Dr. Fab. O. Onah
Department of Public Administration and Local Government
University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The meaning, nature of and reasons for workforce development in public organisations in Nigeria are addressed. The Common dimensions and the impact of diversity in public organizations in Nigeria were assessed and critically
discussed. Workforce diversity is the differences such as in
age, gender ethnic heritage physical ability/disability, race,
and sexual orientation, that make up the employees of
organisations. Diversity exists in a group or organization
when its members differ from one another along one or more
important dimensions. Diversity is increasing in public
organisations in Nigeria today owing to changing
demographics, the desire by organizations to improve their
workforce, democratization and globalization. These
differences are reflected in how people conceive of work, what
rewards they expect from the organization and how they relate
to others. Workforce diversity is inevitable; it even has a
competitive advantage. It is the view of this paper that
managers of diverse workforce need to know about people, to
understand how their social conditions affect their beliefs
about work and to have the communication skills to develop
confidence and self-esteem among diverse workgroups.
It is becoming increasing by obvious that modern managers
should not only accept and adapt to diverse work groups but
brace up to the challenges of a multicultural organization, if
they must meet their goals. Organizations must undertake
conscious efforts to shift from a monoculture perspective to
one of pluralism to take advantage of diverse human resources
that abound in the organization.
Diversity is all about being different! And we are all different in many ways … the opportunities and problems inherent in managing a culturally diverse workforce will be the most challenging aspect of managing human resources in the next twenty years (Johnston and Packer, 1987).
If the above occurred to Johnston and Parker as far back as 1987, it is simple obvious that the challenge is real in an emerging millennium that is being overwhelmed by globalization. The workforce is all the people who work in a particular place, industry, factory or organization that are generally considered as a body. Many organizations the world over and in Nigeria today have witnessed tremendous changes in the composition of their workforce especially in the emerging century. Owing to the imperatives of z globalization and to a large extent, the dividends of democracy, demographic profile of the workforce is colouring. Once dominated by male managers, each organization especially business oriented organizations now employ people at a variety of organizational levels from a diverse set of backgrounds. Consequently, more and more organizations are encountering more than a few challenges along the way as they have sought to address the variety of issues, opportunities, and problems that their increasingly diverse workforces have created.
This paper is about’ workforce diversity in’ public organizations in Nigeria. We begin by exploring the meaning of diversity and reasons for its increase. We then identify and discuss several common dimensions and impact of diversity in Nigerian public organizations. Finally, common approaches for managing diversity will be addressed. A note is included on managing multicultural organizations.
2. The Nature of Workforce Diversity
Workforce diversity has become a very important issue in many organizations in
Nigeria, but this development may have occurred to a few. A logical starting point, then, is
to establish the meaning of diversity and then examine why such diversity is increasing
Workforce Diversity is the differences, such as in age, gender, ethnic heritage physical ability/disability, race, and sexual orientation, that make up the employees of organizations (Moorhead and Griffin, 1995). Fine, Johnson and Ryan (1990) say that diversity exists in a group or organization when its members differ from one another along one or more important dimensions. Thus, diversity is not an absolute phenomenon wherein a group or organization is or is not diverse. Instead, diversity can be conceptualized as a continuum. If everyone in the group or organization is exactly like everyone else, there is no diversity whatsoever. If everyone is different along every imaginable dimension, diversity exists. To manage diversity in organizations, we must first recognize that differences exist among the people in organizations. For example, a group comprising five middle – aged Nigerian male executives has relatively little diversity. If another member is replaced a young female executive, the group becomes a bit more diverse. If another member is replaced by an older non-Nigerian (say a Ghanaian) executive, diversity increases a bit more. And when a third member is replaced by a Lebanese executive, the group becomes even more diverse.
3. Reasons for Increasing Diversity
One factor contributing to increased diversity is changing demographics in the labour force (Griffin, 1997). As more women and youths enter the labour force, for example, the available pool of talent from which, organizations hire employee’s changes in both size and composition. More and more women are joining the labour force in Nigeria. Since the past five years, statistics in schools, colleges and tertiary institutions show that enrolment trend is skewed in favour of the females. It follows that over time, proportionately more women and proportionately fewer men will be hired by organizations. This development changes the old tradition of male dominance in public organization in Nigeria.
A related factor contributing to diversity is the increased awareness by organizations that they can improve the overall quality of their workforce by hiring and promoting the most talented people available. By casting a broader net in recruiting and looking beyond traditional sources for new employees, organizations are finding more broadly qualified and better qualified employees from many different segments of society. Thus, these organizations are finding that diversity can be a source of competitive advantage (Cole, 1990). MTN Nigeria, ECONET wireless, Globacom Nigeria, all of which are telecommunication industries are contemporary examples. They use well established headhunters to search for their workforce.
Another reason for the increased diversity in organizations is the globalization movement. Globalization refers to the tendency of firms to extend their sales or manufacturing to new markets abroad. The rate of globalization in the past few years has been nothing short of phenomenal. Production is becoming globalized, too, as manufacturers around the world put manufacturing facilities where they will be most advantageous. Organizations that have opened offices and related facilities in other countries have had to learn to deal with different customs, social norms, and mores. Strategic alliances and foreign ownership also contribute, as managers today are more likely to have job assignments in other countries and/or to work with foreign managers within their own countries.
As employees and managers move from assignment to assignment across national boundaries, organizations and their subsidiaries within each country thus become more diverse.
A final factor contributing to the increase in workforce diversity in Nigeria is her nascent democracy. The emerging democratic government, after three decades of military rule, has encouraged many investors and attracted solid contractors and consultants from all parts of the world. There is also increase in the number and presence of international organizations and NGOs. Nigerians now work alongside people from different countries with different world views, orientations etc.
4. Dimensions of Diversity
As we indicate earlier, many different dimensions of diversity can characterize an organization. They could be divided into primary and secondary dimensions. Primary dimensions are those factors that are inborn or exert extraordinary influence on early socialization. Some of the primary dimensions include age, gender, ethnicity, race and physical abilities. Some of the ones relevant to the Nigerian setting are discussed hereunder.
Age Distribution: One important dimension in many organizations is the age distribution of its workers. The average age of the Nigerian workforce is gradually increasing and will continue to do so for the next several years. Owing to high unemployment rate, many people do not get into the workforce until they are about 25 years. Once in the workforce, Nigerians strive to stay put even if it means manipulating their age records in order not to retire early. Thus, many people remain in the workforce until well after 70 years. Consequently, the real age distribution of the workforce in Nigeria ranges from 25 – 70 years. Because of the unattractive pension administration, very few are enthusiastic about retiring. Another factor that contributes to the ageing workforce is improved health and medical care. As a result of these improvements, people are able to remain productive and active for longer periods of time. Again there are some establishments that have legally extended the limits of mandatory retirement. Examples are the Judiciary (70 years) and academic staff in the universities (65 years) as against the normal 60 years mandatory retirement in the civil service.
How does this trend affect organizations? Older workers tend to have more experience; or be more stable; tend to resist organizational change; and to make greater contributions to productivity than younger workers. On the other hand, despite the improvements in health and medical care, older workers are nevertheless likely to require higher levels of insurance coverage and medical benefits.
The increasing labour pool of younger workers will continue to pose problems for organizations as they find it more and more difficult to select good workers from the pool. Gender: As more and more women have entered the workforce, organizations have subsequently experienced changes in the relative proportions of male and female employees. In United States for example, the percentage of male employees according to Occupational Outlook Handbook (1990 – 1991) will shrink from 55 percent in 1988 & 53 percent by the year 2000. Simultaneously, the percentage of female employees will increase from 45 percent in 1988 to 47 percent “by the year 2000. In Nigeria the trend towards an increased female workforce is sure and clear. The number of women chief executives is increasing unlike before. The gender revolution of the late 20th century has indeed contributed to the trend. In addition, the number of female graduates is matching favourably with that of the males. The 1999/2000 graduation list of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka shows that 48% of the graduands are females. The 2000/2001 list of possible graduands shows that 54 percent are females. Enrolments show that this trend will continue. The trend therefore increases the number of females in the labour force and by implication, the workforce. Meanwhile, statistics shows that in Nigeria the percentage of female workforce even though low, has risen from less than 12 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2001.
These trends aside, a major gender – related problem that many organizations face today is the so-called glass ceiling. According to Powell and Butterfield (1994), the glass ceiling describes a barrier that keeps women from advancing to top management positions in many organizations. This ceiling is a real barrier that is difficult to break; it is also subtle as to be hard to see. This barrier is true of Nigeria. In a highly male dominated society like Nigeria, glass ceiling exists because there is reluctance on the part of Boards to promote females to management positions. Such promotions occur but highly occasionally.
Ethnicity is also a major dimension of workforce diversity in organizations. An ethnic group is an informal interest group whose members are different from the members of other groups within the same society owing to the fact that they share compulsory institutions like kinship, religion, economic system, and also have the capacity to freely communicate among themselves. Ethnicity on the other hand refers to the nature, content and focus of inter-ethnic relationship existing between different ethnic groups in the multiethnic society. It exposes the nature of interaction among the competing ethnic groups informed by ethnic prejudices and identity (Ojiako and Unachukwu, 1997). In Nigeria, this relationship is predominantly ethnocentric where members of an ethnic group exhibit group pride and indulge and glory their culture to the total neglect, disdain and scorn ofsuspicion, hatred among disparate ethnic grouping in Nigeria.
Ethnicity is a critical factor in workforce diversity in Nigeria. There are upwards of 400 language groups and multiplicity of ethnic groups with perceptual differences and psychological distance between groups in the workplaces. In respect of the federal character principle these people of definite ethnic difference are brought together in organizations especially federal ministries and parastatals. Sometimes, as Onah (1995) ‘notes, this has brought about pronounced sensitivity and tribal affiliation often responsible for suspicion and disunity.
Secondary dimensions of diversity include factors that are important to us as
individuals and to some extent define us to other but are less permanent and can be adapted
or changed. These include educational background geographic location, income, marital
status, military experience, religious beliefs and work experience (Moorhead and Griffin,
These factors may exert just as much impact on our lives as the primary dimensions. Many veterans of the World War II or Nigeria/Biafra war, for example, were profoundly affected by their experiences serving in that devastating war. The impact of these secondary dimensions may differ at various times in our lives, also. Moving to other part of the country, for example, immediately before the Nigeria/Biafra war, Igbos moved from the north and west to the east with their families. The experience was traumatic and required notable adjustment. The ages and stages of childhood growth and development may affect some employees more than others. For example, married employees must run their kids to .and form school during working hours and undertake certain other activities related to family life. A manager who has not raised children may not understand what all this means and even the sudden increase in telephone calls, tardiness, or absenteeism caused by major illness of an employee’s child.
Employees enter the workforce with unique experience and backgrounds that affect their perspective of work rules, expectations of work, and personal concerns. Although employees may have essentially the same work hours, job description, tenure with the organization, and compensation, their reactions to the work situation may differ notably because of the primary and secondary dimensions of diversity.
5. Attitudes toward Diversity
Valuing diversity by recognizing, welcoming, and cultivating differences among people so they can develop their unique talents and be effective organizational members is difficult to achieve. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own group and subculture are inherently superior to other groups and cultures. Ethnocentrism makes it difficult to value diversity. Viewing one’s own culture as the best culture is a natural tendency among most people. Moreover, the business world tends to reflect the values, behaviours and assumptions based on the experiences of a rather homogeneous male workforce. Indeed, most theories of management presume that workers share similar values, beliefs, motivations, and attitudes about work and life in general.
Ethnocentric viewpoints and a standard set of cultural practice produce a monoculture, a culture that accepts only one way of doing things and one set of values and beliefs which can cause problems for minority employees. Other diverse employees may feel undue pressure to conform, may be victims of stereotyping attitudes, and may be presumed deficient because they are different. Valuing diversity means ensuring that all people are given equal opportunities in the workplace.
The goal of organizations seeking cultural diversity is pluralism rather than a monoculture and ethno relativism rather than ethnocentrism. Ethno relativism is the belief that groups and subcultures are inherently equal. Pluralism means that an organization accommodates several subcultures. Movement toward pluralism seeks to fully integrate into the organisation the employees who otherwise would feel isolated and ignored.
THE IMPACT OF DIVERSITY ON ORGANISATIONS
There is no question that organizations are becoming ever more diverse. Diversity provides both opportunities and challenges for organizations. Some of the impacts are discussed below. Diversity as Competitive Advantage
Many organizations are also finding that diversity can be a source of competitive
advantage. Cox and Blake (1991) proposed six arguments for how diversity contributes to
The cost argument suggests that organizations that learn to cope with diversity generally have higher levels of productivity and lower levels of turnover and absenteeism. Those organizations that do a poor job of managing diversity, on the other hand, suffer from problems of lower productivity and higher levels of turnover and absenteeism. Because each of these factors has a direct impact on costs, the former organization remains more competitive than the latter.
The resources acquisition argument for diversity suggests that organizations who manage diversity effectively become known among women and minorities as good places to work. These organizations are thus better able to attract qualified employees from among these groups. Given the increased importance of these groups in the overall labour force, organizations that can attract talented employees from all segments of society are likely to be more competitive.
The marketing argument suggests that organizations with diverse workforces are better able to understand different market segments than are less diverse organizations. For example, cosmetics like Avon that wants to sell its products to women can better understand how to create such products and effectively market them if women managers are available to provide inputs into development, design, packaging, advertising and so forth.
The creativity argument for diversity suggests that organizations with diverse workforces are generally more creative and innovative than are less diverse organizations. If an organization is dominated by one population segment, it follows that its member generally adheres to norms and ways of thinking that reflect that segments. Moreover, they have little insight or stimulus for new ideas that might be derived from different perspectives. The diverse organization, in contrast, is characterized by multiple perspectives and ways, of thinking and is therefore more likely to generate new ideas and ways of doing things.
Related to the creativity argument is the problem – solving argument. Diversity carries with it an increased pool of information, in virtually any organization, there is some information that everyone has and other information that is unique to each individual. In an organization with little diversity, the larger pool of information is common and the smaller pool is unique. But in more diverse organizations, the unique information is larger. Thus, because more information can be brought to bear on problem, there is a higher probability that better solutions can be identified (Fiol, 1994).
Finally, the systems flexibility argument for diversity suggests that organizations must become more flexible as a way of managing diverse workforce. As a direct consequence, the overall organizational system also become more flexible. More and more, front line and contemporary organizations are adopting the principles of flexibility. Organizational flexibility enables the organization to better respond to changes in its environment. Thus, by effectively managing diversity within its workforce, an organization simultaneously becomes better equipped to address its environments (Hail and Packer, 1993).
Diversity as a Source of Conflict
Conflict is a disagreement among two individuals, groups or organizations. Group solidarity and group pride have often been regarded as positive elements of social behaviour, emphasizing the unity of effort directed towards group goals. It can also form a basis for conflict between groups. The “us” and “them” form a comparison, contrasting the high standards and goals of one’s own group with those found elsewhere can be the basis of hostility and negative stereotyping characteristic of inter-group conflict. This process has long been recognized in the activities of propagandists who work to emphasize the perceived differences between groups by selective communications, which emphasize the positive attributes of the ‘home’ group and the negative characteristics of the ‘enemy’
Accordingly, one potential avenue for conflict in organizations is when an individual or group thinks that someone or a group has been hired promoted, or fired because of his/her group’s diversity status. Conflict stemming from diversity can arise through misunderstood, misinterpreted, or inappropriate interactions between people of different groups. For example, suppose that an Igbo man cracks a joke to a Yoruba man that he is cunning. The Yoruba man may assume that the joke is trying to represent all the Igbo men’s view about the Yoruba men and hence the group in the organization. Regardless of the true intent of the joke, this can create much dissension and conflict between the Igbos and Yorubas in the organization.
Conflict can also arise as a result of fear, distrust, or individual prejudice. Members of the dominant group in an organization may worry that newcomers from other groups pose a personal threat to their own positions in the organization.
MANAGING DIVERSITY BY ORGANISATIONS
Because of the tremendous potential that diversity hold for competitive advantage, as well as the possible consequences of diversity-related conflict, much attention has been focused in years on how individuals and organizations can better manage diversity (Overman, 1991). The approaches for managing diversity can be divided into individual and organizational strategies.
On individual strategies, Copeland (1988) prescribed four basic attitudes that individuals can strive to adopt in managing diversity. These are; understanding. The first of these is understanding the nature and meaning of diversity. Managers must understand that basic differences among people do, in fact, exist. Thus any effort to treat everyone the same, without regard to their fundamental human differences will only lead to problems Managers must understand that cultural factors cause people to behave in different ways and these differences should be accepted.
Empathy: Related to understanding is empathy. People in an organization should try to understand the perspective of others. For example, suppose, as in Nigeria, a woman joins an organization that is traditionally male dominated. Each man may be* a little self-conscious as how to act towards the women and may be interested in making her feel comfortable and welcome. But they may be able to do this even more effectively by empathizing with how she may feel. For example, she may be confident or nervous about her position in the group, and she may be experienced or inexperienced in working with male colleagues. By learning more about her feelings the group members can further facilitate their ability to work together effectively.
Tolerance: A third related individual approach to dealing with diversity is tolerance. Even though managers learn to understand diversity, and even though they may try to empathize with others, the fact remains that they may still not accept or enjoy some aspect of others’ behaviour. Managers and other employees should learn to tolerate others and respect their individualities.
Willingness to Communicate: A final individual approach to dealing with diversity is communication. Problems often get magnified over diversity issues because people are afraid or otherwise unwilling to openly discuss issues that relate to diversity. For example, suppose that a young employee has a habit of making jokes about the age of an elderly colleague. Perhaps the young colleague means no harm and is just engaging in what she sees as good-natured kidding. But the older employee may find the jokes offensive. If the two do not communicate, the jokes will continue and the resentment will grow. Eventually, what started as a minor problem may erupt into a much bigger one.
For communication to work, it must be two ways. If a person wanders if certain behaviour on her or his part is offensive to someone else, the curious individual should just ask. Similarly, if someone is offended by the behaviour of another person, he or she should explain to the offending individual how the behaviour is perceived and request that it be stopped. As long as such exchanges are friendly, low key and nonthreatening, they will generally have a positive outcome. Of course, if the same message is presented in an overly combative manner or if a person continues to engage in offensive behaviour after having been asked to stop, problems will only escalate. At this point, third parties within the organization may have to intervene. And in fact, most organizations today have one or more systems in place to address questions and problems that arise as a result of diversity.
On the other side, organizational strategies for managing diversity include policies, practices, training and culture. They are described hereunder.
Organizational Policies: The starting point in managing diversity is the policies that organizations adopt that directly or indirectly affect how people are treated. Obviously, for instance, the extent to which an organization embraces the principles of the federal character will to a large extent determine the potential diversity within an organization. But the organization that follows the principle to the letter and practices only passive discrimination differs from the organization that actively seeks a diverse and varied workforce.
Another aspect of organizational policies that affects diversity is how the organization addresses and responds to problems that arise from diversity. Indeed, perhaps the major policy through which an organization can reflect its stance on diversity is itsmission statement. If the organization’s mission statement articulates a clear and direct commitment to diversity, it follows that everyone who comes into contact with that mission statement will grow to understand and accept the importance of diversity, at least to that particular organization.
Organizational Practices: Organisations can also help manage diversity through a variety of ongoing practices and procedures. In general, the ideal is that because diversity is characterized by differences among people, organizations can more effectively manage that diversity by following practices and procedures that are based oil flexibility rather than rigidity.
Benefits packages, for example, can be structured to better accommodate individual situations. Flexible working hours are also a useful organizational practice to accommodate diversity. Differences in family arrangements, religious holidays, cultural events, and so forth may each dictate that employees have some degree of flexibility.
Organizations can also facilitate diversity by making sure that its important committees and executive teams are diverse. Even if diversity exists within the broader organizational context, an organization that does not reflect diversity in groups like committees and teams implies that diversity is not a fully ingrained element of its culture. In contrast if all major groups and related work assignments reflect diversity, the message is a quite different one.
Diversity Training: Many organizations are finding that diversity training is effective means for managing diversity and minimizing its associated conflict. More specifically, diversity training is training that is specifically designed to better enable members of an organization to function in a diverse workplace. This training can take a variety of forms.” For example, many organizations find it useful to help people learn more about their similarities to and differences from others. Men and women can be taught to work together more effectively and can gain insights into how their own behaviours affects and are interpreted by others.
Organizational Culture: The ultimate test of an organization’s commitment to managing diversity is its culture (Carnevale and Stone, 1994). Regardless of what managers say or put in writing, unless there is a basic and fundamental belief that diversity is valued, it cannot ever become truly an integral part of an organization. An organization that really wants to promote diversity must shape its culture so that it clearly underscores top management commitment to and support of diversity in all of its forms throughout every part of the organization. With top management support, however, and reinforced with a clear and consistent set of organizational policies and practices, diversity can become a basic and fundamental part of an organization (Griffin, 1997).
Managing the Multicultural Organization
Taking advantage of diversity in the” various parts of the organizational system is a difficult challenge full of opportunities. It is more than just announcing that the organization values diversity. It requires that management develop a multicultural organization in which employees of mixed backgrounds, experiences, and cultures can contribute and can achieve their fullest potential for the benefit of themselves and the organization. Management must plan for managing diversity throughout the organization and work hard to implement the plan. Developing a pregramme for managing diversity would include creating the multicultural organization which is characterized l-y pluralism mission statement. If the organization’s mission statement articulates a clear and direct commitment to diversity, it follows that everyone who comes into contact with that mission statement will grow to understand and accept the importance of diversity, at least to that particular organization.
Diversity exists in a group or organization when its members differ from one another along one or more important dimensions. Diversity is increasing in organizations in Nigeria today owing to changing demographics, the desire by organizations to improve their workforce, democratization and globalization.
These differences are reflected in how people conceive of work, what rewards they expect from the organization, and how they relate to others. .Workforce diversity is inevitable. It has a competitive advantage. But at times conflict can ensure as a result of diversity.
Managers of diverse workforce need to know about people, to understand how their social conditions affect their beliefs about work and to have the communication skills to develop confidence and self-esteem among diverse work groups. As a matter of fact, contemporary managers should not only accept and adapt to diverse work groups but gel themselves ready for the challenges of a multicultural organization, if they must succeed.
Carnevale, A. and Stone, S. (1994), “Diversity Beyond the Golden. Rule.” Training and Development, October, pp. 22 – 30.
Cole, S, (1990), “Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Futures'” Futures. December, pp. 1044-1058.
Copeland, L. (1988), “Making the Most of Cultural Differences at the Workplace.” Personnel, June, pp. 52 – 60.
Cox, T.H. (1991), “The Multicultural Organization,” Academy of Management Executive, May, pp. 34 – 47.
Cox, T.H. and Blake, S. (1991) “Managing Cultural Diversity: Implication for Organization Competitiveness” The Academy of Management Executive, August 1991, pp. 45-56.
Fine, M.G., Johnson, F.L., and Ryan, M.S. (1990) “Cultural Diversity in the Workplace,” Public Personnel Management, Full, pp. 307 – 319.
Fiol, C.M. (1994) “Consensus, Diversity and Learning in Organizations” Organization Science, August, pp. 403 -415.
Griffin, R.W. (1997), Management 5lh Edition, Delhi; A.I.T.B.S: Publishers.
Hall, D. and Packer, V. (1993), “The Role of Work Flexibility in Managing Diversity” Organizational Dynamics, Summer pp. 5-14.
Johnston, W.B. and Packer, A.H. (1987), Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21s‘ Century. Indianapolis; Hudson Institute.
Moorhead, G. and Griffin, R.W. (1995), Organizational Behaviour: Managing People and Organizations, Boston: Houghton Miffin Company.
Nonyelu, N.A.U. (1997) “Ethnicity, National Interest and National Integration in Nigeria” in N. Ojiakor and G.C. Nonyelu (eds) Nigerian Socio-Political Development: Issues and Problems. Enugu: John Jocob’sClani Publishers Ltd.
Occupational Outlook Handbook (1990 – 1991), Washington DC: US Bureau of LabourStatistics.
Onah, Fab. O. (1995) “The Environments of Local Governments in Nigeria, in M. Ikejiani- Clark and F. C. Okoli (eds) Local Government Administration in Nigeria: Current Problems and Future Challenges. Lagos: Mangrove Publication.
Overman, S. (1991) “Managing the Diverse Workforce,” HR Magazine, April, pp. 32 -’36
Powell, G. and Butterfield, D.A. (1994), “Investigating the Glass Ceiling” Phenomenon: An Empirical Study of Actual Promotion to Top Management,” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 37, No.l, pp. 68 -86.