An organization requires policies and procedures to successfully handle diversity. Having a lot of people from different backgrounds and cultures, and with different social bearings, means that there will be a lot of conflicts that will need to be dealt with through working policies. An efficient management is one which caters for these diversities by accepting and protecting them rather than ignoring or avoiding them.
Wal-mart Stores Inc is a family-owned business majoring in retail business. It has over 8500 outlets spread out in over 15 countries across the globe. Founded in 1962, Wal-Mart has risen through the years to now become ‘the largest retailer in the world.’ The late Sam Walton, founder of the Wal-Mart stores inc., believed in that efficient leadership entirely depended on cooperative service. The business was, thus, founded and built on this belief, meaning that to this day, the leadership of Wal-Mart has its focus on the welfare of its associates. With over two million employees, this company has a huge work force thus the need to embrace diversity for optimum performance.
As an organization, Wal-Mart has a culture based on a number of values and beliefs. While being a customer- oriented business, the Wal-Mart retail chain focuses more on its service team believing that effective leadership is only as good as the desire to work in the serving associates. All the associates of Wal-Mart live by service to customers, respect for individuals and striving for excellence in terms of customer service. The values include honesty, fairness and objectivity. This ensures that the employees have a set of rules to live by, thus ensuring respect and harmony are maintained even in cases of conflict. Team work is also a vital aspect that is never over emphasized within the ranks of Wal-Mart associates. According Respect to individuals leads to an easier formation of bonds that ensure a team spirit amongst the associates. Other than that, the diversity in this organization brings about substantial potential as having workers from all demographics means a better understanding of all their perceptions and needs. If capitalized on, this could translate to amazing levels of customer satisfaction, thus, a larger market share (Canas & Sondak, 2010).
Marginalized groups tend to have a different point of view from the dominant group and this conflict of opinions ensures that there are more options presented to the management. In a multicultural organization, a conflict of opinions is used to avoid ‘mob psychology’ and encourage individuality to ensure that everyone’s opinion is heard and respected and the best of the variety implemented regardless of whom it came from. For the employees, this promotes confidence and responsibility in that they enjoy working together as a different but same unit (Aston Centre for Human Resources, 2008). A multicultural organization tends to be much more comfortable and productive since individuality is respected. The organization thus benefits from the high productivity since the workforce is confident and comfortable. Furthermore, a multicultural customer service workforce attracts more customers as all demographics are catered for without feeling discriminated in any way. This creates a comfortable and secure customer base that is essential for any business (Bardach, 2000).
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The organizational diversity in the Wal-Mart stores Inc. includes is clustered in the following categories;
Initially, Wal-Mart was just an ordinary family business with a simple operational structure. But with its expansion, a lot of challenges were noted. Being a market leader, Wal-Mart received a lot of criticism on its policies and particularly gender diversity policies. It was claimed that the retail chain discriminated against women in terms of payment and promotion, and a class action was filed to this effect (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1991). This attempt however wasn’t successful as the United States Supreme Court dismissed the suit citing that the plaintiffs could not constitute a class due to their varying circumstances. Today, Wal-Mart boasts of more than 50% of the workforce being women. This includes over 60%of those holding managerial positions as store managers and department managers.
Most of the workers at Wal-Mart start as part time workers who are paid hourly, but they then get promoted to permanent status. Most of these are women too, so generally women are given more priority in both employment and promotion. This is so as to give women fair competition in a labor market that would otherwise be dominated by men.
While, this would appear discriminative against the men, it isn’t so. Most of the work in a store includes lifting and packing thus men find it easier to get hired based on their body strength. This means that there is need for favorable policies to be enforced so as to ensure a little bit of gender balance in the workforce. The Wal-Mart stores seem to have gone a notch higher with implementing affirmative action in respect to gender balance. Most of the executives in the company are now women who have risen through the ranks from hourly workers all the way up to managerial positions (Beardwell & Holden, 2003).
The Wal-Mart stores have a culture of respect towards individuals, which is both customers and associates, regardless of sexual orientation. This ensures that all employees treat each other respectfully and do not discriminate or victimize each other based on their sexual preferences (Maggio & Powell, 1991). In their ‘anti-discrimination policy,’ they have altered the definition of a ‘family’ to include those in same sex unions. This has made Wal-Mart a tolerant environment that is friendly, not just, to gay and lesbian customers, but workers too.
For this reason, they were applauded by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber for Commerce and particularly for their open minded approach towards homosexuality.
While the stores have disabled employees, the insurance policy is purported not to encourage members with disabilities to work at the stores. The part time employees are not given health insurance and their work is much heavier than the cashiers and managers who are not only on permanent payrolls and health insurance policies, but also spend most of their time seated. Most, if not all, of the permanent employees start as part time workers and given how tough the working conditions are, not many disabled persons make it to permanent employment. They quit early.
Race / Ethnicity
In the US alone, Wal-Mart’s employees cut across four main demographic groups. These include the African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. This means that ethnic or racial bias is not applied in the hiring of personnel. The organization has embraced racial/ethnic diversity as it has to appeal to all customers alike.
The Wal-Mart stores employ a lot of school going children as part time workers. The permanent staff however consists of professionals thus they are much older. The stores however do not have senior citizens on their payroll except for a few executives and members of the board of governors. Thus the age bracket within which one is eligible for employment at the stores is wide, but not too wide (Narver, et el, 1990).
With almost 9000 outlets spread out across the globe, Wal-Mart has a very wide range of customers and this means organizational diversity has to be embraced in order to maximize customer satisfaction. With this in mind, the leadership of Wal-Mart stores created 7 business resource groups consisting of women, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Gays and Lesbians, and the Disabled (Treacy & Wiersema, 1993). While these groups are not necessarily the minority, they are all stereotyped or discriminated against in one way or another. This means that they are more likely to identify with those of their kind and form bonds that can be good for business. These business resource groups therefore meet regularly at the Wal-Mart headquarters to strategize and advice the management on how to improve their market ratings. Being a market leader, it is generally the opinion of other stakeholders that the company should do more in terms of embracing diversity and particularly the Gay and Lesbian community. For example, the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is no longer a member in the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
The Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has generally embraced a service centered mode of operation. Right from the founder, Mr. Sam Walton, the associates have been considered as the backbone of the business. With this in mind, I would expect to see even the part time employees being awarded better wages and benefits so as to empower them and encourage them to consider a life time career with the retail chain. But Wal-Mart is a ‘lower prices’ operation so its profitability can only be stretched so far.
The other option that the company is left with in order to optimize its productivity is to apply situational leadership. This includes leadership modes like democracy, autocracy and laissez-faire, and it is highly dependent on the relationship between the associates and the tasks to be performed. In this type of leadership, the management is charged with distribution of power together with the associates in the form of delegating responsibilities and implementing decisions that have been made consultatively. This in turn ensures that all associates in the organization have a level of respect for the management and a working team spirit for fellow colleagues. In this kind of environment, the Wal-Mart staff would have fewer complaints and be able to focus more on improving their corporate worth as a company, while striving to be the best in order to earn a promotion. This would ensure better conflict resolution mechanisms and thus a harmonious environment that would boost business for the retail chain especially because its main attraction is through customer satisfaction.
Alternatively, they can use transformational and discursive leadership to encourage interaction between the different groups present within the workforce. In this form of leadership, the managers basically communicate with the groups to shape their perceptions and interpretations. This would ensure that all various arguments are tabled and discussed to find a common ground before making major decisions.
Recognizing the contributions of an employee individually gives them a sense of owning or belonging, and this brings about renewed commitment and confidence in the company. While the views of a dominant group such as the white male seems to be given much more importance, a transformational leader creates an environment in which all groups, marginalized or dominant, have their opinions heard and analyzed to ensure the best of them all is chosen and applied, with consensus as on what is best for the company. While valuing the contributions of each associate, a good leader would help them to understand that the interests of the company always come before their own individual interests thus whichever decision is made is not for personal glory but for a better company. With peaceful co-existence, the Wal-Mart workforce would forge a strong brotherhood of happy and willing service that will eventually translate to higher productivity and much less absenteeism.
Another area that has been heavily criticized in the Wal-Mart retail chain is the insurance cover. Hourly workers are not covered by company policy until after at least one year of employment. This is so yet they are the ones doing the hard and perhaps even dangerous tasks. This creates a cause for unhappiness amongst the part time workforce thus they are not entirely committed to their work. It is noted that any cause for dissatisfaction creates tension in the work place and this is especially not good for a multicultural organization (David & William, 2007).
The fact that some associates are part time employees and others are on permanent contracts is in itself a divide that is not about to be altered. This is a good way of creating employment opportunities especially in an economy that is struggling with wide spread joblessness and unpleasant standards of living amongst a large chunk of the population. While they cannot do away with part time or permanent jobs, the Wal-Mart management should provide insurance for all workers regardless of whether on part time or permanent employment. This can be done by formulating a policy in which the insurance is valid all through the associate’s employment and ends whenever the employment contract does. This would ensure that the part time employees do not feel at risk given that they have a working health insurance policy and thus they are covered in case of a hazard at work. With this peace of mind, the part time associates will be expected to be more productive and there will in return be more sales and more profits for the retail chain.
Listening is so far one of the best ways through which to obtain wisdom and understanding. Listening to the associates would ensure that there is a better understanding of all the demographics, thus opening up the market for the company. The associates are a good source of market research information since they live in their communities and therefore understand their people’s opinions, needs and desires better. With an open communication system and listening management, exchange of ideas and information leads to development of better product sand services that are in accordance with customers’ needs. This translates to higher sales for the company.
Working in a retail chain is basically physically demanding, and the policy at Wal-Mart encourages workers to rise through the ranks in promotions. Because of this, most associates with disability do not make it up the corporate ladder since the physical constraints of hourly employment takes a harder toll on them forcing them to quit early. This translates to lesser disabled members of the workforce at Wal-Mart. This has caused an outcry one too many times and while it is not deliberate, there is so much that can be done to avert this undertone of discrimination based on disability (Hogwood & Lewis, 1984). People with impairment in mobility can perform other tasks such as accounting, computing, packaging among others very efficiently. They do not have to come aboard as customer assistants or supervisors as such since manual work is not their forte. By creating a policy that allows persons with disabilities to be hired on hourly basis in areas that are not so physically demanding the Wal-Mart stores will have ensured that the disabled members of the society do not feel left out and discriminated against. This will even attract more customers and from interacting with the disabled associates, the management will be able to understand that part of the market and make relevant changes and improvements.
Team work is the basis of every effective organization, whether monolith, plural or multicultural like the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. In creating a favorable working environment for its associates, the management will not only promote team work but also enhance performance and efficiency among the team players. Cohesion is a key factor in promoting job security and job satisfaction (Gibson, et, el, 1995). A worker who feels comfortable in the work place and with other workmates is less likely to be absent from work as to compared to one who isn’t. This means that a good work environment reduces cases of absenteeism and this translates to higher productivity hence efficiency. In an environment that is as diverse as the Wal-Mart workforce, team building is very necessary in order to promote associate interaction and bonding both inside and outside the work place. While there should be limits in order to ensure healthy work relationships, these should not be very strict. Colleagues should be able to interact in ways that are not harmful to both themselves and the company.
Wal-Mart also hires minors who are still in school as part time employees. This is not against the law but these school children should be allowed to go for their lunch breaks and not do extra time since they have school and homework to deal with. While employing minors is good for the economy, the company needs to treat this sensitively to avoid being labeled as exploiters of these minors (Ann & Frances, 1999).
A satisfied workforce is one that is willing to work and compliments the efforts of the management in policy making. But for this to happen, the workforce must be a part of the policy making process either through casual interaction or discussions with the management on issues of contention. This is to ensure that both parties understand the reasons behind the final decision and if they don’t support it, they should at least respect and adhere to it. Once the members of the workforce understand how much the company respects and value their opinions as individuals, they will find it much easier to live with the decisions that were made against their individual wishes, as long as it is for the collective good of the organization (Vance & Roy, 1994).
As a company that embraces and accepts diversity not just among its customers but also among its associates, the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is a diversified retail chain that is not discriminatory against any of the marginalized groups. Through its multicultural workforce, the business is able to attract and maintain customers from all social, political, religious and financial divides (Quinn, 2000). With a good reputation based on favorable policies, the company’s management has made it possible for the company to build a global niche and create a great working environment for over two million citizens of various nations around the world including China and even South Africa.
In conclusion, while, most of the criticisms received by the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. come from its competitors, the company can implement these changes and become the ideal multicultural organization. And this will make the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. an example of the efficiency provided by a diversification that has been well embraced and accepted. To do this will translate to insurance for all associates, more frequent staff interactions (whether in meetings or casual corporate functions), definitive hours for the employed minors, less physical job positions on hourly basis for the disabled persons, and basically a happy and content work force with a high level of productivity leading to better customer interaction and even better sales.
While Wal-Mart is already a fully functional multicultural organization, there still is room for improvement provided the leadership is committed to not only growing the company’s revenue, but to also improve the living standards and working conditions of its associates who bring in the business.
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