Diversity Management at International Trade Union Conference

The aim of the workshop, facilitated by Cologne-based Diversity pioneer, Michael Stuber, was to explore the opportunity Diversity presents in order to achieve the integration of GLBT issues into daily business reality. The event covered the different meanings of Diversity and why is was important, what managing Diversity can encompass, which roadblocks exist to integrating GLBT issues & Strategies and how to overcome these roadblocks, the economic rationale of sexual orientation and a road-map to implementing Diversity.
What is Diversity and why is it important to organisations?
The term Diversity describes the many ways in which people may be different from or similar to each other. The core dimensions usually considered are those features a person cannot or not easily change (“given by nature”): Gender, race / ethnical heritage / culture, age, physical and mental abilities / disabilities, sexual orientation / identity, religion / beliefs. Although this set includes sexual orientation, this issue is usually the most problematic one within developing a Diversity strategy. At the same time, this framework presents a serious and sound option to integrate GLBT concerns among others.
“Valuing Diversity” is a mind-set by which everyone feels valued and respected for the specific background and talent he/she brings to an organisation – and does so him/herself. “Managing Diversity” means improving an organisation’s success by making the most of differences: Proactively welcoming, nurturing and leveraging on internal & external Diversity. Internal benefits of managing Diversity include increasing productivity (due to using everyone’s full potential and improved team work) and cost reduction (due to improved retention and co-operation) as well as better innovation and problem solving potential, greater openness to change. External benefits include increasing turnover and market share (due to serving the customers better) and an improved image (due to explicitly valuing “everyone”). Moreover, demographic, societal, cultural and juridical trends are suggesting the necessity to manage Diversity in the near future.
What does valuing and managing Diversity look like?
Introducing Diversity touches the core values of people and organisations, which it aims at changing. Thus, it requires a long-term approach, leadership from the top and involvement of employees at all levels. Building blocks of implementing Diversity include a Diversity statement, communication around Diversity (magazine, posters, Intranet, meetings), education (training), structural activities (employee networks, awards), community involvement, Work/Life-balance (work time, leave policy).
Roadblocks to integrating GLBT issues and how to overcome them
The biggest resistance to GLBT issues is based on lack of awareness, lack of information and lack of skills. Even top managers (and unionists) need to go “back to school” to learn what their parents and teachers forgot to tell them. Roadblocks mentioned in the workshop “Not relevant”, “There is no discrimination”, “Don’t tell and hide”, Radical religion / morale, “positive discrimination”, Just lip service. The following cornerstones proved to provide a successful framework to overcome roadblocks. However, the list is neither complete nor a recipe.
I. Know the basics of the field: It is vital to be able to present hard facts about LesBiGays in terms of their proportion and distribution in society. Also, evidence need to be given to the fact that homosexuality is not a chosen thing (it’s NOT A LIFESTYLE, it’s NOT A PREFERENCE). Third aspect here might be that LesBiGays share the experience of realising that their sexual orientation is different from the majority’s and that it includes the same sex. Awareness for (potential) discrimination is also related to this.
II. Know the trends in the field: The visibility and self-confidence of LesBiGays has constantly been growing over the past years; this also suggests that they are increasingly less willing to hide or to be excluded in the workplace or the marketplace. At the same time, society (mainly in the Western world) has gradually adopted a more tolerant and respectful if not supportive attitude towards sexual minorities. Recent political moves including LesBiGays and an increasing integration / coverage in the Media supports the overall trend.
III. Know the business nexus of the field: For a long time, GLBT activism was solely based on human rights and a business rationale was rejected even by the Community. Today, many connections have been proved between sexual orientation and the workplace & marketplace. Workplace surveys and psychological studies are most relevant in this context. Knowing these is vital to prove the relevance of the issue. At this point, a comparison with the daily presence of heterosexual orientation at work is appropriate.
IV. Know the context of the field: Finally, it is extremely helpful to propose a setting in which sexual orientation / identity is no longer a stand-alone subject but one in a list. The core dimensions of Diversity provide such a framework. A closer look at Diversity will show even more opportunities how to create awareness, understanding and co-operation for GLBT issues. It is also a vehicle to convince moral / religious opponents that mutual respect is the only road for enabling everyone to be him/herself.
The participants tend to feel that the business side discussed presented a number of threats and was not really in line with the general GLBT activism.
This was particularly disappointing for the facilitator as he has made extremely positive experiences by working with an economic approach and played parts in successful Diversity projects across Europe.