On holiday in New York, first night go for a drink in the hotel
bar with my son in law. The bar is crowed, we eventually catch the
attention of the bartender and I order two drinks where apron the
bartender asks my son in law how old he is. My son in law is rather
surprised by the question he is in his late thirties. His polite reply
is greeted by a terse, “ You don’t look it” and a refusal to serve
him. This is the same bartender I have just watched serve two young
girls who were clearly too young. The difference they were white my
son in law is mixed race.
Any one standing near the staff entrance to this hotel would have
seen that the hotel employees a lot of black staff, mostly as cleaners
and kitchen porters but also on reception but not on the bar that night.
What must it feel like to work in a place where some of your
colleagues are racist? Would you be reassured by the fact that your
boss employs black staff? Would you be persuaded that recruiting a
diverse workforce would ensure racism was not present or at least not
tolerated? And if you witnessed racism like that practise by that
bartender how would you feel about management’s often stated
commitment to Equality and Diversity?
Whether it’s race, gender, sexuality, disability or faith the
more we state that diversity is a good thing the greater the
expectation of staff that managers will creat a safe, fair, prejudice
free work place.
We have acted as if the challenge was to have a workforce that
reflected the diversity within society and the communities we serves.
That success could be measured in numbers,the proportion of staff that
were black, gay, Muslims. That if only we could get more women and
black staff into senior management posts we would have cracked it. We
have given insufficient thought as to how to manage the challenge of a
newly empowered diverse workforce or least one that has raised
expectations. We have seen in the USA that having a black chief
executive, a black city mayor even a black president does not do away
with prejudice in society or in the workforce.
Having a diverse workforce does not init’s self creat confidence
within the community the organisation serves. Likewise having a
diverse workforce does not mean your staff believe that the
organisation is really committed to Equality and Diversity or that
your managers are equipped to manage a diverse workforce.
The qualities necessary to be an effective manager of a diverse
workforce are the same as those that make an effective manager, namely
being approachable, not dismissing individuals concerns as over
reactions or being over sensitive, being willing to challenge
inappropriate behaviour, being non judgemental, avoiding making
assumptions about individuals, being supportive, getting to know those
you manage as individuals with a life outside of work, developing an
insight into how your own behaviour as a manager impacts on those you
manage, keeping a open mind, demonstrating empathy and being willing
to acknowledge that other people’s experiences both inside and outside
of work may be very different to your own.
Most managers need help to achieve this level of effectiveness,
to understand how their behaviour effects those they manage and to
adjust it accordingly. The organisation can provide this through
mentoring and coaching. Observing a manager in action and providing
feedback has been shown to be very effective in changing how a manager
behaves yet this type of development opportunity is all to often only
offer to senior management. Management training budgets have been
early casualties of austerity but if organisations want managers to be
effective in managing a diverse workforce then they need to invest in
supporting and developing front line and middle management.
Blair McPherson former director , and author of An Elephant in
the Room published by www.russellhouse.co.uk