Monday, November 11, 2013 at 12am

Diversity in the Workplace and the Role of Business Schools

Diversity in the Workplace and the Role of Business Schools main image

ESMT student Tauseef Afzal discusses how diversity in the workplace contributes to business success and enhances corporate image.

Diversity in the workplace, the inclusion of employees from various ethnic and social backgrounds without prejudice to their gender, race, ethnicity, age, personality, education, sexual orientation, social class and background, is one of the biggest buzz phrases in today’s corporate environment.

Many organizations take pride in describing themselves as ‘equal opportunity’ and take initiatives to promote the inclusion of women and people from different backgrounds and minority groups into their workforce. In some countries, there is equal opportunity legislation in place to encourage organizations to do this while in some cases, organizations do it voluntarily and proactively as part of their corporate vision or to serve their public image.

Today’s globalizing economy in which the number of significant international players continues to grow is facing significant social, economical and cultural challenges; therefore genuine diversity is not only a ‘nice to have’ but a key factor in order to achieve long-term success.

Reasons for fostering diversity in the workplace range from an adaption to the new reality of globalizing workforce and the scarcity of employees truly qualified to face this new paradigm to doing the right moral and ethical thing (not forgetting the resultant opportunity for a PR campaign).

Many organizations are looking for tangible benefits. These may sometimes be hard to identify, but nevertheless it is widely accepted that diversity can give an organization a competitive edge and provide the following benefits:

1. Different viewpoints enhance creativity

In an army, soldiers are not expected to have different point of views. However, at organization in today’s corporate environment, it is important to create an atmosphere in which employees from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable communicating differing points of views. A larger pool of experiences and ideas will help to drive innovation and creativity, and ensure a more balanced perspective and a 360 degree view on issues.

2. Increased adaptability to customer requirements

Globalization, the increased pace of innovation and the unprecedented number of choices available to the modern consumer and corporation have resulted in fluctuating markets. Organizations must take into account the shifting expectations of a diverse pool of customers, who themselves belong to different age, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social groups. In order to meet these expectations, an organization must have a workforce made up of people who are capable of placing themselves in the customer’s shoes. The only way to do this is to ensure that the diversity of the customer pool is matched within the company. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring diverse experiences and individual talents which can help the organization broaden its product and service.

3. A diverse environment can improve efficiency and task execution

Organizations which can boast diversity in the workplace benefit from the wide pool of capabilities that its employees will no doubt have. This can help encourage creative and innovative solutions to problems and can also help in improving efficiency and task execution, thus simply and quickly enhancing productivity and profitability.

4. Corporate image building and marketing

Diverse organizations have a vibrant and progressive corporate image, a considerable asset when it comes to marketing campaigns…and attracting more diverse talent.

5. Compliance to equal opportunity policies

Some countries have laws outlining equal opportunity policies that require a certain distribution of genders and cultures in the workforce. Adherence to these will obviously save any unnecessary legal costs, as well as enhancing reputation.

6. Spillover effects

Any organization that nourishes diversity in the workplace will benefit society, helping it become much more tolerant and accepting of differing point of views, thus increasing harmony.

Diversity in the workplace improves corporate culture

Organizations in general and HR departments in particular can improve their corporate culture by promoting diversity in the workplace in a way that ensures that the benefits of this approach are clearly visible, both internally and externally.

Quota systems simply for the sake of diversity are not generally viewed favorably. HR departments need to formulate their hiring policies in such a way that they are promoting diversity based on merit. They also need to make sure that these policies are introduced in a way that sees them welcomed by existing employees. Moreover, continuous support from the top ranks of the organization is required to ensure that an understanding of the benefits proliferates throughout the organization.

Sometimes diversity initiatives are criticized for only focus on increasing diversity at the lower ranks in an organization. This is where business schools, because of their capability to produce managers and leaders can play an important role, as MBA graduates mostly end up at higher ranks in the corporate environment. If business schools can encourage diversity in their admission and academic process, this will have a knock-on effect on corporate culture.

Business school diversity promotes diversity in the workplace

I’ve been lucky to be pursuing my MBA at ESMT (European School of Management and Technology), which takes pride in being international and diverse. The fact that my class of 53 students contains 26 nationalities and is 40% female has enhanced my learning experience (see above if you want the proof!). Interacting with people from different countries has helped me understand the professional and social culture of these countries as well as affording insights on developing sound relations with people from different backgrounds. With the still increasing globalization of the corporate world, this learning experience can prove to be extremely useful. Thus, all MBA schools should try to make the MBA experience as international and diverse as possible, as this, in itself is a very important educational tool.

About Tauseef Afzal

Tauseef Afzal has 8+ years experience working with multinational companies in technical sales, marketing, business development and strategy consulting in the Telecom and IT industry. He did his MS in Communications Engineering at TU Munich, Germany and is pursuing his full-time MBA at ESMT (European School of Management and Technology) Berlin on a Kofi Annan Business Foundation scholarship.

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