Explain and critically evaluate the Managing Diversity and Equal Opportunities approaches and justify your choice

of approach for HR Managers.

Table of Contents

1. Front Page ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 01 2. Table of Content ----------------------------------------------------------------- 02 3. Introduction ---------------------------------------------------------------------- 03 4. Literature Review --------------------------------------------------------------- 03 5. Managing Diversity versus Equal Opportunity Approach ---------------- 05 6. Problems with managing diversity and equal opportunity approaches -- 06 7. Managing Diversity approach for HR managers --------------------------- 07 8. Conclusion ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 07 9. References ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 09 10. Appendices ---------------------------------------------------------------------- 11


Introduction: Research shows that despite various types of initiatives including government legislation, equality initiatives, affirmative action programs, voluntary codes of practices and many more towards equality, there is still a lot more to be done in order to promote women and minority groups in the workplace. The first approach that virtually all governments and organisations have been using since its formation is the “equal opportunity” legislation that seeks equality and justice in both the workplace and society. Fundamentally, equal opportunity is a legislation that prevents discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age, disability, religion etc. However, in this day and age, discrimination can take more complex forms than can be simply identified by the groups covered in the equal opportunities legislation. As a result of the shortcomings of the legislation, a more sophisticated and relatively new approach has been developed in the United States. . Unlike equal opportunity, the core theme of this approach is to recognise and appreciate the differences in the workforce and utilise those differences to achieve maximum outcome and profit. This new approach is known as ‘managing diversity’. The purpose of this essay is to scrutinise and evaluate the most talked about ‘managing diversity’ and ‘equal opportunity’ approaches in order to indentify the more suitable one between the two for today’s human resource managers. Literature Review: According to Bagilhole (1997), equal opportunity in the UK has been developed through several stages. She suggested that in the 1940s morality was the main agenda. It was mainly about restoring impaired war veterans in the mainstream workforce. But during the 1960s and 1970s the establishment of government legislation became the main concern. As a result of which the whole equal opportunity agenda became politicised in the 1980s. Furthermore, membership of European Union added a whole new element into the equal opportunity agenda at the same time. Young (2000) argues that the EU equal opportunity agenda has both positive and negative effects. Ostner and Lewis (1995) stated that because of the link between the EU directives and the national legislation, a member country can promote only those policies that meet the local values and culture and avoid others that do not. Bagilhole (1997) states the 1990s as the “economic, public relations and professional” era by which equal opportunities was incorporated into the political establishment. Fundamentally there are three types of models of equality that exist in the literature. The first is formal equality, otherwise known as a free and open contest for scarce resources (Flew, 3

1976). It is the principal ingredient in the legislation of equal opportunities in Britain, such as the Race Relations Act 1976, (amended 2000), the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (amended 1986), the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and subsequently the regulations about religion, age and sexuality. Formal equality is directed at a form of discrimination termed “direct discrimination”. It refers to a situation where an individual or a group of individuals targets another individual or another group of individuals for unfavourable treatment. This type of discrimination is tackled by standardised and firm procedures. The theory says discrimination takes place through the exercise of discretion. So there is no room for discretion to be taken place, and therefore no discrimination occurs, if everyone is treated equally. The second one is liberal equality of opportunity, also known as prospect-relating to equal opportunities. The idea can be undertaken by targeting supplementary resources to the areas, which are underdeveloped. This is often known as “area-based positive discrimination” (Edwards and Batley, 1978). There is another common shape of liberal equality of opportunity that is known as positive action. This can be carried out in a number of ways, such as, determining the goals and targets, advertising in a certain media in order to reach certain groups of people, and further training for the people who are already occupying the posts. Positive action is now one of the core components of the equal opportunities agenda. On the other hand we have now begun to see a growing interest in “managing diversity” as an alternative to the conventional equal opportunity approach. It had been predicted that by the early 1990s, managing diversity would become increasingly dominant in the UK. Equal opportunity approaches are regarded as becoming obsolete and therefore unable to satisfy the emerging challenges of the new century. This is largely because the whole equal opportunity agenda was created for the 1960s and 1970s political and social needs (Iles, 1995; Wilson and Iles, 1999). Jawson and Mason (1994) argue that the development of managing diversity, focusing on individuals rather than groups, was in harmony with the newly emerging “new right” that places emphasis on individualism and recognises that it as an acceptable way to function. Bartz et al. (1990, p.321) identifies the term managing diversity as“Understanding that there are differences among employees and that these differences, if properly managed, are an asset to work being done more efficiently and effectively. Examples of diversity factors are race, culture, ethnicity, gender, age, a disability, and work experience.” 4

There are two parts of this definition that primarily distinguishes managing diversity from equal opportunity. Firstly, unlike equal opportunity, it shifts the importance of positive interpretation on differences between staff. Secondly, it includes some additional factors (known as diversity factors) that are not covered in the equal opportunity legislation. A managing diversity approach emphasises on individuals rather than groups, and involves the development of individuals, and not just simply a minority group. As a consequence, managing diversity assists everyone rather than certain underprivileged groups or areas. Managing Diversity versus Equal Opportunity Approaches: One of the core differences between managing diversity and equal opportunity is associated with the force for change. Whereas external forces, such as government legislations, social fairness, ethical and human rights etc, tend to drive the equal opportunity, managing diversity tends to be driven by internal forces within the organisational structure and is immediately connected with the bottom line. Another difference between these two approaches are their goals. The goal of equal opportunity has been mentioned as social justice and rectifying errors that have been made previously in the past: “to correct an imbalance, an injustice, a mistake” (Thomas, 1990, p. 108). On the other hand the main goal of managing diversity is discussed in much broader terms; that is to treat employees as individuals, acknowledge that each of them has unique needs and therefore will need different sorts of assistance in order to succeed, describes Geber, 1992. The core motivation behind the equal opportunity framework at governmental level and the equal opportunity strategies and practices at organisational level has been identified as an attempt to establish equality. For example, the creation of such a community or organisation, where men and women are dealt with in the same manner and no advantage or disadvantage is given to them based on their sex. In contrast, the term ‘managing diversity’ is there to point out the significance of difference and put forward a viewpoint where difference is welcomed and is considered as an advantage rather than a disadvantage to the organisation. In essence, the economic and business cases are the main fundamental driving force for the managing diversity approach for identifying and evaluating differences. This is in comparison to the ethical case to treat everyone evenly, which is the main driving force for the equal opportunity approach. The equal opportunity approach is there to have an impact on behaviour through legislation in order to eliminate discrimination. 5

Finally, managing diversity is regarded as a more integrated approach to put equality into practice and is described to be the responsibility of all managers, whereas equal opportunity approaches are driven only by the human resource managers. Torrington et al. (2002) has produced a table of differences between these two approaches, which has been given in the appendices (table-1). Problems with managing diversity and equal opportunity approaches: Although managing diversity approaches were seen by many as a redefined alternative, and also as a strategy for even greater progress in terms of equality, to the equal opportunities approach, this progress has appeared to be very little noticed. Some argue that changing the term from equal opportunity to diversity management may just be a way of making it more colourful in today’s perspective and therefore just simply a mechanism to reinvigorate the equal opportunity agenda. Recent studies indicate that there are only a small number of organisations that can be referred to as management of diversity exemplars, and even those who claim to be such organisations, do not have a more diverse workforce than their counterparts. Moreover, during the past five years these organisations did not employ more minority groups. There is another fairly strong argument that if the primary feature of managing diversity is the concentration on individualism, then this may well narrow our consciousness about underprivileged social groups (Liff, 1999). Finally, the managing diversity approach can be considered and labelled as introspective as it is concerned only with those people who are already in the organisation. According to Donaldson (1993), he terms it as “managing rather than expanding diversity”. It must be noted that it cannot be possible to manage a diverse workforce until this diverse workforce is acquired. On the other hand an equal opportunity approach has its own problems as well. As mentioned earlier, one of the main criticisms is that the equal opportunity legislations do not protect all the minority groups, and therefore there is still room for discrimination to take place. Moreover there is a general concern over the fact that it does not also receive the support it should have gained from organisations. This is partially because of the fact that the core equality objectives are not prepared solely for the businesses and as a result it is not as compatible with business objectives as its alternative.


Equal opportunity lays its central focus on formal processes and it is often impossible to formalise every single process in an organisation. A recent study indicates that an equal opportunity approach isolated a substantial part of the workforce that consisted of those employees, who were not identified as disadvantaged or minority groups. This therefore had the effect that those workers considered that their opportunities were hindered. On top of that there are a considerable number of workers, who feel that entry standards have been lowered by the equal opportunity initiatives. These findings indicate a rather worrying picture of a divided workforce that can be resulted as a demotivating factor for workers and therefore lowering growth, productivity and profits in organisations. Liff (1999) indicates that “traditional equal opportunity strategies encourage a view that women (and other groups) have a problem and need help” (p.70). In essence, the equal opportunity approach is believed to be an oversimplified approach to a complicated problem, and is effective only in dealing with the symptoms rather than the roots of discrimination that take place. Managing Diversity approach for HR Managers: After much scrutiny and in-depth critical evaluation of both approaches, I am of the opinion that employing a managing diversity approach over an equal opportunity approach is better suited for the human resource managers. This is largely because of the limitations associated with the equal opportunity approach. Although the managing diversity approach has its own limitations, those limitations are not as severe as the limitations of the other approach. A managing diversity approach allows managers the authority to take steps that are necessary for growing and furthering the productivity and profit of both the employee and the organisation. This is because it focuses not only on formal processes, but also on the outcome and results. Managing diversity recognises individuals as a single entity and deals accordingly with its unique needs, and therefore often produces a better result. For example, women need managing and developing in different ways to their male counterparts. They represent a different culture than men do and managing diversity recognises and welcomes that difference. In comparison, the organisations that follow the equal opportunity approach, would not recognise these significant differences and would therefore fail to fulfil their needs.


Conclusion: In this day and age managers and professionals are facing an ever-challenging task to create work places that recognise the demands and responds to the opportunities of a diverse workforce. Successful leaders must cross their own cultural boundaries in order to encourage a vigorous and powerful cross-cultural communication and create cultural synergy in the workplace. They must recognise and take full advantage of the productivity potential that is inherent in a diverse population. Organisations and governments alike must appreciate that we now operate in a global village, with a highly sophisticated market place. In order to be successful, organisations will have to harness the abilities of all their employees to the highest order. A structure in which equal opportunities are available for all with a managing diversity culture would be the ideal combination for a successful organisation.


References:  Bagilhole, B. (1997), Equal Opportunities and Social Policy: Issues of Race, Gender and Disability, Addison Wesley Longman, London.  Barz, D.E., Hillman, L.W., Lehrer, S. and Mayhugh, G.M. (1990), “A model for managing workforce diversity”, Management Education and Development, Vol.21 No.5, pp.321-6.  Donaldson, L. (1993), “The recession: a barrier to equal opportunities?”, Equal Opportunities Review, No.50, July/August.  Edwards, J. and Batley, R. (1978), The Politics of Positive Discrimination, Tavistock Pubns, London.  Ellis, C. and Sonnenfield, J.A. (1993), “Diverse approaches to managing diversity”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 33 No. 1, Spring, pp. 79-109.  Flew, A.G.N. (1976), Sociology, Equality and Education: Philosophical Essays in Defence of a Variety of Differences, Macmillan, London.  Geber, B., “Managing diversity”, Training, July 1992, pp.23-30.  Iles, P. (1995), “Learning to work with difference”, Personnel Review, Vol.24 No.6, pp.44-60.  Jewson, N. and Mason, D. (1994), “Race, employment and equal opportunities: towards a political economy and an agenda for the 1990s”, Sociological Review, Vol.42 No.4, pp.597-717.  Liff, S. (1999), “Diversity and Equal Opportunities: room for a constructive compromise?”, Human Resource Management Journal, Vol.19, No.1, pp.65-75.  Ostner, I. and Lewis, J. (1995), “Gender and the evolution of European social policies”, in Leibfried, S. and Pierson, P. (Eds), European social policy: Between Fragmentation and Integration, Brooking Institution, Washington, DC, pp.159-193.  Thomas, R.R.Jr, “From affirmative action to affirming diversity”, Harvard Business Review, March-April 1990, p.114. 9

 Torrington, D., Hall, L. and Taylor, S. (2002), Human Resource Management, Pearson Education Limited, England.  Wilson, E.M. and Iles, P.A. (1999), “Managing diversity – an employment and service delivery challenge”, The International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 12 No.1.  Young, B. (2000), “Disciplinary neoliberalism in the EU and gender politics”, Political economy, Vol.5, No.1, pp.77-98.


Appendices: Table.1 Fundamental differences between ‘managing diversity’ and ‘equal opportunity’ approaches (Torrington et all., 2002, pp.371):

Aspect Purpose

Managing Diversity Utilise employee potential to maximum advantage.

Equal Opportunity Reduce discrimination

Case argued

Business case- improve profitability.

Moral and ethical.

Whose responsibility Focuses on Perspective

All managers.

HR/personnel department.

Individuals. Integrated.

Groups. Dealing with different needs of different groups.

Benefits for employees

Opportunities improved for all employees.

Opportunities improved for disadvantaged groups, primarily through setting targets.

Focus on Management activity Remedies



Changing the culture.

Changing systems and practices.