Managing Equality And Diversity Introduction HR Management

There is a short story by H.G. Wells called ‘The Country of the Blind’ in which a mountaineer falls into a hidden valley in South America where all the inhabitants have been blind for fifteen generations. His initial reaction is that among such a disadvantaged group of people he can easily establish himself as superior because of his sight; indeed, as the saying expresses it, ‘in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king’. However, he soon learns that the whole of this society is constructed around the norm of blindness, so his sightedness provides no advantages and in many ways disadvantages him from becoming integrated and accepted into the community.

For instance, all work is undertaken in the dark at night (when it is cool); there are no lights and the buildings have no windows; his descriptions and explanations based on sight, colour and so forth have no meaning to the inhabitants; and his under-developed alternative senses mean he cannot participate fully in the culture of the community. In the end, in order to fit in, he has to choose either to conform to the dominate norms and have his eyes removed or else leave the community.

The relevance of this story is that it illustrates how being different to the dominant social group can produce disadvantages for an individual irrespective of his or her qualities and abilities. In this example the disadvantage suffered by the main character is due to his sight in a society in which sight is undervalued. In the real world, of course, key characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, disability, age, religion and sexuality are typically the bases for disadvantage.

People can suffer rejection, non-acceptance and unfair treatment within a particular setting (especially the workplace) because they differ from the dominant social group across one of more of these characteristics. They can feel excluded and marginalised, or in extreme cases become the victims of abuse and harassment. This disadvantage can manifest itself in many of the key processes within organisations that are explained in other chapters: recruitment and selection, training and development; appraisals; promotion; career development; remuneration; and work organisation.

The purpose of this chapter is to explore how managers can take action to minimize the disadvantages and provide a working environment that supports equality and diversity. To investigate these issues the chapter is divided into six main sections. First, there is an examination of the meaning of discrimination; section two addresses the question of why managers should be concerned about equality and diversity; section three explains the role of equal opportunity policies; section four analyses the different approaches to devising such policies; section five evaluates the concept of institutional discrimination; and section six explains the process of discrimination within organisations.

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