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Measuring diversity Part 1: get the definition right and it is easy to measure!

The topic for this month's lead article comes from a proposal I was asked to submit to a prospective client to audit an aspect of their diversity "programme". The usual initial contact discussions and 'toing and froing' of emails and telephone messages revealed that the client was not 100% clear about what was to be measured and audited. Diversity it turns out is a very slippery concept.

The Employment Equity Act (EEA) stipulates that diversity will become the norm for organisations and that training will be provided as part of implementing the EE Act. However, the Act is very short on defining the scope of what diversity encompasses. Where it does attempt to operationalise the meaning of the term, it tends to take on a very one-sided human relations/touchy feely definition that revolves around skin colour, rituals and values, and issues of accommodating disabilities. This model of human resources is based on the belief in the following 'formula': understand/insight (U) +communications/dialogue(C) = diversity taking root over time. Were business and work life only that simple and easy!

Part 1 of this article seeks to provide an understanding of the dimensions and realities of diversity. The point this article tries to make is that embracing and capitalising on diversity goes far beyond equitable employment practices, and affirmative action measures. Part 2 builds on the ideas and explanations provided in part 1. Some useful audit and measurement tools and approaches are described in the second article.

So, what is diversity?

As fingerprints show us, each human being is unique, providing the world with infinite diversity. However, some differences are more important than others in the effects they have on an individuals’ opportunities in the world. The major dimensions of diversity fall into two categories—primary and secondary.

Primary Dimensions of Diversity:

• Age

• Ethnicity/colour/race

• Gender

• Physical ability

• Sexual orientation

Secondary Dimensions of Diversity:

• Geographic location (where you were born/currently live)

• Income

• Parental status

• Marital status

• Political affiliations and beliefs

• Religious beliefs

• Work experience

Primary factors are unalterable and extremely powerful in their effects (on people's perceptions of one another in the work place). The bulk of the EEA is devoted to forcing companies to create a work force profile that closely represents the demographics (primary dimensions) realities of South Africa. However, this alone does not lead to an organisational climate that embraces diversity as a strategic asset (compared to a legal/political imperative).

Secondary dimensions are significant in shaping us, but they are to some extent shapable in return, because we have some measure of control over them. Research has shown that the nine most important things noticed about people in most societies, in order of importance, are the following:

• Skin colour

• Gender

• Age

• Appearance/style of dress

• Facial expression/accent/

• Eye contact

• Movement/mannerisms

• Personal space

• Touch

Upon encountering one another, we notice, make assessments, and make decisions about how to interact with one another based on these nine factors. The first three items on the list - skin colour, gender, and age - fall into the primary dimensions of diversity.

These items are virtually unalterable and extremely powerful in 'determining' our life situation - from where we live and work, to whom we socialise with at work, to how much we earn. Plenty of research evidence exists that shows how these differences crop up in the various human resource practices used in business life: such as higher appraisal ratings on average go to men, and that black women can bank on a slower promotion and – career path than say a coloured woman, in different geographic areas of this country.

The last six on the list are all culturally influenced. And this is where things become complex for organisations, and for the people in business life who are tasked with bringing about a cultural transformation that will largely determine whether a company has the internal capability to embrace diversity as a strategic business asset (and cope with the legal/political demands for diversity and transformation).

The obvious or surface level of culture, such as whether we give a handshake or a hug, a direct stare or lowered eyes, is determined by the culture we were raised in, and the primary and secondary dimensions of diversity.

Most diversity work (read that as training) undertaken by many human resource professionals tends to gravitate towards this surface level of change as described by the U+C formula. However, culture in business is also created and embedded by a far more powerful method.

Business culture emerges over time from the interaction between a company's current management and leadership practices, and from the people management and control systems used by managers and leaders in the course of steering the business in a specific direction to achieve its mission through its chosen business strategy. This leads to the very powerful and invisible force called organisational culture.

Examples of organisational culture are: people soon get to know what the (cultural) rules of the game are for getting ahead in their company, or how far you can 'push' managers before getting a 'black' mark allocated to your invisible scorecard that determines whether you are selected onto important project teams and so on.

All companies have an invisible cultural code (totally independent of diversity and transformation issues) called the 'right' and the 'wrong' way to do things around here. Combine this force/dynamic with the primary and secondary dimensions of diversity and you have a very powerful force to reckon with when it comes to encouraging people to value diversity, let alone embrace it for strategic advantage.

Now to come back to the theme of this article: diversity - get the definition right and it is easy to measure!

If you are tasked with the job of auditing the impact of a single diversity intervention, or your company's overall diversity strategy remember to gather as many direct and indirect measures about these issues to draw meaningful conclusions about diversity as an indicator of whether your company's culture is helping or hindering the creation of the right conditions for diversity to take root in the organisation.

In conclusion. The central issue in dealing with diversity has little to do with language, social culture, or other differences; rather, it is about power sharing. And power sharing is an business culture and business politics issue. Giving every group a stake in the company a "piece of the action," is at the heart of the most significant challenge that diversity presents. Becoming open to differences and creating an inclusive environment means that new groups will need to be let into positions of decision-making and influence. It is rare in human nature to find examples of those in power who willingly share it. Managing diversity in a meaningful way demands that business deals with this fundamental strategic issue, over and above paying attention to affirmative action and equitable employment practices.

2. Measuring diversity Part 2: some useful tools to use to measure diversity

In the context of article 1, the following listings provide an overview of the range of tools (questionnaires, checklists, interview guides, and focus group discussions that can be used to measure the various dimensions of diversity. These tools are available from us on request.

# THE 30 ITEM 'MANAGING DIVERSITY' QUESTIONNAIRE helps you assess (overall) how effective the organisation is at managing and capitalising on diversity? In assessing your company's overall management of diversity, three areas need to be investigated:

• Individual attitudes and beliefs about diversity i.e. how open employees are to different cultural groups, and how comfortable staff is with cultural change;

• Organisational values and norms that impact the management of diversity i.e. how do the human resource and organisational practices encourage or discourage diversity;

• Management practices and policies that help or hinder the process of becoming a multicultural (as opposed to being a mono-culture) business i.e. how do managers use such organisational systems such as accountability, reward, and decision-making to capitalise on diversity.

The groups to measure differences for are:

• men vs. women (overall)

• black vs. white (overall)

• black management vs. white management

• male management vs. female management

When all four levels of organisational functioning work in concert, diversity is effectively managed as a company asset (as opposed to a legal/compliance requirement).

# THE 16 ITEM 'SYMPTOMS OF DIVERSITY-RELATED PROBLEMS: INTERNAL

CHECKLIST is a 'yes', 'no' checklist used to pinpoint the company's problem areas related to diversity. This checklist can be used to decide whether diversity does present problems and, if so what the obstacles are. If problems are uncovered, more investigation and assessment is needed to answer the following questions:

• How widespread is the problem;

• Which groups are most affected;

• Is the problem one of individual attitudes, organisational norms, and values, or managerial practices

• How will these problems be addressed

# THE 12 ITEM 'STAGES OF DIVERSITY SURVEY: AN ORGANISATIONAL REPORT CARD' is a measure of the stage of diversity the business finds itself in. This index provides an idea of whether the company is mono-culture, non-discriminatory, or multicultural.

This questionnaire can be combined with the first questionnaire (above) to creates an Organisation Development (OD) index that can be used to provide a Board Level/High Level overview of macro/overall diversity shifts in the company over time.

# THE 20 ITEM 'DIVERSITY OPIONAIRE' is a measure of the opinions people hold about the pro's and con's of becoming a diversity driven company.

Self-report questionnaires are not always the most reliable measure of diversity related -issues as most people are 'test wise' and give socially acceptable answers. However, there is value in asking these important questions as they sensitise people to the issues that top management appear to find important. The major value of using an opinionaire is to discoverbetween-group differences that are possibly helping or hindering progress towards becoming a diversity savvy organisation. The groups to measure differences for are:

• men vs. women (overall)

• black vs. white (overall)

• black management vs. white management

# THE 30 ITEM 'STAFF DIVERSITY NEEDS ANALYSIS' QUESTIONNAIRE helps to

pinpoint whether staff have an appropriate level of awareness, knowledge, and skill to support the company achieve it's diversity goals. This questionnaire acts as a training needs analysis questionnaire.

The groups to measure differences for are:

• men vs. women (overall)

• black vs. white (overall)

• black management vs. white management

• male management vs. female management

# THE 30 ITEM 'MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT DIVERSITY NEEDS ANALYSIS'

QUESTIONNAIRE pinpoints the same issues as the above from a managers perspective. This questionnaire acts as a management training needs analysis questionnaire.

# THE 20 ITEM 'OBSERVATION CHECKLIST FOR ASSESSING MORALE AND WORK-GROUP COHESIVENESS' is a 'yes', 'no' checklist used to pinpoint themorale and cohesion problems within each work unit/SBU/division. An overall Index that can be used to provide a Board Level/High Level overview of staff and management well-being over time. Morale and cohesion are strong indicators of organisation wellness (illness) and can be used as an early warning indicator of resistance to change and management burnout.

This checklist can be used on it's own, or aspects can be incorporated into an overall diversity survey as part of an overall stock-take.

# FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSIONS WITH EQUITY AND DIVERSITY BENEFICIARY GROUPS

Employees are often willing to be more forthcoming with information about the topics described above. The value of adding focus groups to an audit is that the issues uncovered with any of the questionnaires and checklists can be explored to find out the reasons (the why) behind an issue. The focus group discussions can also be turned into 'Action Research' teams that work on solutions and recommendations, and become a nucleus of change agents that are mandated to bring about change within their sphere of influence.

This article presented a number of options for gathering and processing information about the state of diversity in a company. Practitioners tasked with measuring diversity need to decide:

• What do you want to find out now, and over time (which aspects of diversity do you need to know about for Board Level Feedback and Reporting (macro indexes);

• which aspects of diversity do line managers need to know about as part of their day-to-day management of diversity in their own work units, and

• what do you as a staff specialist need to know to manage and monitor change?

In conclusion: when embarking on a diversity audit decide:

• what are the most useful (combination of) tools to use;

• who should co-ordinate and conduct a diversity audit for optimum results (line management? equity and skill development committee?)

• what will be done with the information? How will it be used to support line managers to further diversity in the company?

 

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