the problems rather than attacking the symptoms saying:

In any attempt to change the values of an organization, whether it is through the education of its participants in moral principles, or the imposition of leadership committed to higher ethical principles, the contents of the existing organizational culture must be dealt with directly for positive change to occur” (Grosenik 1994, 183).

To begin with then, an organizational must have a culture that incorporates the need to be inclusive and accept others. The first step is to include inclusive behavior in the organization’s mission statement, aims, goals and values. It is also important that these are not empty statements but are also backed up by actions by the organization.

Policies to Define Correct Behavior

In an inclusive workplace, different employees are present with different attitudes. To prevent these different attitudes from becoming forms of treating employees differently, policies need to be implemented that determine correct behavior.

This is especially important in relation to sexual harassment. One book on the subject shows that sexual harassment is largely a product of a very confused business world, and in this confusion, people who cannot adapt become sexual harassers. This includes males who are trying to find their place in a changing workplace and women who are doing the same (Meyer, Oestreich, Berchtold & Collins 1981). This is a reality of the workplace; that every member is not going to accept that their behaviors really are forms of harassment. An organization cannot ignore this fact or expect that every employee will be enlightened about sexual harassment. However, having a definite policy on sexual harassment is an effective way of dealing with these differences.

One of the first steps in managing sexual harassment is implementing a policy on sexual harassment. As Berlin (2002) says, “Employers should establish a policy for the prevention, reporting, investigation, and punishment of sexual harassment in the workplace.” The situation at Mitsubishi also illustrates this. Dealing with the problem involved adopting a zero-tolerance policy and creating a separate department for dealing with sexual harassment (Grossman 2002).. A written policy defining acceptable behavior and the policy on sexual harassment ignores people’s own perceptions on the subject and defines the behavior that is appropriate. In doing this, the organization is managing sexual harassment by making it clear what is acceptable. The second reason the policy is important is that it shows that the organization takes the issue seriously. This is important in making people aware that actions that constitute sexual harassment are not acceptable.

For an inclusive workplace overall, a code of ethics can be used a policy to direct employee’s behavior. Ethical behavior is defined as, “The code of moral principles and values that govern the behaviors of a person or group with respect to what is right or wrong” (Daft 1997, 142). A code of ethics expresses the values that are important to an organization. For an inclusive workplace, these values must include respecting differences in others and treating everyone equally regardless of gender or cultural background.

Conclusion

It has now been seen that an inclusive workplace based on workplace diversity and equality of both gender and culture is not only necessary based on the law, but beneficial to an organization. The benefits of an inclusive workplace have been noted as well as the consequences of not having an inclusive workplace. This indicates that it is of major benefit to an organization to ensure an inclusive workplace environment is maintained. This is especially true because employees are so potentially beneficial to an organization, being a major source of competitive advantage.

The factors that create an inclusive environment have also been described. These include: fair systems; effective reward systems; support systems including employee training; an organizational culture that supports equality and diversity; and policies that define correct behavior, including sexual harassment policies and a code of ethics.

Recommendations

It is recommended that organizations assess their work environments to determine if it is an inclusive environment. Key indicators of problems could be in the form of complaints about either sexual harassment or discrimination. The organization could also look at how often women or other minority groups are promoted and their levels of motivation. These could all be indicators that the environment is not an inclusive one. Even if there are no obvious problems, it still should be recognized that the organization could be improved. The organization needs to assess the environment and its own actions to see if it truly supports diversity. This includes looking at policies implemented and determining if they are implemented ‘for show’ to meet legal needs, or are implemented and followed.

If problems are found, the organization is then in a position to begin to improve. The characteristics of inclusive workplaces have been noted. An organization can consider which of the factors need improvement and can begin to take action to become more inclusive.

If these changes are implemented, the end result can be an organization with an inclusive environment that allows all employees to be respected for their differences and to have equal opportunity. Recognizing that a significant number of individuals in the workplace are female and in cultural minorities, this is important for the welfare of the organization as a whole. With employees being seen as a major source of competitive advantage, organizations cannot afford to have a significant number of their staff discriminated against. Instead, with an inclusive environment, employees are most able to contribute and so the organization is most able to be the best it can be.

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