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Essay: Human Resource Management (HRM) – does it ensure equality and diversity objectives?

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  • Human Resource Management (HRM) - does it ensure equality and diversity objectives?
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Human Resource Management (HRM) holds the most responsibility in ensuring equality and diversity objectives are achieved in the workplace. Diversity objectives are aimed at integrating different characteristics – such as, gender, race and age – into the organisation (Geber, 1992; Noon and Ogbonna, 2001). Equality objectives are to avoid discrimination and to treat all the same (Webb, 1997). The objectives of HRM, diversity, and equality are strongly aligned as they are all focused on the management of the “people resource” (Kirton and Greene, 2016). However, in reality HRM often falls short in achieving diversity and equality objectives. Guest’s (1987) model of HRM considers four dimensions; strategic intention, commitment, flexibility and quality. This essay will explore each dimension in Guest’s (1987) model and the extent to which they ensure equality and diversity at work.

HRM evolved when an increase in business competition resulted in a re-examination of the organisation’s resources (Kirton and Greene, 2010). This led to an understanding that the “people resource” in the organisation needs to be managed correctly. HRM’s goals are to ensure employees are motivated in their work and that they recruit and train the “right’ employee (Guest, 1987). The “right” employee is someone who is motivated by; stimulating work, above-average pay and conditions, high levels of autonomy and have training opportunities. If the HRM department successfully achieves their goals, the organisation will then have motivated and committed employees with increased productivity which ultimately makes the organisation more competitive (ibid.).

Strategic Intention

The first dimension in Guest’s (1987) model is strategic intention. HRM goals need to be fully incorporated into the organisation’s strategic planning in order to gain the benefits (Wilson, 2007). If the organisation’s strategic goals take into consideration HRM initiatives, then there would be the potential for equality at work. However, this is often not the case.

To integrate HRM into the strategic planning requires help from the full organisation rather than the responsibility relying on the HRM department. However, middle management still regard their daily operational tasks to be more important than ensuring HRM diversity objectives (Hales, 2005). It is common that middle management do not feel accountable in ensuring diversity in the employees that they interact with (Brescoll, 2011). Middle management are often selective about which aspects of HRM they choose to implement (Brewster and Hegewich, 1994). When HRM objectives are considered by managers they often decide to tackle the short-term goals which do not incorporate the long-term responsibility of diversity management.

In order to work towards HRM achieving equality at work, it is critical to have support from management. Research has concluded that CEOs have a great influence on their employees and if CEOs were to visibly show commitment to diversity objectives then employees are more likely to embrace these changes in ensuring equality at work (Ng and Sears, 2018).

Unilever are a company who has a well-integrated diversity strategy (Unilever, 2020). The company have achieved 55% of women holding managerial roles and 45% of the organisation’s non-executive board members are women (ibid.). The company value their diverse workforce as they feel they are able to engage better with their 70% women-based consumers (ibid.).

Commitment

HRM has been created on the assumption that the workplace needs to retain and grow the “right” employee who is committed to their work. HRM values committed workers as they help to improve the organisational performance through being more; satisfied, productive and adaptable (Guest, 1987). However, individuals who are regarded as the “right” employee are often those who value the organisation above their other interests (Legge, 2007). Workers who fit within the “right” employee will benefit from this commitment dimension as they are regarded as the favourable worker by HRM personnel.

However, people who do not fit within this “right” employee framework will be at a disadvantage, as they are not regarded as a committed worker. This includes individuals who have other responsibilities, such as a family, as this other loyalty is seen as a distraction from their work. Mothers are often thought to be less committed to their work as they have the responsibility to care for their children. In a study which researched parents in law professions, it was found that mothers felt more committed to their work than fathers (Wallace, 2008). However, this commitment was often not recognised in the organisation with one respondent saying “I work only four days, so they assume you’re less committed…I called from the labour room three times the last time I was there to make sure they could contact my clients and reschedule my appointments.” (ibid, p.491). For HRM to be successful in achieving diversity at work the view of what constitutes as a committed worker must change. In the workplace, the time spent at work is still regarded as a representation of productivity (Lewis, 1997). However, this is an insufficient way to measure productivity and in turn a committed worker. A better representation of an individual’s productivity would be to measure the quality of their output and it is important for an organisation to recognise this difference.

Flexibility

Due to the marketplace now becoming highly competitive there is a need for businesses to be able to adapt and respond to market pressures. This leads to the requirement of employees to be temporal, numerical and functionally flexible for them to be able to adapt and respond to changes efficiently and gain competitive advantage (Walsh, 1990). Therefore, organisations view flexible working arrangements as a way to meet organisational needs, such as; to reduce costs and adapt to variations in supply and demand, rather than to meet the needs of their employees (Dickens, 1997).

Adopting flexible working arrangements challenges the expectation that the “right” employee works full-time and long hours. However, in reality flexibility has not fully challenged this expectation and has not been able to ensure equality at work. Functional flexibility does not often meet the multiskilling of jobs but instead increases the workload of similar tasks but in a short timespan (Kirton and Greene, 2010). Even though there are several flexible working arrangements that organisations could use there has been an over-reliance on part-time work which is often low-paid and low-grade work (Blackwell, 2001). In the UK, 36.4% of females work part-time (OECD, 2020). If women and ethnic minorities want to have a “flexible” job then they are often expected to accept; lower pay, fewer employment rights, less training and chances in gaining a promotion (Kirton and Greene, 2010).

Quality

This dimension deals with the quality of employees, performance and HRM policies within the organisation. High-quality staff are seen to be the individuals who are strategically integrated, committed and are flexible and adaptable. If the organisation has a good reputation for having a high-quality workforce, then they will gain competitive advantage. Therefore, HRM needs to focus on; recruitment, selection, rewards, training, appraisal and goal setting to ensure this competitive advantage. These elements will ensure that high-quality staff are attracted and retained (Guest, 1987).

HRM is usually unable to solve the wider societal structures and systems which disadvantage certain individuals in the labour market, such as socially constructed stereotypes (Kirton and Greene, 2010). In an article talking about race in the workplace one person said, “I don’t think that a day goes by that I’m not reminded that I’m black” (Caver and Livers, 2009, p.81). Racial stereotypes are often created by historical and cultural preconceptions (ibid.). White managers can often expect less of their black employees. For example, a black marketing manager – Robert – hired a black individual and had recently promoted another black individual. Robert’s boss then asked for more reports and updates to ensure the credibility of Robert and his team’s work. The boss was now expecting that the team’s performance would drop due to the increase in black people. This stereotypical judgement resulted in Robert quitting his job as he was tired of needing to defend a team who were achieving quality work (ibid.).

In conclusion, HRM has the potential to successfully meet diversity objectives and achieve equality at work. However, in reality HRM often falls short in ensuring diversity. The whole organisation needs to be on board with HRM goals if the workplace is to be an inclusive environment. This includes middle management who are often more concerned about their daily tasks. The view of commitment needs to adapt to be able to address all employees and not just people who fit within HRM’s “right” employee characteristics. This could be tackled through having an understanding that time does not represent productivity. Flexible working arrangements do have the potential to challenge the “right” employee standard and achieve equality at work. However, the over-reliance on part-time work often places these employees at a disadvantage. HRM aims to produce quality workers but the organisation is unable to solve wider societal issues. Some individuals are disadvantaged due to their manager’s stereotype views which can result in their quality of work being unnecessarily questioned.

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