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HRM and Equal Opportunities

Anne-Marie Greene


This chapter aims to present a summary of research and writing on equality and
diversity within the field of human resource management (HRM). It begins by
providing some background context in which the central theme of the discussion is
the move in thought from liberal approaches to equality based on sameness, to
diversity approaches founded on difference. The chapter explores the question of
what this means for HRM and the HR function, looking at the implications for
thinking about diversity management (DM) in organisations. Here the chapter is
broadly structured around issues that have been selected because they represent some
key themes of current academic and practitioner HRM literature; namely, the gap
between the rhetoric and reality of theory and practice and the problems of making a
business case; moving towards best fit or contextualised policies and practices; and
looking at who should have responsibility for diversity within organisations.
Reflecting the nature of academic and practitioner research in the field of equality and
diversity, this summary will largely be from an Anglo-American perspective.

There is no doubt that there is a huge debate about terminology in the field of equality
and diversity. Examining diversity as a concept, Prasad et al. state that the term has
multiple, overlapping and conflicting meanings (2006: 1) and with so many
stakeholders laying claim to and offering differing interpretations of it, it becomes a
literal and literary quagmire for scholars and practitioners alike (Prasad et al., 2006:
4). Looking at the international literature, a variety of terms are in usage (for example,
equal opportunities, equal employment opportunity, affirmative action (AA), positive

action, equity policies, managing diversity, diversity management to name but a few).
The title given to this chapter is HRM and Equal Opportunities, but the term equal
opportunities (EO) is one that is most common in the UK context and arguably has
little relevance elsewhere. For example, Jain et al. (2003), when undertaking a
comparative study (involving India, Malaysia, Canada, the US, South Africa and the
UK) do not use the term EO at all, distinguishing between affirmative action,
employment equity and diversity management as terms they consider relevant
(despite the fact that the UK is included in their study). Academics and practitioners
in New Zealand and Australia are more likely to talk more about equity while in the
US, affirmative action and managing diversity' are terms commonly invoked. There
is also no consensus about what the different terms mean, whether they have
relevance in different national contexts, and whether they mean the same kinds of
activities and policies in the different contexts or whether each is a distinctly different
approach (Foster and Harris, 2005; Kirton, forthcoming). For the sake of brevity, this
chapter is not primarily concerned with elucidating the debates around, or the
implications of, the particular terms used and will use the terms equality and diversity
interchangeably, much as HR practitioners do themselves. However, even those
familiar with the term EO may find it somewhat anachronistic in the 2000s,
particularly if the term is viewed, as it has often been characterised, as an approach
predominantly concerned with compliance with anti-discrimination legislation. To this
end, it is worth flagging up a key conceptual development in the field: the increasing
rise of the diversity approach (however it may end up being termed) within

What is meant by a diversity approach is a shift in thought in two main areas: a focus
on treating people differently; and a focus on the business case. First, a move away
from traditional liberal and radical conceptions of equality (Jewson and Mason,
1986), based around treating everyone the same a sameness approach towards
approaches based on recognising and valuing people's differences a difference or
diversity approach (Liff, 1997). There is further debate about whether differences
should be narrowly conceived as concerned with social groups (e.g. women, black
and minority ethnic people etc), or broadened to encompass a greater variety of
individual differences (Prasad et al., 2006: 2; Kirton, forthcoming). Second, the rise of
the business case as the primary rationale for equality and diversity action is also an
important aspect of the diversity approach. Traditional EO or affirmative action
approaches, aimed to redress discrimination and historical injustices faced by certain
groups in the workforce (e.g. especially women and black and minority ethnic people)
underpinned by legislation. However, diversity approaches start from a position that
sees human differences as a resource, the utilisation of which is crucial for
competitiveness and improving organisational performance.
Diversity policies are introduced specifically in order to meet organisational goals: in
this sense the concept or model is business-driven, rather than underpinned by broader
notions of social justice (Kaler, 2001). Noon and Ogbonna (2001) argue that this is the
key analytical differentiation between EO and managing diversity, that they are
underpinned by two different rationales: EO by the social justice (or moral) case and
managing diversity by the business case. However, arguably this difference is
overstated and what has actually occurred is a shift in emphasis rather than a

fundamental re-conceptualisation (Kirton, forthcoming; Cornelius, 2002). In other

words, while EO policies may utilise business rationales, they do so in order to
achieve moral or social justice ends. In contrast, diversity policies are generally seen
to have a more exclusive focus on the business case (Kaler, 2001: 59).
A major academic preoccupation has been whether diversity management (DM) is
simply a name change or an entirely new policy approach, delivering significantly
different outcomes. This echoes the older debates about the differences in practice
between HRM and personnel management (Purcell, 2001; Hoque and Noon, 2001).
As will be discussed later, it is debatable whether or not the move to diversity really
means any deep changes in the substantive content of organizational policies (Kirton
and Greene, 2005). However, as Kirton (forthcoming) states, it is still useful (for
researchers at least) to characterise the two approaches (EO/AA and diversity) as
indicating different, and perhaps competing emphases as this provides a conceptual
map to locate organizational policies (Noon and Ogbonna 2001).
Litvin (2006; 1997) provides a useful summary of the historical development of the
diversity approach, tracing its origins to the US in the late 1980s. This begins with the
publication of the Workforce 2000 report (Johnston and Packer, 1987), and its
predictions of dramatic demographic changes, leading to an increasingly diverse
workforce (increasingly minority ethnic, feminised and ageing). As Litvin states, it is
difficult to overstate the influence of the demographic predictions attributed to
Workforce 2000 in the construction of the business case for diversity (2006: 81).
Thus businesses needed to meet the challenges and threats of the diverse workforce
but also needed to capitalise on it. Common benefits cited include: taking advantage
of diversity in the labour market; maximising employee potential; managing across
borders and cultures; creating business opportunities and enhancing creativity
(Cornelius et al. 2001).
Moreover, reflecting the previous discussion of the move in thought away from EO,
diversity or difference approaches have definitely become more dominant. While a
comparison of the websites of 241 organisations in 8 European countries indicates the
wide divergence in the way that dimensions of diversity are described, and the fact
that the term diversity is not yet automatically used in many countries in Europe
except for the UK (Singh and Point, 2003), it is clear that diversity is a familiar term
in many organisations in the UK, mainland Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New
Zealand and Canada (Blommaert and Verschueren 1998; de los Reyes 2000;
Humphries and Grice 1995; Jones et al. 2000; Kersten 2000; Lorbiecki and Jack 2000;
Sinclair 2000). The terms managing diversity, diversity management or simply
diversity policy have thus become the new labels in many organisations worldwide,
for policies and practices that would once have fallen under the heading of EO/AA,
equity or simply equality policy.
In summary, regardless of the contested nature and level of debate around these
issues, there are a number of key features relating to the move towards a diversity
approach that are worth highlighting as having implications for HRM theory, policy
and practice:
1. the importance of the business case, rather than legal compulsion or the social
justice case;

2. a broader range of individual and social group based differences;

3. the requirement for a systemic (or cultural) transformation of the organisation,
rather than a reliance on legal regulation and bureaucratic procedures;
4. that the issues are the responsibility of the whole organisation, not just the HR
function (see also Kirton forthcoming; Cox 1994; Kandola and Fullerton 1998;
Kersten 2000).
These features will be returned to in the next section.


Looking at diversity policy and practice within the field of HRM is important
because, first, the HR function is where responsibility for equality and diversity
policies normally lies. Whatever terminology is used and despite the various critiques,
equality and/or diversity issues have without doubt become increasingly important
within the HRM field over the last 15 to 20 years. In contrast to the early to mid
1990s, most quality HRM texts and practitioner guides now have at least one chapter
on equality or diversity issues. Scan the websites of practitioner organisations like the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK (http:/ /, or the Society for HRM (SHRM) in the US (http:/ /
and it is clear that diversity has become an essential part of HRM theory and practice,
indeed the CIPD proclaims Managing diversity is central to good people
management in the view of the CIPD (CIPD, 2004). Many writers agree that there is
considerable fit between the development of HRM and diversity approaches to
equality. Indeed, Miller states that Managing diversity can arguably be classed as the
HRM approach to equality initiatives in the workplace (1996: 206). Thus, moves to
diversity approaches to equality match moves in thought about people management.
Webb points to the fit' between the two, seeing the move towards diversity
approaches as capturing the wider political shift from collective models of industrial
relations, state regulation and associated bureaucratic control procedures to
deregulation, free market competition and notions of human resource management
based on maximising the contribution of the individual (1997: 164).
In addition, a cursory glance at any demographic statistics or workforce surveys
indicates that, despite years of anti-discrimination legislation and equality action,
there is still much work to be done to improve the situation of women, minority
ethnic, disabled, lesbian and gay and older and younger people in the workplace (see
for example an international summary in Kossek et al., 2006; or in Europe in Kirton
and Greene, 2005).
Despite the rhetoric of equality and diversity being central to HRM policy, practice
does not always seem to match up. Motivated by frustration at the limited progress,
equality and diversity issues have become part of a wider critique of HRM (Kamenou
and Fearfull, 2006), with some writers consistently arguing that HRM theory, policy
and practice may be at odds with the promotion of EO (Dickens, 1998a; Benschop,
2001; Kirton and Greene, 2005; Zanoni and Janssens, 2005). Such writers point to the
fact that equality and diversity issues are still often absent from mainstream HRM
debate, where theory, policy and practice tends to assume the generic universal

employee (Dickens, 1998a, 1998b; Benschop, 2001). Indeed, Dickens states that
most research and writing on HRM does not make gender visible unless the
primary focus is women or equal opportunities (1998a: 34). It is interesting for
example to consider the place of diversity issues within this handbook on HRM; i.e. is
this specific chapter on EO the only place that diversity issues come up?


In 1998, at the height of the debates about the meaning of HRM, Linda Dickens wrote
an article in the Human Resource Management Journal addressing the question of
What HRM means for gender equality (Dickens, 1998a). In this, she looked at a
number of key features of HRM and asserted that the soft model of HRM, usually
seen as good for women, may actually be problematic for women and gender equality.
Some of her arguments will be drawn on in this chapter; however I intend to ask a
slightly different but related question of What diversity means for HRM, in other
words, what the move to difference or diversity approaches means for practitioners
(most commonly in HR) dealing with equality and diversity issues.
It has already been established that a central feature of diversity management is the
primacy of the business case. Indeed, Litvin goes so far as to see the business case as
the mega discourse of diversity (2006: 85), meaning that the achievement of
organisational economic goals becomes the overriding guiding principle and
explanatory device for those tasked with equality and diversity policy in
organisations. This is arguably in contrast to those working within a traditional EO
paradigm, where the emphasis was the social justice case aimed at redressing
inequalities, often underpinned by a legislative regulatory imperative. So, for HR
practitioners, perhaps the most significant legacy of the move towards diversity
approaches is that the pressure is on to demonstrate the DROI diversity return on
investment (Hubbard, 1999, cited in Litvin, 2006: 84). This is reminiscent of the
preoccupation of the link between HRM and performance: the holy grail of the
optimum utilisation of human resources in pursuit of organisational goals (Legge,
1995: xiii). However, just as it is with HRM practice more broadly, the link between
diversity and performance outcomes is far from conclusive, and the direct benefits
highly contested (Kossek et al., 2006; Kochan et al., 2003; Kirton, forthcoming;
Benschop, 2001; Nkomo and Cox, 1996), such that Litvin concludes that despite
their efforts, researchers have failed to generate solid, unequivocal support for the
proposition that engaging in diversity initiatives is a good investment (2006: 78). For
every study that appears to show some positive correlation, there are an equal number
that appear to show the opposite.
Many of the explanations for the difficulties in making the DROI link relates to the
types of research carried out and their methodologies, or how to separate out the
myriad of variables that could affect organisational outcomes from those specific to
diversity. These arguments have been rehearsed many times in relation to wider HRM
research (for a review see Boxall and Purcell, 2000; Legge 2001). However, there are
some explanations that have more specific relevance to the theory and practice of
diversity management in particular.


It would be naive to completely write off the need for organisations to have some
business related rationale for equality and diversity policies, particularly given the
amounts of money often involved in diversity programmes. In addition, traditional EO
approaches have always made some use of the business case, at the very least the
imperative to avoid litigation costs (Kirton and Greene, 2005). Some commentators
talk about the social justice and business cases coinciding and that increased social
justice can lead to organisational benefits, for example the marketing potential and
enhanced reputation associated with being an ethical business, or being an employer
of choice (Gagnon and Cornelius, 2002; Liff and Dickens, 2000; Dickens, 2000;
Dickens, 1999). However, if there is no complementary recourse to a broader social
justice or moral case beyond direct and quantifiable organisational benefits, then
critics claim that the diversity approach may ignore deep seated societal
discrimination and patterns of disadvantage (Kaler, 2001; Webb, 1997; Liff, 1997).
Moreover, Kirton (forthcoming) outlines what she terms as the dilemma of the
business case. Business case arguments are inevitably contingent, variable, selective
and partial (Dickens, 2006: 299) and depend on economic premises, which means
that action is only encouraged when diversity and business needs coincide. There is
always the danger that a business case can be marshaled as a justification for not
taking action on EO (Dickens, 1999) or where a business case can be made for the
exploitation of certain employees. Kirton (forthcoming) cites a number of
international examples (including Wal Mart and Coca Cola) illustrating this. Subeliani
and Tsogas' (2005) case study in the Netherlands finds that the economic imperative
to increase customer service ratings saw diversity initiatives used to increase the
number of minority customers, whilst leaving the disadvantaged work situation of
ethnic employees within the company untouched. In other words, there is no
necessary connection between having a diverse workforce and practicing equality.


A further question relates to whether diversity is do-able (Prasad and Mills, 1997),
and the difficulties faced by practitioners when they try to develop and implement
diversity policies. Part of the do-ability, relates to whether practitioners understand
what diversity policies are for and how to implement them. The level of academic
confusion around diversity terminology was discussed earlier in this chapter, and it is
clear that this lack of conceptual clarity extends to those who are tasked with the
development and implementation of equality and diversity policy within
organisations. An understanding of how different actors in organisations understand
equality and diversity helps us to appreciate how and why actual policy and practice
are formulated, implemented, resisted and challenged. However research findings
indicate that if there are conceptual misunderstandings and lack of clarity by scholars
in this area, this is only exacerbated for practitioners within organisations.
An example of how conceptual confusion impacts on policy and practice concerns
whether policies should be based on the principles of sameness or difference that
is, is the aim of an equality and diversity policy to treat everyone the same or to
respond to people's different needs? In her study of EO policy and practice in the

1980s in the UK, Cockburn (1989) found that people interpreted equality policies in
workplaces differently depending on what was expected and desired from them in
their various roles. Cockburn identified the interests of the shareholder who has a
strong personal commitment to equality, the executive team who see equality as a
profit-making policy relating to marketing technique and customer orientation, the
lawyers who want equality initiatives to avoid employment tribunal cases of
discrimination, the personnel managers who see equality as part of wider management
trends, and the line management who are only concerned with equality if it does not
conflict with maintaining work discipline and cost budgeting.
More recently, Foster and Harris (2005) study of diversity management in the UK
retail industry, ironically entitled Easy to say, difficult to do, identified the
analytical muddle faced by line-managers with responsibility for equality and
diversity. Different understandings of the rationale for and the way in which policies
should be approached, led to significant problems in implementation. Similarly,
Nentwich's (2006) study finds EO officers in Switzerland using confusing and
contradictory rationales for policy interventions. Qualitative findings from a UK study
across a number of industrial sectors uncover real confusion amongst equality and
diversity practitioners about what the terms mean and what organizational policies are
actually striving to achieve (Kirton et al., 2006a).
The issue is that conceptual confusion can lead to policy confusion. Kirton and
Greene (2005: 214) outline a summary of mainstream policy in the UK and find a
mixture of sameness and difference approaches. This means the overall policy aim is
not always clear: it may be to ensure people are treated equally, achieve equality of
outcome, or recognise and value people's difference? For example, the difficulties of
coming up with policy that responds to employees needs and desires to be treated
differently and the same as each other simultaneously (for example to be treated the
same during recruitment and selection, but having different needs as a parent
requiring flexible working also recognised) (Foster and Harris, 2005: 12). This relates
directly to what Liff and Wajcman (1996) call mobile subjectivities, where people
have both multiple differences and similarities. Similarly, Liff (1999: 73) provides a
good illustration of this, looking at policies at BT, where she highlights the difficulties
of having policy frameworks which simultaneously aim to ignore and respond to
differences, because there is little understanding of the basis for deciding when it is
appropriate to recognise differences and when to ignore them.
Critics of EO (for example Kandola and Fullerton 1998) argue that an individualised
diversity approach that embraces all differences has the advantage of avoiding
backlash, resistance and hostility from majority groups (white men). However,
linking to the previous section it is questionable whether an individualised business
case for diversity can be made effectively and whether effective policies can be
devised around individual differences. How are managers, to whom diversity policy
implementation is devolved, expected to respond to a myriad of individual
differences, especially given the range of possibilities? Woodhams and Danieli (2000)
clearly illustrate the difficulty of the business case for diversity in the case of disabled
employees. The exact nature of impairment, and the extent to which it is disabling, is
particular to each person, and thus disability is perhaps the dimension of diversity
where individual differences are most salient. Woodhams and Danieli argue that it
would be hard to justify diversity policies in purely business case terms because of

this level of individuality, which would inevitably lead to increased costs. Therefore
the argument follows that disability equality policy has to have some underpinning
collective group focus imperative (probably supported by law). Woodhams and
Danieli's analysis is important in touching on the inherent contradiction within the
rhetoric of diversity. This is that the business case for recognising diversity is
prioritised; however if the approach is conceptualised solely as concerned with
individual differences, identified and dealt with on an individual basis, then it
becomes very difficult to make a viable business case.


Another preoccupation in academic and practitioner research involves the debate over
whether organisations should take a best practice or best fit approach to HRM. There
is a plethora of academic writing extolling the virtues of both approaches, and a large
number of models and typologies (see Boxall and Purcell, 2000 for a useful
international review). As is often the case in such polarised debates, a common
pathway through is to establish a preference for a middle ground, so for example
Boxall and Purcell (2000: 193) talk of unique fit and exclusive practice so that best
practices are situated appropriately in context. A similar situation has evolved within
the literature on diversity and the business case. First, rather than seeing diversity as
an alternative to equality, a commonly cited position is to ensure that social group
based approaches underpin any diversity intervention (Liff, 1999; Kaler, 2001; Miller,
1996) so that diversity management is more of a shift, rather than a departure from
EO or AA policies, not least because laws and regulations impose certain
requirements on employers (Kirton, forthcoming).
Second, if there is to be a focus on the business case, then better to have a business
case specific to the particular organisational context. As Kirton (forthcoming) points
out, the most common position taken by organisations is to put forward very generic,
best practice business case arguments. This is despite the fact that the dominant view
in mainstream HRM writing is that the focus should be on best fit. There are now a
number of writers who highlight the importance of contextualised approaches to
diversity management (Janssens and Zanoni, 2005; Benschop, 2001; Kamenou and
Fearfull, 2006; Dass and Parker, 1999). Those practitioners responsible for equality
and diversity issues within organisations need to be aware of how the wider political,
legal and economic context affects policy, so that different kinds of difference are
likely to have greater salience in some places and certain moments (Prasad et al.,
2006: 3). So, for example, implementing individualised policies in the UK, where
there is a strong legal framework based around social groups, becomes extremely
difficult (Foster and Harris, 2005; Lorbiecki and Jack, 2000: S28). Linehan and
Hanappi-Egger (2005) identify the different concerns and targets for policy between
different EU countries. In addition, diversity policies should be tailored to the specific
organisational context. Thus Dass and Parker (1999) claim that an organisation's
diversity approach will depend on the degree of pressure for diversity action, the types
of diversity in question and managerial attitudes to diversity. Janssens and Zanoni
(2005) identify the role of the customer and profile of customer service as a key
determinant on the types of diversity policy and approach that are implemented.

That the approach and policy should be tailored to the specific organisational context
seems a very common sense notion which for practitioners should lead to a more
contextually informed and organisationally realistic view of diversity management
than is all too often suggested by the equality literature (Foster and Harris, 2005: 14).
However, it is worthwhile adding a note of caution. Indeed, linking to the discussion
above about the contingent nature of the business case, it is clear that the specific
organisational context may also be a convenient way of not dealing with diversity
issues. For example, Dass and Parker (1999) provide a typology of four perspectives
and four responses to diversity that one could imagine would be very attractive to
practitioners struggling with implementing effective diversity practices. However,
beyond its function as a descriptive typology of ideal types, Dass and Parker
specifically state that their typology can be used by practitioners to examine their
internal and external environments to adopt an approach to implementation that
matches their particular context suggest[ing] opportunities for achieving fit, but
also an argument for purposefully choosing an approach to managing diversity (1999:
78). While at the one extreme this offers practitioners the choice to adopt a
proactive, long term transformative approach to diversity (their Learning
Perspective'), the problem is that at the other end of the spectrumis the Resistance
Perspective where diversity is viewed as a threat and where unfair discriminatory
practice appears to be an approach that is seen to fit with a particular type of
organisational context.


Part of the academic critique of HRM also relates to the ways in which HRM
structures and practices can themselves be detrimental to the progress of equality and
diversity within organisations. With regard to action on gender, Dickens (1998a) looks
at a number of key features of HRM (for example commitment, flexibility,
selection appraisal and reward') and asserts that the soft' model of HRM may
actually be more problematic for women and gender equality than is generally
acknowledged. Thus, she argues that the concept of commitment is itself gendered,
whilst the requirement within flexibility for numerically and functionally flexible
employees may actually reinforce the disadvantage faced by women. Kirton and
Greene (2005: chapter 9) extend Dickens analysis to other aspects of the HRM model
and to other aspects of social group disadvantage. Koene and Van Riemsdijk (2005)
support Dickens findings with regard to the treatment of non standard employees in
their study of temporary employees in the Netherlands. They highlight the way in
which mainstream literature on strategic HRM calls for managers to distinguish
between different types of employee in a way which leads to the detrimental treatment
of those on temporary employment contracts. Also in the Netherlands, Benschop's
(2001) study identifies the way in which HRM strategies and activities mediate the
performance effects of diversity, where a very traditional HRM approach means that
any potential beneficial effects of diversity were missed out on. Overall, Dickens
states: those in organisations with a commitment to equality need to develop a
sensitivity to the way in which apparently gender neutral HRM techniques may
contribute to the gendering process (1998a: 35).

Overall, given the difficulties in actually managing diversity in practice, it is not so

surprising that in most cases there is a large gap between the rhetoric of diversity
policy (individualised, valuing differences, transformative approach) and diversity
practices which in reality tend to have more continuity with traditional EO approaches
(Kossek et al., 2006). A recent CIPD report is a case in point. While the literature
review preceding the report states legislation is not the main driver for diversity
(CIPD: 2005: 4), the findings indicate the opposite, indeed 68% of respondents put
legislative pressure in the top five drivers for diversity action, with 32% stating it as
the most important (CIPD, 2007). Given the difficulty of generating policy based
around individual differences, it is perhaps to be expected that diversity policies are
usually targeted at social groups, namely women, black and minority ethnic people,
disabled people (CIPD, 2007: 9) much as EO policies were, even if claims are made
that they include everyone (Litvin, 1997). In this case, regarding the question of what
diversity means for HRM, it is tempting to answer that it means very little in practice,
except for increased confusion for practitioners.


The quote from Dickens above leads us to another key area to consider in terms of
what diversity means for HRM namely who is or should be responsible for diversity
within an organisation. Does the diversity approach mean anything different for
practitioners in this area? Within mainstream HRM literature, there are two associated
developments that are relevant. First, that HRM should play a much more strategic
role in organisations and that there should be devolution of responsibility for HRM
beyond the HR function.
Looking at the first, the level to which HRM is integrated within business strategy
(Guest, 1987) is one of the key aspects of difference that is identified between HRM
and personnel management that people management issues are brought into the
remit of strategic decision making (Hoque and Noon, 2001: 7). However, the
effectiveness of integration depends on the role of the human resource function within
the organisation, which often does not hold a powerful position in comparison, for
example, to marketing, production, finance or sales (Cattaneo et al., 1994).
Paradoxically, longitudinal evidence from the UK continues to show a decline in the
presence of those with human resources responsibilities on company boards of
directors (Kersley et al., 2005; Cully et al., 1999). Additionally, nearly one third of
workplaces in the UK had no strategic plan at all in the human resources area (ibid:
Add diversity into the mix and it seems that it often plays even less of an important
role than other aspects of HRM. Gooch and Ledwith (1996) provide a detailed
analysis of the way in which equality issues become constrained and controlled when
they are anchored within the powerless personnel or HR function. Evidence from
research in the UK finds that EO/diversity practitioners are most often at middle
management level, only 18% were contracted to work full time on equality and
diversity issues, very few organisations have specialist diversity or EO functions and
70% of respondent organisations did not have adesignated budget for equality and
diversity issues (CIPD, 2007). Given that the people who have to develop and

implement policy have such limited access to legitimacy, resources, and power, then it
is perhaps not so surprising that highly successful policies are not necessarily
forthcoming. If resources are so limited in contexts like the UK, where diversity is
seen to have such a central role (at least in rhetoric), the situation may be worse
elsewhere. For example, Zanko's (2003) study of HRM in 21 countries in the AsiaPacific region appeared to find that employers in only four countries (Taipei, Korea,
Chile and Canada) mentioned diversity matters in their list of most important HRM
Furthermore, diversity policies can not stand alone but must be supported within the
wider HRM portfolio. This has links to the need for horizontal integration of HRM,
ensuring that the human resources policies form a coherent entity, for example that
payment systems and work organisations complement each other. Hoque and Noon's
(2003) analysis of UK data finds that while most companies have formal equality
policies in place, these tend to be empty shells, with only 50% of workplaces
adopting any back-up support policies, and 16% having no support policies at all.
This is seen as crucial to effective equality outcomes and, in line with the HRM
rhetoric, policies would need to be part of an integrated and coherent system. Kossek
et al.'s (2003) research endorses the need for horizontally integrated support policies
for diversity initiatives. In their study in the US, they found that the aim of increasing
workforce diversity through hiring policy could have negative consequences for
group/team cohesion, and could lead to detriment for the minority groups recruited
(whether this be women, black and minority ethnic workers, disabled workers, etc.) if
the hiring policy is not supported by additional HR policies. Such policies would need
to ensure that sufficient numbers of minority individuals were recruited to avoid
their isolation and that they were provided with the resources (training, functional,
information) to allow them to enter work groups on an equal footing.
The second relevant development in HRM is the view that people management issues
should not be the exclusive concern of the HR function. The idea here is that the
human resource function should devolve HR responsibilities and activities, such that
line-managers are directly empowered to take responsibility for managing people (see
summary in Cornelius et al., 2001). A similar argument is made for equality and
diversity policies (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998) so that the primary diversity
constituency in organisations becomes line-managers (Kirton and Greene, 2006). This
can be linked directly to the business case rationale, where it is felt that diversity will
become more embedded in everyday organisational practices if it is taken up by those
directly involved at the front line of the business.
However, devolution to the line is neither easy nor necessarily advantageous from a
diversity point of view. Implicit within the strategic integration or mainstreaming of
human resources issues within HRM is the idea that HR/personnel specialists should
give away some of their power and responsibility as professionals to other
management functions (Gooch and Blackburn, 2002; Cornelius et al., 2001).
Guest (1987: 519) discusses the difficulty that line-managers have in accepting such
an abdication of responsibility. Gooch and Blackburn (2002: 145) summarise research
suggesting that line-managers are selective about which aspects of human resource
management they choose to be involved with and indeed tend to choose those that
involve the setting of short-term business targets (Leach, 1995). A short-term

approach is unlikely to do much to advance the equality and diversity project. Foster
and Harris (2005) clearly indicate how line-managers in their study saw the
implementation of diversity initiatives as unattractive when faced with the monitoring
of their own performance against operational targets that usually do not include
diversity dimensions. Indeed, a recent CIPD report finds that diversity as a
performance criteria is only used in 19% of organisations, and is only included in the
performance appraisals of managers in 16% of organisations (CIPD, 2006). Dickens
(1998a) alerts us to the fact that devolution to line-managers is not necessarily good
news where equality and diversity issues are concerned, not only because of the
context in which they operate, but also because it represents a shift away from
expertise in equality issues within organisations. Thus, despite the rhetoric, equality
and diversity issues remain firmly established within the realms of the HR function.
Within the devolution debate it is also argued that responsibility for implementation of
diversity policy should move beyond line-management to everyone in the
organisation. Kirton et al. (2006) in the UK found that the majority of diversity
practitioners believed that leadership of equality and diversity issues had to come
from all levels of the organisation. Lack of wider buy-in and ingrained negative
attitudes from non-managerial employees were seen as serious barriers to valuing
diversity. Despite a widespread rhetorical commitment to wider involvement, in
practice only a very small group of organisations had integrated, multi-channel forms
of communication and consultation that genuinely seemed to proactively engage
employees in the diversity agenda. Most non-managerial employees had little idea
about what policies existed, and importantly, did not understand the rationale for these
policies or how they were supposed to be involved. Similar findings emerged from a
study of 200 companies in four EU countries (EC, 2003) where this awareness gap
(p. 7) was identified as a major obstacle limiting the scale of investment in diversity,
largely because it led to a fear of change. A report by the CIPD (2007) found that
just over one third of organizations do not involve employees in the design and
implementation of their diversity policies and practices. As discussed in Konrad et al.
(forthcoming), a problem with diversity policy and implementation is the limited
extent of stakeholder involvement. In contrast, evidence from Sweden (Dehrenz et al.,
2002), and the Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand (Rasmussen et al., 2004)
illustrates the strength and positive outcomes that arise out of policies that are
negotiated with wider stakeholders such as trade unions. This suggests that if
organisations genuinely want all organisational members to own diversity policy,
then they need to open up channels of consultation and communication at an early
stage in the development of initiatives.

This chapter aimed to consider the question of what diversity means for HRM, in
particular tracing moves in thought from sameness to difference approaches. The
discussion has identified a large rhetoric/reality gap in that while key tenets of a
diversity approach encourage policy based around individual differences, sharing of
responsibility amongst a wider group of stakeholders and directly linking diversity to
organizational outcomes, the reality is that much policy still looks very much the
same as it did under EO approaches. Policy still seems to be based around the key
social groups facing disadvantage, whilst legal compliance still seems to be a major
motivator for action in this area. In addition, policy development and implementation

still seems firmly situated within the HR function, where the status and resources
available to equality and diversity still appear to be extremely limited.
Moreover, while there is no doubt that diversity has significant theoretical advantages
over EO, moves to diversity approaches seem to have made policy and practice in this
area significantly more complicated. The foregoing discussion has highlighted the
conceptual confusion experienced by practitioners, both with regard to what diversity
means and the difficulty of making policy based around individual differences or in
demonstrating the business case.
The polarisation of the academic debate about EO and DM, often couched in
either/or terms, is not particularly helpful for practitioners struggling to develop and
implement policy. In thinking about ways that academics and practitioners might
move forward, it might be better to look at ways that the two approaches can be better
integrated. Part of this is raising awareness and understanding exercise. Reflecting on
the conceptual confusion, Foster and Harris state that conducting an audit that
includes all parties in the employment relationship, and addresses basic questions as
where are we now?, where do we want to be?, and what do we need to do get
there, is a useful starting point for employers seeking to develop appropriate and
achievable diversity practices (2006: 14).
This exercise would be useful for both academics trying to understand how diversity
is understood in organisations (but would require sufficiently qualitative research
designs) and for practitioners trying to work out what approaches and policies might
be most appropriate.
Ensuring that the widest group of organisational stakeholders (importantly including
non managerial employees) is informed and involved in the development and
implementation of equality and diversity policies is also a priority that must be
addressed. With regard to academic research that has the potential to be most useful to
practitioners, it is therefore important that research designs involve methodologies
that include the widest variety of organisational stakeholders, particularly employees
and their representatives. For HR practitioners, Dickens (1997), for example, suggests
that collective equality bargaining by trade unions could underpin and generalise
employers diversity initiatives, while the law could generalise and underpin both of
these. It is important that in taking up some of the diversity approaches, the support
and protection offered by legislation and formalised procedures are not lost and are
still fought for. Diversity approaches potentially offer appropriate and much needed
challenges to organisational cultures, but doubtless need to be underpinned by more
EO policies and legislative protection.

Entry Citation:
Greene, Anne-Marie. "HRM and Equal Opportunities." The SAGE Handbook of
Human Resource Management. 2009. SAGE Publications. 15 Apr. 2010.
Chapter DOI: 10.4135/978-1-8570-2149-3.n14