Human Resource Management Book Review:

The Management of a Multicultural Workforce

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Tayeb, Monir H. (1996) The Management of a Multicultural Workforce. London, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Issues pertaining to diversity and cultural education that once used to be the sole province of major multinational corporations have now become central issues even in many small and medium-sized companies today. No company can take comfort in its currently enclosed organizational culture and simply assert that ‘that is the way things are done,’ as an answer to all questions of cultural difference and organizational diversity. Also, Monir Tayeb suggests in the text The Management of a Multicultural Workforce that it is not simply enough that a company pats itself on the back that it has a manifestly, culturally diverse workforce in its demographic makeup. Rather, such medium- and small-sized businesses as well as to multinational organizations must institute specific human resource management policies and standard operating procedures that strive to cope with the challenges as well as the positive transformations in the way that individuals do business today in a diverse marketplace and world. Such a tie-in to my own experience made the book more personally enriching to read, as well as added to the book’s overall ‘selling points’ in terms of its diverse ranger of applicability.

The text is particularly relevant to human resources in today’s environment, regardless of the size of the business. Since the book’s publication in 1996, technology has made globalization an even more integral feature of almost all business environments and organizational cultures, as I have seen in my own place of employment. Formerly purely national businesses are now increasingly interconnected to businesses located in nations across the globe through the use of the Internet, World Wide Web, and through the use of wireless technology. Outsourcing is also a reality in many companies, rendering the workforce more diverse from a human resource manager’s perspective. And of course, at the workplace itself, more and more foreign nationals as well as a greater range of culturally and geographically diverse peoples find themselves employed side by side, cubicle by cubicle. The rise of the European Economic Community and the creation of the euro as a currency of tremendous power and world value can only increase the need for globalization, and thus tolerance and diversity of a wider range of cultural practices in all business environments, whether they currently use the euro or not or are European-based or not.

The author’s central thesis, affirmed by my own experience, is that individuals do not leave their cultures behind at home, or in the airport, no matter how hard employees may strive to do so, when they come to work in today’s global workplace, or when they travel abroad to do business. Thus human resource departments within organizations y must deploy their company’s diversity as a series of potential strengths, not as a series of weaknesses to be contended with by managers on a daily basis. The first part of Tayeb’s text examines the significance of culture as a whole, in both private as well as public life. The author then discusses the ways in which culture influences organizational behavior and potential and actual shifts in the world in organizational behavior and culture, from more homogeneous cultural organizational models to more heterogeneous models.

For example, an organization’s leadership style is affected by the cultures of its employees, the level of diversity of its employees, and also the nation it is located in — a British branch may be very different than an American branch of a company, just as an American branch of a company located in an Asian population of San Francisco will differ in its culture and thus its organizational behavior than a similar branch located in African-American concentrated Atlanta in the Southern United States of America — as well as the numerous British-based examples used by the London author.

Organizational leadership also affects organizational structure, of course — and the multinational leadership of a firm, however diverse, will also have an influence upon the leadership chain of command, as well as the demographic composition of the employees themselves. The size as well as the reach and expanse of the firm across the globe will likewise affect the organization’s daily and long-range decision-making processes, major organizational activities and the significance of societal culture within the environment that such crucial operations place. Small firms may reflect their company’s local more perfectly than manifestly multinational firms. But Tayeb stresses that even the smallest of firms can still benefit from deploying cultural diversity in the workplace — diversity increases the knowledge base and thus the overall market strength and leadership competency of any firm.

Tayeb also offers some interesting reformulations of what constitutes culture in general. Culture is not simply race or ethnicity; culture also ties into the different levels of education present at the firm and within an organization’s evolving culture. Culture creates an organization, for instance the meritocracy and fast-paced atmosphere at many American-based firms, versus the more stagnant and hierarchical schema of some Japanese firms. But organizations themselves can also create cultures — for instance, some organizations value social class and education more than others, or appearance more than others, facilitating the promotion and success of some employees of particular backgrounds and upbringings over others of different educational backgrounds and social stratum.

The validity of the text speaks to me not simply in the comprehensive and systematic data organized by its author, but also in the personal experience of many of its compiled anecdotes as well as its readers. The amorphous ‘feel’ of the firm culture that has its roots in the firm’s nation, and the background of the firm’s founders and current leaders is often difficult to put into words, but can seem like a palpable atmospheric presence to an empathetic manager, which I hope I am. To refer to national, international, and cultural climates is an excellent form of expression of the diversity of environments present for employees today, as well as the need for human resource management to be prepared to cope with inevitable clashes within such occasionally placid, occasionally warring environments when firms must deal with other firms, or different organizational branches deal with other organizational branches across cultures, states, and nations.

The two most critical issues tackled and defined by the book are expanding the notion of culture — no one exists outside of a culture — and also more practical and hands-on issues of how human resource managers can deal with globalization and diversity in different national frameworks. Often human resources is responsible for preparing employees to venture out into different areas of the world, when the company is expanding, for example, to nations of different socioeconomic status than the home company. Employees must be briefed for political or legal obstacles they may encounter, that might strike them initially as surprising or even unethical, if they are to do effective business with other companies abroad and so cultural misunderstandings do not jeopardize business.

Joint ventures are another area of frequent difficulty tackled by the text’s author. Human resource management can play a critical area in creating bridges in such arenas. Interestingly enough, although texts such as Accountability in Human Resources Management by Jack J. Phillips stresses the need for human resources to provide justification for itself as a department in a ‘bottom line’ fashion that the author deems is most feasible and comprehensible to management, this text by Tayeb provides an even more critical fashion for human resources to remain respected in a functional organization that wishes to become more diverse. Without appropriate human resources intervention, diversity and cultural education may be understaffed and under-appreciated. Likewise, this text also provides an important cultural caveat for the text entitled The Team Trainer, Winning Tools and Tactics for Successful Workouts by William Gorden, Carole Barbato, Erica Nagel and Scott Myers. Some of the methodologies in that eminently readable text on team training might not be immediately amicable to more reserved cultural environments and climates, although it is, I believe, to my own environment, although not to every manager I have talked to in other organizations in my industry.

The Management of a Multicultural Workforce makes a persuasive and useful argument for the value of diversity education in all organizations. The nature of the education may vary according to the organization’s size and composition of the employee and employer’s backgrounds. Diversity education may seem more necessary in large organizations with individual of varied backgrounds, or reorganizing companies with a work staff from different organizational management environments and cultures. But still, diversity education and flexibility and tolerance in any organization cannot be ignored. The emphasis on the implications of national and organizational cultures for human resource management practices all firms of varying sizes remains key to coping with tomorrow’s challenges. The text offers practical solution options as well as a historical context to the evolving concept of what constitutes a culture and notions of diversity. Finally, the text also provides potent statistical and real-life anecdotal evidence of the importance and the richness of such diversity for employees on a personal level, as well as how diversity is an asset, economically, to a company. Most importantly of all, The Management of a Multicultural Workforce highlights in a realistic rather than an idealistic fashion the tensions that will inevitable arise in newly heterogeneous settings at home and abroad, and the way that diversity education in human resource management practices can be translated and transported across borders.