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Cultural diversity in the workplace

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The impact of the increasing diversity in organisations is change at an individual, organisational and social level…recognising diversity at all levels has affected the development of organisation strategies and structures for marketing, competition in national and international markets and dealing with numerous stakeholders (Davidson & Griffin 2000:153)

Workplace cultural diversity management practices have undergone rapid change in the past two decades. Within both the public and private sectors, effective management of workforce diversity has evolved from a business function charged with the creation of a homogenous workforce to execute routine tasks to an enabler of a heterogeneous workforce focused on improved services quality, increased productivity and enhanced employee motivation. However, the change in cultural diversity management practices has not taken place without debate surrounding the appropriate values, competencies and frameworks and their influence on organisations seeking to engage a diverse workforce.

As a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing corporation, with nett revenues of US$15.55 billion, Accenture relies heavily on diversity and inclusion programs to build workforce characterised by the skills, talents and capability to operate within a business environment that is not constrained by geographic barriers or cultural perceptions.

Accenture strives to attract and retain the best people …we create an inclusive environment that’s rich in diversity, acknowledges each individual’s uniqueness and promotes respect, personal achievement and stewardship…we value the uniqueness of each individual and rely on these differences to drive our innovation, growth and performance (Accenture: Diversity and Inclusion 2007:para. 1)

It is Accenture’s belief that the cultural diversity of its workforce derives operational success that eludes many organisations. A view supported by the work of DuBrin (1998) Accenture asserts that effective diversity and inclusion programs provide a competitive advantage that cannot be achieved by a homogenous workforce.

Managing for diversity brings a competitive advantage…costs may be lower…a marketing advantage accrues…a heterogeneous group of workers may be more creative…a diverse workforce may also be more flexible (DuBrin 1998:383)

Accenture’s stance on cultural diversity, and the role it plays in achieving competitive advantage is further supported by the work of Davidson and Griffin (2000:157) who observe that ‘many organisations have found that diversity in the work force results in increased productivity and competitive advantage in the workplace’.

This paper seeks to examine Accenture’s approach to managing a culturally diverse workforce that possesses the knowledge, and skills to ensure the delivery of its defined organisational and operational objectives. In doing so it examines Accenture’s cultural diversity programs, their relationship to its stated core values and their relevance in defining a culture of inclusion and cultural diversity.

At Accenture, we believe that a focus on diversity is simply both the right thing to do and something that can create a major business advantage…workforce diversity can be a bridge between the workplace and the marketplace because greater diversity in the workplace helps attract a more diverse customer set (Scrivner 2006:45)

Whilst it is apparent that merely having a culturally diverse workforce alone does not bring organisational success, the business benefits gained through effective cultural diversity and inclusion programs is without question. Anecdotally, and in practice, Accenture continue to invest heavily in the execution of diversity and inclusion programs in the belief that closing the gap that exists between its aspirations, the beliefs and values of it leadership, and the characteristics displayed by its workforce will drive increased business and operational effectiveness.

As a global organisation comprised of over one hundred and fifty thousand individuals, cultural diversity within Accenture is not merely a case of representation of different nationalities or ethnicities. Instead, Accenture embraces a broader definition of cultural diversity based on multiple dimensions: generational, gender, physical ability/disability, race, society, educational level, national/regional origins, language, religion, sexual orientation, family status and work experience (Accenture Global Inclusion Portal 2007:para. 3).

Aligned with the work of Loden (1995:16), such a broach definition of diversity allows Accenture to ensure that the diversity needs of its workforce, clients and markets are met through generalised initiatives based on employee networking, representation at external minority advocate groups, community outreach programs and the provision of flexible working arrangements (Inroads, 2007:1). Yet Accenture refuse to collect of publish statistics on workforce diversity or the effectiveness of its diversity and inclusion initiatives. As an organisation who proudly promotes their embracement of diversity, Accenture interestingly choose to cite global data privacy regulations if pressed for statistics associated with workforce diversity or participation in inclusion programs (Accenture Policy 0900 2006:1).

Deferring to the research of Rosenbloom and DuPont (2004:para. 9) it is possible to propose a diversity profile based upon the composition of the global information technology workforce in the areas of gender (111,300 male 47,000 female), ethnic diversity (122,430 white and 36,570 non-white) and workforce age (average 38.2). Whilst based on global norms, the research of Rosenbloom and Dupont (2004) is supported by Accenture’s workforce as they acclaim the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs.

I can identify situations where we have won work, as a consulting organization, that can be attributed to the diversity in our team, not just in terms of the faces and the colours and genders, but the creativity that emanates from that diverse team (Adkins 2006:para. 6)

The inclusion and diversity a network is another great thing about Accenture…I always feel proud to work for a company that understands and supports diversity in the workforce (Zamudio 2006:para. 17)

By 2011 up to 25 per cent of our potential workforce will not be indigenous but from an ethnic background…the company focuses a lot on networks that represent minority communities (Amla 2007:para. 2)

As an organisation that recruits over twenty thousand new employees annually, the diversity profile of Accenture is best described as being characterised by constant change. A characteristic of global workforces observed by Davidson and Griffin (2007:157), the changing diversity profile of Accenture sees dimensions such as generation, gender, race, society, educational level, national/regional origins, etc. in a state of constant flux as the global delivery model is expanded to include new and emerging markets.

In response to the changing diversity profile of its workforce, Accenture view cultural diversity as a continuum that needs to be enabled by the unilateral application of organisational core values. Expected to be applied regardless of the individual’s diversity profile or group affiliation, Accenture’s organisational core values form the foundation of Accenture’s diversity and inclusion programs in order to promote the equitable treatment of its workforce.

All employees have the right to be treated equitably and to work in an environment that is free from discrimination…failure to do so may render the Company, or individuals, liable to legal sanction or disciplinary measures (Accenture Policy 0078 2006:1)

The existence of policies, focused on equitable treatment of Accenture’s workforce, is an indicator of Accenture’s acceptance that a level of regulation is required if it is to operate a business environment that is free from diversity bias. Yet operation within Accenture’s virtual workplace, even within the defined regulations, assumes its workforce is willing and able to operate physically and mentally across cultural boundaries (Accenture Policy 800 2007:1).

As a geographically dispersed organisation, Accenture is continually challenged to identify, develop and execute diversity programs that are relevant to its workforce. With a heritage as an aggregation of separate national partnerships in more than forty countries, Accenture’s anticipation of the need to operate within a culturally diverse environment is highlighted by its adoption of a common set of core values; best people; client value creation; one global network; respect for the individual; and integrity (Accenture Annual Report 2005:7).

Operationalised through a global Ethics and Compliance Program the promotion of the organisational core values represents Accenture’s attempt to create an environment inline with six basic characteristics of a multicultural organisation (Cox 1991 cited in Davidson ; Griffin 2000:176) – Pluralism; Full Structural Integration; Full Integration of the Informal Network; Absence of Prejudice and Discrimination; No Gap in Organisational Identification Based on Identity Differences; and Low Levels of Intergroup Conflict.

The promotion of a single model of employee, demonstrating its organisational core values, is of interest considering Accenture’s assertion that cultural diversity drives organisational success. Underpinned by a philosophy of absolute, enforced by a resource management framework focused on only retaining those employees who meet the single model of the good employee, Accenture’s embracement of a diverse workforce is at the expense of any cultural nuances that do not conform to their organisational core values.

We worked very hard to create a code that is directly focused on the needs of the employees…we put the emphasis squarely on providing a practical, teachable and culturally sensitive guide for employees to make business decisions… organized around the six Accenture core values (Accenture: Business Ethics 2007:para. 1)

Whilst a key enabler for encouraging consistency and transparency across its global operations, Accenture’s single model of the good employee in reality focuses on monitoring adherence to its organisational core values.

It is only when core value focus is shifted to the broader issues surrounding cultural diversity that it becomes apparent that Accenture’s organisational core values are a means by which its workforce is intended to ‘recognise, value and embrace diversity and inclusion’ (Accenture The Iceberg Principle 2007:para. 4).

By characterising the diversity of its workforce as being both visible (age, race, ethnicity, gender, and physical) and invisible (work experience, marital status, educational background, parental status, income, religious beliefs and affiliations, geographic location, or socioeconomic status), Accenture maintains that the application of its organisational core values fosters an inclusive environment that allows the individual to define a personal response to diversity that is complimentary to the attributes expected of its single model of the good employee. When employed as intended, this sees Accenture mandate the individual is to apply three (stewardship, best people and respect for the individual) of its six organisational core values as a means of demonstrating personal commitment to creating an inclusive bias free business environment.

Accenture strives to attract and retain the best…we create an inclusive environment that’s rich in diversity, acknowledges each individual’s uniqueness and promotes respect, personal achievement and stewardship (Accenture Diversity and Inclusion 2007:para. 1)

Driven by a desire to adopt an owner mentality (stewardship); attract a diverse workforce (best people); and participate in programs to enhance employee satisfaction (respect for the individual) the application of Accenture’s organisational core values in this manner relies heavily upon the desire of its workforce to participate in the creation of an environment founded on a positive approach to relationships with others and where individual differences are valued. Whilst aligned with the work of DuBrin (1998) this approach is premised with the assumption that Accenture’s heterogeneous workforce is willing to subscribe to the organisational core values defined by its founders.

Manifested as an expectation that its workforce will focus on the creation and participation of a culturally diverse workplace, Accenture view the existence of an inclusive workplace as means of measuring the successful adoption of the single model of the good employee based on its organisational core values.

Designed to have an impact beyond its procedural sphere of influence, external promotion of culturally diversity extends beyond the corporation due to the recognition that diversity has ‘continued to gain more importance in the marketplace because all companies regardless of industry realise that diversity plays an important part in being able to attract and retain the best talent’ (deJongh 2005:para. 4).

Promoted heavily externally, Accenture’s success at creating a culturally diverse environment is considered key to the development of a workforce who feels affiliated with its organisational core values – a strategy that has helped define a history of successful growth through the acquisition of skills and talents that would otherwise be challenged to attract.

We seek to understand and manage the impact of our actions on our people, clients, alliance partners and the broader communities in which we do business, and we are committed to building mutually beneficial relationships with all these groups (Accenture: Corporate Citizenship, 2007:para. 3)

An organisational characteristic observed by Thomas (1995:329) Accenture’s conscious extension of its cultural diversity management practices externally is driven by two primary objectives; to make known its diversity definition, vision, and strategy; demonstrate commitment to proactively manage cultural diversity through the use of procedural regulation, workforce education and participation in minority advancement and corporate citizenship forums (Inroads 2007).

THE RATIONALE

Publicly, two key elements of Accenture’s operating strategy are cited as being the rationale behind Accenture’s approach to managing a culturally diverse workforce – the enablement of an inclusive environment built upon its organisational core values and a commitment to working and behaving ethically (Accenture Company Overview 2007:para. 5).

An unusual representation of the attributes traditionally associated with cultural diversity (McInnes 2000 online), Accenture’s holistic view of cultural diversity upholds its organisational imperative to ‘learn and adapt the fastest, value collaboration and embrace diversity of thought, style and culture’ (Accenture Inclusion and Diversity 2007:para. 1) whilst remaining aligned to its organisational core values.

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