The Importance of Individuality and Diversity

Renowned business author and IAM member for over 40 years, Laurie Mullins, looks at the importance of individuality and diversity from an administrative manager’s perspective. 

Organisations are made up of their individual members whether acting in isolation or as part of a group. The work of the administrative manager is likely to entail close working relationships with a broad range of individuals each with their own perceptions, feelings and attitudes. Individual differences can foster creativity, enjoyment and satisfaction at work but can also be the potential for conflict and frustration. 

Effective management of people requires not only an understanding of individual employees but also recognition of the culture and climate of the organisation. Managing relationships at work has always been a key skill, but increasing expectations of the organisation and influences of the external environment place growing pressure on individuals at work. Sensitivity to individual needs and differences, especially in terms of their resilience, becomes particularly significant when organisations embark on major change initiatives such as that experienced recently by IAM. 

Diversity in the workplace

People are not homogeneous: there is a multiplicity of differences. As organisations become increasingly global it is even more important for administrative managers to have a sound understanding of diverse countries and work forces. A joint report from the CBI and TUC, supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, suggests that promoting diversity in the workplace and employing people solely on the basis of their ability can bring many real business benefits. The report also makes clear that diversity can be improved through positive action – such as encouraging applications from types of people who have not in the past applied for jobs, additional training, providing support networks or adapting work practices – but not positive discrimination. 

More than ever, organisational performance demands an understanding of, and response to, individual differences and diversity. Our unique characteristics and attributes shape our values and what we give and expect to receive from working. This necessitates a work climate that respects individual differences and treats all members of staff with dignity and mutual respect. However, valuing differences is easier said than done. It means relating to and working with people who may hold different perspectives, aspirations, customs and traditions and who bring different qualities to the workplace. Such differences are challenging: they question the manager’s ability to see things from an alternative frame of reference. 

Diversity management & training

More than ever, effective organisational performance demands and understanding of, and response to, diversity. This necessitates a work climate that respects individual differences and treats all members of staff with dignity and mutual respect. Effective management of diversity will also entail a review of organisational processes and the execution of work. Diversity training should include: 

  • increasing awareness of the meaning, nature and scope of diversity
  • education in understanding the culture and values of individual members of a workforce 
  • addressing biases, prejudices and stereotypes 
  • effective communication with all members of staff – and also customers and suppliers 
  • recognition of the added benefits from a diverse and fully inclusive workforce. 

Diversity training will not be effective unless there is active support from the top and it is recognised as a company-wide initiative that is part of the core value of the organisation whether in the private or public sector.

Laurie Mullins is author “management and organisational behaviour”, Eleventh edition, Pearson Education (2016) 

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