What is the difference between equal employment opportunity and affirmative action programmes on the one hand and diversity on the other? What are the benefits for business in embracing Diversity?

The equality perspective is about fairness and justice and is based upon the belief that there should be equal access for all regardless of biological or cultural background. In some countries there are already regulations and requirements that minorities should be hired in organisations. Kanter said in 1977 that the structures of the organisations are believed to be of utmost importance to the advancement of minorities. Often people from a minority background find it difficult to get promoted within organisations because they lack network contacts and they generally lack the same level of opportunity as their co-workers. They may also face prejudice and negative stereotypes.

Diversity on the other hand is about maximum utilisation of resources within an organisation regardless of gender, age or ethnicity. A larger reservoir with bright and motivated people will make society and organisations function better (Adler 1986). The primary goal is not equal opportunity but the organisation’s possibility of using diversity in relation to how it markets itself and its service.

The meritocracy perspective puts forward the theory that organisations should mirror their surroundings in order to get access to different markets, by recruiting more broadly. Unlike the equal opportunity perspective which centres around justice, the meritocratic perspective is driven by a profits and efficiency motive. Ethnics do not matter, the full utilisation of human resources regardless of background does. This perspective does not rely on legislation to take care of patterns of discrimination but assumes instead that organisations have much to gain by recruiting competent individuals from different genders, ages, races etc.

Wrench put it thus in 2002 “diversity is a positive concept signalling efficiency and profits while equality and affirmative actions associate with fairness and costs”. Diversity represents smart business practice because of the changing composition of people in post-industrial societies where the majority will soon be older people and we will rely more on immigrants to do these jobs. Diversity is also good for image reasons.

Another argument in favour of diversity is the special contribution perspective ie different others might be able to contribute to organisations with their different values, experiences, ways of thinking. For example women have different socialisation and experiences and they have the potential of making important contributions to the workplace. Women could become the necessary oil to make organisations function better (Billing and Alvesson 1989). This reasoning could also be applied to ethnic minorities and older people.

Lastly there is the alternative values perspective which highlights the substantial difference between women and men. The key assumption is that in general women and men do not share the same interests, priorities and basic attitudes to life. Traditionally women have been socialised to live by the values of the prviate sphere, to be nurturing, to serve others, to be emotional etc., whereas men have been socialised to live by the values of the public sphere, to deny vulnerability, to compete, to take risks etc. Women are believed to be marginalised in a capitalist society based upon masculine values (Yvonne due Billing and Elisabeth Sundin – From Managing Equality to Managing Diversity A Critical Scandinavian Perspective on Gender and Workplace Diversity ). If different ethnic groups are constructed (stereotypically) as being culturally different and this alternative culture is also seen as in opposition to the dominant masculinity they will “suffer” the same exclusion problems as women. Whose values are the important values?