Managers today are faced with a key challenge in the form of managing an increasingly diverse workforce (Mujtaba 2010). Jones and George (2014) have defined diversity as “dissimilarities or differences among people due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, education, experience, physical appearance, capabilities/disabilities, and any other characteristics that are used to distinguish between people” (p. 135). Thomas (2005) is of the view that organisations that restrict the type of workforce they are ready to engage, are also restricting the pool of talent joining the workforce. As a result, this discrimination hinders the organisation's workforce, along with its predictions for growth and survival (Lundrigan et al. 2012). Managers can help to promote a diverse workforce by treating all employees in a fair and just manner on the basis of individual merit and actual performance, regardless of the employee's age, gender, religion, or race (Lundrigan et al., 2012). If at all Jane Andrews, the Chief Executive at the South Wales County Council (SWCC) is to realise her noble goal of promoting diversity at the organisation, she must find a practical way of breaking down the 'glass ceiling' at the organisation that limits the number of women occupying supervisory positions, and find a way to promote more women to senior management positions.
Workforce diversity recognises that employees differ in both invisible and visible ways, mainly in terms of gender, age, social status, personality, culture, disability, and ethnicity, among others (Kossek, Lobel & Brown 2005). Nonetheless, the predominant diversity issues tend to differ from one organisation to another. Gender inequality in the workforce has been recognised as the most common and by far the oldest diversity issue globally (Johns 2013). In spite of the best efforts by organisations to promote equality and diversity, a high number of women still occupy lower positions in the organisational hierarchy compared to their male counterparts, even as their male counterparts dominate the senior management positions. This is best exemplified at SWCC where only 5% of the women working at the organisation occupy senior management roles, , such as directors and senior managers. This, even as women constitutes three quarters (75%) of the workforce. This is a clear indication that workforce diversity and gender inequality is still rampant in the 21st century, even in developed economies.
A diverse workforce is desirable as it constitutes a multitude of understandings, perspectives, beliefs, values, and unique information. Thanks to globalisation and rapid internalization, there has been a significant improvement in terms of the importance attached to the issue of workforce diversity. Corporations across the globe now aspire to have a multicultural and cross-cultural workforce. This has turned diversity into a “hot-button” issue in the legal, political, educational and corporate arenas. Nevertheless, researchers and corporations alike have demonstrated very mixed attitudes towards the issue of a diverse workforce. On the one hand, organisational attitude towards diversity has ranged from tolerance to intolerance and even acknowledgement of diversity (Koonce 2001). In contrast, a large number of corporations have been shown to be reluctant about hiring and promoting ethnic minorities and female employees, and more so to senior positions. Several studies (for example, Goodman, Fields & Blum 2003; Shena et al. 2009) have failed to identify any association between HRM (human resource management) diversity on the one hand, and increase in diversity, on the other hand.
Women frequently find it hard to surmount the hurdles in the workplace in an effort to also occupy positions of leadership. This challenge is best described as the inability to “break the glass ceiling”. This expression describes the tenacity with which women in the workplace attempt to climb up the corporate ladder with little or no success. This expression is thus based on the idea that a glass ceiling or transparent barrier, blocks women from rising through the corporate ladder. As women start their careers, this resistance is not visible but it becomes apparent as they endeavour to attain equality with their male colleagues later on (Eagly & Carli 2007). This could help to explain the fact that even in developed economies such as in North America and Europe, women only account for a minority of the senior management positions when compared to men. Another issue worth of consideration is pay. There is compelling evidence that even after women occupy senior management positions within organisations, they are paid less than their male counterparts occupying similar positions (Hewlett 2007).
A number of theories have emerged in a bid to explain the glass ceiling. One of these theories relates to motherhood. This is interpreted imply real gender differences. A commonly held view is that women generally manifest less commitment to their job due to family responsibilities (Eagan & Bendick 2001). Moreover, women have a higher probability of leaving employment altogether or taking career breaks to raise children and take care of their families. Consequently, they are less able to execute the tasks required of them at the top of the corporation (Daft 2011). This makes women less valuable employees in comparison with men. It has also been used as a justification for the preferential treatment received by men in employment. Another interpretation has to do with the observed differences based on gender. Advocates of this view content that women and men do not differ in a particular applicable manner (Dwyer, Richard & Chadwick 2001). Proponents further argue that if women are treated the same way as men, they would manifest similar work commitment. Noticeable variations in commitment are seen due to differences in how women are treated (for example, lower wages), due to employer-based prejudice.
Breaking the glass ceiling is an intricate process that demands actions on various fronts. State and federal governments, academic institutions, employers, and even women play essential roles in helping to break the glass ceiling. If at all Jane is to break the glass ceiling at SWCC, she needs to ensure that the organisation is proactive in its quest to achieve gender equity and gender diversity. Organisations that have succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling have implemented programs that share common characteristics. Besides having the support of the CEO, these programs are inclusive, deal with stereotypes and preconceptions, are specific to the company, stress on accountability, are comprehensive, and tend to track progress (McCuiston, Wooldridge & Pierce 2004). It is important therefore that SWCC adopts organisation-specific and comprehensive programs that seek to break down the organisational, structural, and cultural barriers within the organisation.
An approach that Jane can bank on is to develop mentoring programs within SWCC. This is yet another important avenue that has been shown to enable women rise up the corporate ladder. Such a mentoring program should begin by identifying successful leaders (both men and women) who will act as mentors to women in the organisation. In this case, the mentors will endeavour to promote women's aspirations, in addition to identifying pathways and goals that would enable them propel their careers. In designing leadership development approaches at SWCC, it is important to ensure that they are geared towards assisting women develop vital leadership skills. In addition, such approaches should be designed in such a manner as to enable women identify and exploit their strengths, promote their self-confidence, become comfortable in taking risks, and offer women techniques and tools for evading prevailing barriers (Myerson & Fletcher 2000).
According to the Institute of Leadership and Management (2011), women should also endeavour to develop their own social capital by securing mentors, creating support networks, communicating the values that they seek to bring to the organisation, and promoting themselves. A study conducted in 2010 by McKinsey & Company revealed that gender diversity received the best support in those companies that had women's development programs, management support, as well as a set of enablers that evaluated human resource processes, followed diversity progress, and offered support to women employees, such as child care. In keeping with these findings, Jane should try and convince the other senior managers at SWCC on the need to promote women developmental programs in an attempt to realise gender equity and in the process, help break the glass ceiling. One such approach would be to develop a child care centre within the organisation. This will ensure that mothers with young children can still go about their work comfortable in the knowledge that their children are well taken care of.
Myerson and Fletcher (2000) propose that organisations should adopt a strategy of executing small wins and incremental changes. They urge companies to embrace practices of accommodation (for example, instituting offering flexible work arrangements, mentoring programs, and alternative career tracks), assimilation (for example, encouraging women to embrace masculine attitudes), and sensitivity training to leverage gender differences (McCuiston et al. 2004).While these practices have proven useful in breaking organisational barriers that hinder women's progress in the workplace, they can only achieve so much. If at all SWCC is to move further in its quest to break the glass ceiling, Jane and the other senior management team ought to implement approaches that methodically recognise and obliterate entrenched roots of discrimination caused by cultural structures. Examples of cultural structures that compromise gender equity and discrimination include the manner in which tasks are accomplished, the type of activities that the organisation values, and how assumptions regarding competence are made (Torrington, Hall & Taylor 2005).
To accomplish this, SWCC needs to devote financial and human resources towards resolving the current gender imbalance. These resources will go towards the development of training programs aimed as sensitizing employees on the importance of gender diversity, altering existing recruitment patterns to eradicate bias, and establishing definite goals to ensure that women occupy senior management positions (Torrington et al. 2005). More importantly, the senior management at SWCC must ensure that gender diversity becomes part of the organisation’s culture. This must start with a commitment by the senior management to fully support gender diversity not just as a successive of initiatives, but as part of the organisational culture. Secondly, the senior management must set aside sufficient resources to drive and sustain gender diversity programs, in addition to tracking women's representation cautiously. McKinsey & Company (2012) report that the CEO support is not enough to enable a company make progress in the realisation of gender diversity. This is because cultural bias and attitudes within an organisation act as formidable barriers that prevent the trickling down of top management support to lower levels. Accordingly SWCC must work hard in order to change existing cultural biases within the company, in addition to changing the attitudes of its employees. This calls for the conduction of awareness programs to sensitize and educate employees on the importance of gender diversity.
Following the implementation of the recommendation suggested above, the CEO, along with her senior management team, will need to evaluate these, in order to establish what has worked, and what has not worked. This should ideally happen 6 months following the implementation. However, progressive updates should be given every month. In the case of the mentoring program, it is important assess if the mentoring sessions endeavoured to promote gender imbalance, and whether women who underwent mentoring program are now better able to recognise and take advantage of their strengths and if their level of confidence has improved. Also, there is need to assess what techniques the women have gained to overcome organisational barriers to progress. Finally, the evaluation should endeavour to assess if the mentoring program has achieved what it set to achieve. In evaluating the women developmental program, it is useful to establish if the proposed child care centre has been established and if there has been noticeable progress in terms of the women's work commitment following this implementation. Such an evaluation is important because it will enable the senior management at SWCC establish if there has been nay progress, and whether the strategies implemented are sustainable both in the short and long-term.
Managing people is not a walk in the park. It demands that one knows what motivates people, and how to get the best out of them. Working with people gives one the opportunity to get to interact with others at a personal level and in this way, learn their aspirations, values, and what motivates them. I believe that by working with others, I stand a better chance of getting to learn more on the things that motivates employees. Moreover, I believe that by interacting with employees, I will be in a position to listen to employees' views on workforce diversity. This would in effect afford me the rare opportunity to recognise the reward systems that would best meet the needs of employees. More importantly, it would also enable me to draw on my innovative skills to motivate employees based on their initiative and productivity, as opposed to how long they have worked for the organisation. I am also optimistic that such an interaction would be ideal in identifying the existing gaps in terms of gender diversity within the organisation and hence propose timely recommendations on how best to fill such gaps using employee-oriented strategies.
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