New Paradigm for Managing Diversity Report

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Initially, managers accepted diversity as a way of avoiding discrimination. However, with time, managers started viewing diversity as a tool of increasing performance, productivity, and innovation in companies. This realization rested on the premise that people from different cultures have disparate traits, which when harnessed can work for the benefit of an organization.

Therefore, managers started looking at the possibility of using diversity to the advantage of their companies as opposed to using it for purposes of appeasing their troubled consciences. This aspect heralded the development of different strategies to tap into the potential presented by diversity. Consequently, numerous studies have been conducted to highlight how organizations can use workplace diversity to their advantage. This paper presents managing a diverse workforce through the article, Making differences matter a new paradigm for managing diversity, by David Thomas and Robin Ely.

Making differences matter

According to Thomas and Ely (1996), the 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in attempts to foster diversity in the American workplace; however, these efforts yielded zero or negative results with employees becoming tense every time confronted with the diversity issue. Organizations focused on the monetary gains that accompany diversity in the workplace, but this approach is myopic, and thus it was doomed to failure.

In addition, by then, managers viewed diversity within the confines of race, class, or nationality. Thomas and Ely (1996, p.1) thus lament that such managers ended up ‘recruiting and retaining more people from traditionally underrepresented identity groups’. Unfortunately, this limited approach to diversity hindered effectiveness that comes with it.

Another reason why diversity management fails lies in the view that people of a certain culture or background can reach out effectively to customers from the same backgrounds or cultures. However, as aforementioned, this kind of approach to diversity is limiting as it can only explore a certain market niche without the workers executing their duties effectively.

Thomas and Ely (1996, p.2) refer to this form of approach as the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm where leaders ‘focus on equal opportunity, fair treatment, recruitment, and compliance with federal Equal Employment Opportunity requirements’. Even though under this paradigm companies may seem to progress, the gains are one-sided, viz. whilst the workforce becomes diversified, the methodology of executing the work remains unchanged, and thus the organization remains stagnant in terms of productivity and performance.

The discrimination-and-fairness paradigm has limited benefits. The most outstanding benefit is the increased demographic diversity in the workplace and fairness. However, the greatest undoing of this paradigm is the assumption that people are the same, and thus they endeavor to achieve the same thing.

This assumption then cuts off any possibility of allowing people to use their strengths for the benefit of the organization, and ultimately, progress is slow. The best example of an organization that uses this kind of paradigm in diversity management is the United States Army. Bureaucracy is the defining factor for such kind of organizations. Therefore, this paradigm stifles any attempts for employees to learn and use their knowledge in the workplace.

After the imminent failure of the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm, managers adopted another model, viz. the access-legitimacy paradigm. In this paradigm, managers started appreciating individuals’ differences and realized that people from different cultures could be used to exploit business potential within their cultures. For instance, Hispanics could be used to win fellow Hispanics to a company’s products. Therefore, according to Thomas and Ely (1996, p.5), managers realized that ‘diversity isn’t just fair; it makes business sense’.

The common characteristic of this paradigm is that such companies only operate under environment with diversified customers. This diversity of customers is an opportunity for such companies as they normally have the right workforce to win clients. According to Thomas and Ely (1996, p.5), this ‘market-based motivation and the potential for competitive advantage that it suggests are often qualities that an entire company can understand and therefore support’.

Unfortunately, this paradigm does not reap the maximum benefits of diversity in the workplace, as in their pursuit to establish market niches based on cultures, organizations fail to appreciate how diversified workforce can be used to work differently and efficiently. This paradigm is similar to the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm based on the results achieved. The latter stifles personal opinions and knowledge, and thus work is executed according to a written script. Similarly, even though the access-legitimacy paradigm acknowledges diversity, it only focuses on creating cultural market niches, without changing how work is done.

However, the contemporary business landscape has changed and with globalization, the marketplace has become highly competitive, and thus managers cannot afford to rely on limiting paradigms (Amaram 2007). According to Thomas and Ely (1996), the new model, viz. the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm, allows managers to connect diversity to work perspectives.

Thomas and Ely (1996, p. 6) posit that managers now ‘incorporate employees’ perspectives into the main work of the organization to enhance work by rethinking primary tasks and redefining markets, products, strategies, missions, business practices, and even cultures’. This new paradigm integrates the fairness aspect as enshrined in the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm while appreciating people’s differences as underscored by the access-legitimacy paradigm.

For instance, in the 1980s, Dewey & Lewin law firm had exclusively white staff members. Therefore, the clients to this firm were also exclusively white. This aspect defied the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm because other women needed to be included in the firm’s client base for the sake of fairness. In addition, the firm defied the access-legitimacy paradigm as it lacked diversity in the workplace.

Therefore, in a bid to counter these issues, the firm brought in a Hispanic female attorney. Even though the firm sought to cover its inherent discriminative hiring policies, the new attorney brought novel ideas that the all-white staff could not have imagined. Ultimately, the firm’s success started to soar courtesy of the female Hispanic attorney’s insights.

Therefore, in this new paradigm, employees are allowed to bring in their ideas based on their differences to affect how work is done in an organization. Changing the ‘how’ part of carrying out business allows organizations to come up with models that address the ever-changing customer needs in a competitive market environment.

This new paradigm is the best-suited model for the 21st century business environment, which is dogged with stiff competition, volatile markets, and financial crises (Cunningham & Green 2007). In such business environment, organizations have to utilize every opportunity presented by the workforce and this requirement necessitates the adoption of an all-inclusive paradigm as the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm. Thomas and Ely (1996) give eight steps to facilitate the shift to the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm.

  1. Leaders have to acknowledge that diverse workforces come with disparate approaches and perspectives, and thus they should value each insight and see where it fits in propelling the company forward.
  2. Leaders should identify and appreciate learning opportunities as well as challenges as presented by the diverse workforce.
  3. The resultant organizational culture should demand unparalleled performance from all workers regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
  4. The prevalent organizational culture should give room for personal development.
  5. In addition, the dominant organizational culture should be bases on the principles of openness and transparency
  6. The prevailing organizational culture should value workers as the most important asset of the organization
  7. The organization should have well defined mission and vision statements, which are readily acceptable to all employees
  8. Leaders should practice laissez-faire leadership style and eliminate bureaucracy


Managing diversity in the workplace has evolved through numerous stages. Initially, the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm was the common model of managing diversity, but it failed due to the inherent approach of changing workers without affecting the work done. The access-legitimacy paradigm appreciates differences in the workforce, but it only uses these differences to establish market niches based on cultural affiliations. These two paradigms fail to reap the maximum benefits of diversity, as they do not appreciate the individual traits of employees.

However, the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm overcomes these shortcomings by allowing employees to express their views and opinions on how they think tasks within the workplace should be accomplished. This paradigm works perfectly with democratic or laissez-faire leadership styles, where employees are at liberty to influence decision making for the common good of an organization (Pless & Maak 2004). The 21st globalized business environment is very competitive, and thus managers need every input from employees in a bid to remain enterprising and successful.

Reference List

Amaram, D 2007, ‘Cultural diversity: Implications for workplace management’, Journal of Diversity Management, vol.2 no.4, pp. 1-6.

Cunningham, D & Green, D 2007, ‘Diversity as a competitive strategy in the workplace’, Journal of Practical Consulting, vol. 1 I no.2, pp. 51- 55.

Pless, N & Maak, T 2004, ‘Building an inclusive diversity culture: principles, processes and practice’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 54 no. 2, pp. 129-147.

Thomas, D & Ely, R 1996, ‘Making differences matter a new paradigm for managing diversity’, Harvard Business Review, pp. 1-12.

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