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Managing ethnic diversity at work
A challenge facing many organisational leaders and HR professionals concerns how they effectively manage business in the context of today's increasingly diverse employee, customer, community and shareholder groups. So, what can psychology research offer to those responsible for managing the complexity of diversity, and particularly ethnicity, at work?
This was the driving question behind a conference organised by the Ethnic Diversity at Work Group, sponsored by the Society's Division of Occupational Psychology and established two years ago to increase the impact of psychology in this area. Over 90 delegates (mainly managers and practitioners) were shown how theories and findings from social and organisational psychology research can help design effective organisational and individual interventions in areas such as career development, assessment and organisational strategy.
The all-day event, held in London on 23 September 2011, began with three keynote presentations which, in different ways, considered how psychology research is relevant to understanding ethnicity at work. The first, from Dr Etlyn Kenny, a lecturer in organisational psychology (Birkbeck, University of London), provided an overview of UK research into ethnicity at work, calling for more work psychology research that specifically examines ethnicity. Kenny argued that research from other contexts, such as the US, is not necessarily relevant to the UK - the way both countries consider, debate and experience ethnicity and 'race' issues differ. More comparative research is therefore needed to identify how and when findings from other contexts such as the US can be applied.
Next up was Professor Binna Kandola (Pearn Kandola), a founder of a business psychology consultancy specialising in diversity. He drew on his latest book The Value of Difference to discuss how basic findings from social psychology and research on unconscious attitudes can be used to help managers consider how they manage diversity in a more evidence-informed way. Professor Kandola reviewed how bias operates in organisations, its neuropsychological basis, the impact on decision making and interpersonal behaviour, and the crucial role that leaders have to play in ensuring that positive change occurs in organisations.
The final morning presentation from a leading international researcher on ethnicity at work, Professor Stella Nkomo (University of Pretoria, South Africa), drew on examples from the growing body of evidence from organisational psychology and other areas of organisational behaviour. For instance, Professor Nkomo discussed how congruence between what an organisation says and what it actually does about diversity increases 'identity safety' for ethnic minority members. A clear diversity philosophy (inherent in policies such as 'equal opportunity employer' statements) as well as actual representation of ethnic minorities (beyond token appointments) tends to be more effective than a 'colourblind' approach for fostering identity safety. And 'identity safe' climate is one in which ethnic minority professionals feel comfortable and trust that they can 'be themselves', free from judgments, stereotypes, opportunities or restrictions that are tied their identities.
Continuing with the theme of applying psychology research to practice, the afternoon continued with four workshops aimed squarely at practitioners, managers and consultants working in the diversity field: 'Proactive career management for minority professionals' (Doyin Atewologun and Audrey Campbell), 'Networking, mentoring and the psychology of diversity' (Tinu Cornish and Maddy Wyatt), 'Assessing and selecting without bias' (Nic Hammarling, Dr Pete Jones and Wendy Lord) and 'Organisational strategies for diversity' (Phil Wilson and Gordon Ryan). The day ended with a question and answer panel session involving the keynote presenters and Professor Rob Briner (University of Bath).
Delegates found the day engaging and thought-provoking, and left with evidence and insights to help those responsible for managing diversity at work. Evidence-based practice is a challenge for all areas of psychology. The Ethnic Diversity at Work Group's activities and approach involving, as it does, both psychology practitioners and researchers, provides one possible model for how psychology research and psychology practice can be better integrated.
This report was written for The Psychologist by Rob B. Briner (University of Bath) and 'Doyin' Atewologun (Cranfield University).
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