HR key to diversity

by 28 Nov 2006

WITH WORKFORCE diversity continuing to be an issue for organisations, HR professionals need to develop structures and practices that systematically and diligently take bias out of their HR systems, according to an Australian academic.

Since bias is a normal human tendency, it is important for HR professionals to identify all of those “touch points”in organisations where these biases can be acted out, said Elizabeth George, associate professor at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM).

These biases vary from country to country. In Australia, for example, the ageing workforce and participation of women in the labour market are both drivers for the interest in managing diversity.

In other countries, the specifics of their history shape the nature of diversity concerns, she said. In South Africathere are concerns about the lack of black South Africans in senior positions, while similar issues are being faced in the US.

“Perhaps one issue that is bubbling now more than ever is that of managing the backlash against diversity programs by paying attention to both those who have been historically disadvantaged as well as those who have not,” George said.

“This takes the shape of developing a business case for diversity – perhaps trying to downplay some of the emotive aspects of this issue.”

Speaking at a recent AGSM event, she said HR professionals have an important role to play in diversity. “HR professionals have the data that can tell them if the organisation is making a series of decisions that are in aggregate acting against a particular group,” she said.

“Line managers, typically don’t have that information, and perhaps the time or interest in examining the data. HR needs to proactively monitor organisational decisions to see if they reflect bias, conscious or unconscious, on the part of the individual decision maker.”

The best way to enlist the support of executives or line managers is to show them how that support will help them gain something that is of value to them, George said.

“If HR can show the line managers that the diversity of the workforce contributes in some way to the line manager achieving her goals then why would the line manager not support HR’s initiatives? Resistance is often encountered when diversity is seen to be a project of some other part of the organisation that is imposed on line managers.”


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