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