Managers are constantly touted with the benefits of properly managing diverse teams. Indeed, effective diversity programs can help an organization hold a significant competitive advantage over competition, as well as lead to “improved problem solving and decision making” (Prieto et al., 2009, p. 14). However, there are many considerations and complications that may happen alongside increasing diversity, citing that “irreconcilable differences among heterogeneous members lead to dysfunctional team interaction and suboptimal performance” (Prieto et al., 2009, p. 19). So, building a team that has varied personal histories, a wide range of biological markers, differing personality styles, and unique motivations and perspectives can be immensely beneficial to organizations, provided that they understand how to mitigate some of the challenges.
Ethically speaking, diversity programs are great – the organization benefits, groups who had been adversely affected by unemployment benefit, end customers benefit… the list goes on and on as to how diversity supports teleological ethics. Diversity is the end and the means. But what happens when those means get complicated and managers are ill-equipped to deal with those complications? Could that turn this great ideal into a double-edged sword?
There are a few concerns with ethical implications that leaders need to be able to recognize and mitigate as they build diverse teams.
- Conflicts – People that are different will not always see eye to eye, prompting conflicts to erupt from time to time. When conflict occurs, leaders must be able to recognize it and influence it’s direction. While not all conflicts are bad – Reiter-Palmon et al. (2012) found that conflicts related to debating the best way forward in moderate amounts can facilitate creative abrasion and help in creative projects, specifically (p. 307) – they do stand in the way of teams functioning properly, especially when they are left to run rampant by leaders who do not intervene. In this respect, leaders have an ethical duty to make sure that competing agendas, perspectives, and ideas are all heard and considered, rather than dismissed due to stereotyping and lack of traditional credibility. Leaders are ethically bound to ensure that all individuals are fairly represented; hiring a diverse team is not good enough – leaders must ensure that all individuals are able to contribute without conflict stifling their voices.
- Engagement – Leaders must be prepared to engage with a wide array of sorts, even those that they would not naturally be drawn to. To treat certain employees differently from others violates a common ethical staple across many codes: fairness for all (APA, 2010; AOM, 2006; among others). Leaders must recognize their natural biases and inclinations and commit to treating all followers with the same level of closeness. Managers may find that devoted one-on-one time with each follower helps them achieve this goal. It is important to note that leaders have the responsibility to ensure that followers are treated equally, but not necessarily the same; to reward, motivate, or engage with all employees in one “standard” way undermines the diversity that leaders will try so hard to encourage. Here, the proverb of “different strokes for different folks” may well find an effective application. Managers must get to know their employees on a deep enough level to be able to identify how best to lead them all individually and show support for them.
- Mental Toughness – The two considerations above show just how intense the responsibility of managing a diverse workforce effectively can get. Leaders must therefore have strong emotional composure, as well as the capacity to deal with setbacks and challenges. If a leader allows him or herself to get discouraged early on in the process of building a diverse team, they may become disengaged, resentful, and even biased towards its effectiveness. This can be a symptom of both a lack of training and support provided to these managers by the organization, as well as potentially the wrong leader being selected in the first place. To this end, leaders must be adequately prepared for the role they must assume. Organizations, here, have the ethical responsibility to be transparent with the people they chose to promote to leadership positions. The Academy of Management specifically calls for integrity, through which organizational leaders must “promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness” (AOM, 2006). This means that the organization must represent the amount of emotional labor required for someone to build and lead a diverse team, and provide adequate support to help them meet this objective.
Diversity in the modern workplace is a beneficial trend that does not show signs of slowing down. For this reason, it is important that organizations and managers recognize that simply saying “diversity is good” and implementing practices to hire a more diverse workforce, while ignoring the fact that managers and leaders need to be properly trained to create an environment in which that team can flourish, is counter-productive. Leaders in organizations need more than a half-day training session on why diversity is good and how to hire a more diverse workforce. They need actionable tactics, concrete strategies, and training on how to deal with the interpersonal relationships that will be strained, the obstacles that will arise, and the frustrations that will leave that leader on the verge of pulling their hair out. Leaders need to know how to actually lead the teams that they are building. Failure to implement diversity practices without proper leadership training does more harm than good.
Academy of Management. (2006). Academy of Management Code of Ethics. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://ethicist.aom.org/content/AOM_Code_of_Ethics.pdf
American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
Prieto, L. C., Phipps, S. T., & Osiri, J. K. (2009). Linking Workplace Diversity To Organizational Performance: A Conceptual Framework. JDM Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 4(4), 13-21. doi:10.19030/jdm.v4i4.4966
Reiter-Palmon, R., Wigert, B., & de Vreede, T. (2012). Team creativity and innovation: The effect of group composition, social processes, and cognition. In M. D. Mumford (Ed.), Handbook of organizational creativity (pp. 295-326). Waltham, MA: Academic Press.