Abstract The aim of this paper is to analyze the similarities and the differences between two popular approaches in today’s human resource management: equal opportunities approach and managing diversity approach. While the managing diversity approach focuses more on business efficiency, the equal opportunities approach concentrates on equal treatment of employees in a bureaucratic sense. The paper begins with definitions of both approaches; continues with explaining differences and similarities of both approaches comparatively.
The relative superiority of the managing diversity approach for business organisations with respect to equal opportunities approach is gone through followed by a conclusive part. There have been considerable positive developments against discrimination of employees recently through legislation, while initiatives for equality and affirmative action programs were developed as well (Zafree, 2010). These steps have served to take unemployment levels and workplace discrimination of the disadvantaged groups that are discriminated due to their races, ages, religions, gender, down.
The equal opportunities approach, concentrates on equality and justice at workplaces (Zafree, 2010). The equal opportunities approach can be said to be a liberal school of thought usually supported by legally binding regulations, which influences actions and behaviours at workplace through legislation with formalised procedures and policies. Through policies applied through equal opportunities approach, employees and potential employees are able to exist and compete on equal terms with respect to race, gender, disability, religion etc.
In other words, equal opportunities approach assumes that discrimination stems from unequal treatment of individuals. It can therefore be said that, the equal opportunities approach analyses employee and employer relationships directly from viewpoint of public, state and employees; while the focus is less for employers’ situation. The main idea behind equal opportunities approach is promoting rights of all members in the society (Torrington, Hall and Taylor, 2008, p. 576) regardless of their social, cultural, religious or ethnical backgrounds.
As a result, this approach is less about the outcomes or results of working in a socially and culturally diverse environment, but on the opportunities that can prepare or lead to such an environment. From this point of view, equal opportunities approach is not directly interested in affecting employee satisfaction or product efficiency of an organisation. However, it concentrates on the equalising opportunities pertaining to positing within an organisation. There are several stereotypical characteristics in organizations that can lead to discrimination (Bekyan, 2010).
With equal opportunities strategy, human resource managers are driven with an emphasis on positive action, or creating a more balanced mix of staff, permitted under all strands of the discrimination such as ‘staff training’, ‘flexibility of dress’, ‘providing assistance with child care’ and so forth. According to Equality Act (2010), age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation are the factors that are to be protected during employment process; which are directly aimed at through equal opportunities approach.
On the other hand, managing diversity approach is a concept that was first applied in the United States in 1980s as a reply to the demographic modifications within the labour force, global competition, while it was also a reaction to the introduction of equality legislation and practices (Strachan, French & Burgess, 2009, p. 1). The managing diversity approach accepts that the workforce is composed of a diverse population, including diversity factors such as age, background, sex, disability, personality and work style (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998, p. ). Controlling and helping co-existence of these differences help creating a more productive workplace environment, where everybody would feel valued and their skills fully utilised, finally leading to achievement of organisational goals (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998, p. 8). The managing diversity approach concentrates on the positive action as the equal opportunities. This strategy goes beyond the law, focusing on the differences between people, who are considered as added value in an organization. Bartz et al. 1990) have found that the main issue of the managing diversity strategy is to understand that there could be diversities within the workforce; as well as these diversities, if correctly managed, lead to higher efficiency and effectiveness at workplace. There are examples of diversity factors such as race, culture, disability, gender, and so forth. Kandola and Fullerton (1998) have shown that within workforce there are different types of individuals with different characteristics through managing diversity approach.
The diversity consists of ‘visible’ and ‘non-visible’ differences such as gender, race, disability, etc. For every individual to feel valued, managers have to harness these diversities (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998, p. 19). However, in this way there will be dynamic and working environment, where all the different talents will be used and the goals of the company will be met. The ability to show empathy for the employers will in turn affect the workforce positively, where people are going to feel that they are not alienated.
Then, it will be much easier to increase workforce efficiency for the managers using ‘managing diversity’ approach. Managing diversity approach can be thought as a more sophisticated approach compared to the equal opportunities approach. On the other hand, it might not be right to think these approaches as completely different from each other, for managing diversity approach is probably a result of the development of equal opportunities thought of school. Nevertheless, there are some differences -rather than similarities- between the two schools of thought.
Equity legislation – pertaining to the equal opportunities approach – concentrates on the crucial issues within disadvantaged groups of individuals in the labour market. However, managing diversity approach does not recognise groups overtly, but talks predominantly about individuals. From this point of view, equal opportunities approach is externally imposed, leaning mostly on legal, legitimate and legal concepts compared to the equal opportunities approach.
As a result, application of equal opportunities approach is usually perceived as a cost for organisations (Foreman, n. d. ), which is not a directly profitable step for the organisation. On the other hand, managing diversity is usually an internally driven concept, aiming at helping the organisation realise its business goals (without legal coercion), as a result, this approach is a kind of investment to the human resources of an organisation and therefore is not considered as a financial burden.
So, given the two approaches, the managing diversity approach is more prone to be perceived as an efficient and effective methodology to enhance workforce satisfaction, which will affect productivity positively as a result. According to Strachan, French and Burgess (2009), managing diversity approach promotes individual differences, while they target practices in one company at particular groups of individuals, which is not directly the case for equal opportunities approach.
This is due to the fact that equal opportunities approach is more legally binding, taking less notice of work environment efficiency comparatively. As a result, managing diversity approach enables strategic integration among employees, focusing on outcomes (of the working activities); while equal opportunities approach is operational and concerned with the process of the work, rather than its outcomes (Foreman, n. d. ).
So, differences are problems to be solved in equal opportunities approach, where assimilation of these is promoted. However, differences are assets for organisations using managing diversity approach, for it helps boost organisation’s production goals as a result of increased employee satisfaction. It can be said that, the equal opportunities approach does fail to recognise the real value that could be lying beneath differences (and diversities), while for managing diversity approach these are precious assets for the organisations.
The main concept of managing diversity approach is the belief that organisations have to use benefits stemming from the multicultural environment. Therefore, it is in companies’ interest to recognise and satisfy the needs of the workforce. On the contrary, the framework for equal opportunities within the working environment is built on a human rights point of view, which is obligatory rather than a desired process. However, when something is an obligation, it is not easy to assume or assimilate it as a useful feature for organisations.
The main idea for equal opportunities regarding working environment is that individuals should not be discriminated, while the decisions in the institutions should not be founded upon individual characteristics. Even though issues related to human rights are universal, approaches for managing diversity differ among societies, sectors or countries depending on demographic, legal, social and economic parameters (Strachan, French and Burgess, 2009).
On the other hand, for equal opportunities approach such relativity might not be possible, for the policies and tendencies for this approach are based more on bureaucratic and legal requirements rather than business and managerial needs. Focus of action for equal opportunities school of thought is on group activities aiming at development of groups – rather than individuals – within the workforce; which are usually legally required (Foreman, n. d. ). This can be a bit problematic, for ignoring individuality can lead some other problems within an organisation.
On the other hand, managing diversity approach leans on universal initiatives focusing on the development of all individuals in theory. In addition, Strachan, French and Burgess (2009) have found that equal opportunities approach recognizes discrimination of people in a society, which happened in the past and is still continuing, implying a narrow view of positivist knowledge base. This could be discouraging to establish empathy among members of that society or the members of the workforce under focus.
Equal opportunities approach looks for abolition of the discrimination as well as for protection for weak groups subject to discrimination. However, this can also lead to some subjective and biased policies for member of not weak groups as well. In contrast, managing diversity is not concentrated on historical and ongoing discrimination in the organisations or in the society, implying a wider and pluralist knowledge base comparatively (Foreman, n. d. ).
Organisations that pursue managing diversity approach are able to synthesise equity principles with pragmatism, turning the requirements imposed by equal opportunities approach into an advantage – rather than a bureaucratic burden – for the organisation (Humphries and Grice, 1995). This is a positive feature, for both employees and employers will feel less burden stemming from bureaucracy, because with the managing diversity approach they will be making steps to improve the business and themselves, while this will not probably be the case for equal opportunities approach.
While equal opportunities approach aims at forcing organisations to exert policies against discrimination, organisations that apply managing diversity approach are aware that they can get further benefits by extending the conditions required by equal opportunities approach, and increasing both employee satisfaction and product efficiency of the organisation. So, forcing organisations will only result in more submission. However, this will not affect workforce peace and efficiency as desired.
This is due to the fact that it will then be something that is imposed by legal institutions, rather than an outcome of a mutual demand of employees and employers. However, existing equal opportunities policies do not necessarily have to prevent managing diversity attempts. Organisations can make steps to transcend equal opportunities approach using developed and refined managing diversity policies. According to Thomas (1990), managing diversity approach and equal opportunities approach can co-exist within an organisation.
Organisations that have adopted managing diversity approach do usually cover and adopt requirements of the equal opportunities approach. On the other hand, organisations that have adopted only equal opportunities approach might not be covering the requirements of the managing diversity approach. This is a result of the fact that, equal opportunities approach is more focused on theoretical and formal necessities, while managing diversity is an outcome of real life business world needs and requirements.
Organisations that apply equal opportunities approach and managing diversity approach are comparatively superior to organisations, which do not adopt these approaches (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998). It should also be added that organisations that adopt only equal opportunities approach are less superior to organisations that adopt managing diversity approach, for the latter approach is more related to and focused on contemporary problems of workforce.
As a result of the points gone through in this research, it can be said that managing diversity approach is a more individual and business-oriented version of equal opportunities approach, for it is more strategic, internally driven and goal-oriented unlike the equal opportunities approach, which is externally driven and focuses on a narrower scope such as equality of opportunities, therefore functions on operational rather than strategic basis.
Managing diversity approach can be developed and criticised by organisations, which is not the case for the equal opportunities approach imposed by governments and legislation. In addition, promotion of diversity by the managing diversity approach is another superior point, compared to the equal opportunities approach that aims at assimilation of diversities, which is not a promising concept for employees not belonging to mainstream social strata from ethnical, religious, social or cultural points of views.