Managing Diversity: The Gap between theories and practices in the hospitality industry

This articles written by Putu Indah Rahmawati

Published at : Jurnal Kepariwisataan, Vol 8 no 1 halaman 1-9, Maret 2009, Sekolah Tinggi Pariwisata Bali

Journal Cover


Managing diversity becomes one of the most important factors in ensuring company competitiveness. This paper explores the theory about diversity management and compares it with the practices in organizations and then examines the organizations’ diversity programs through their employees’ perceptions. The findings illustrate that there is a gap between managing diversity theories and practices in organizations and some barriers in implementing diversity program, especially in the hospitality industry.

Therefore, it is suggested for human resources practices to make one consensus about the precise definition of workforce diversity as a guideline in developing diversity training programs. Organizations also need to change their approach from a reactive approach to a proactive approach toward workforce diversity. Communication and openness to dissimilarity can reduce the barriers in implementing diversity programs.

  1. 1.      INTRODUCTION

Operating business in the era of globalization forces a company to learn how to deal with workforce diversity. Companies have been forced to deal with diversity for several reasons, such as: the growing number of women at work, raising the range of ages in the workplace and increasing interaction with other companies or people across national boundaries (Johnson & Redmond, 2000;1). Another fact is the shortages of employees in the hospitality industry makes the firms hire people from different countries so that the workforce becomes culturally diverse. As an illustration, at the Four Seasons hotel inDublinthere were 400 staff from 43 countries to serve the guests from all over the world (Vela, 2006). Although the workforce diversity becomes fact, the ways organizations manage workforce diversity are still evolving.

The term of diversity can be interpreted in many ways. The term diversity refers to the presence in one population of a (wide) variety of cultures, ethnic groups, languages, races, socio-economic backgrounds, opinions, religious beliefs, sexualities, gender identities, particularly in a social context (, 2006).

There are many issues related to workforce diversity. According to Sonnenschein (1997) workforce diversity issues can be related to race, culture, gender, sexual harassment, age, sexual orientation, physical disabilities. Given the variety of issues covered in the area of workforce diversity it therefore becomes the question of this paper as to which issues becomes the main concern in the organization? To what degree is the managing diversity theory applied in the firm’s practices? What are the challenges and barriers in implementing management diversity strategies?

This paper assumes that there is a gap between managing diversity theories and practices in the reality. In addressing this assumption, this paper will explore the diversity programs held by organizations in comparison to the employees’ perceptions about these programs. Since, there is a limitation of resources this paper particularly focuses on cultural issues and disability recruitment issues.

 In presenting the idea, this paper will at first give a brief overview of definitions and benefits of managing diversity in organizations.  After that, this paper will present the findings of the review report and the implications for human resources managers and organizations.


In general, workforce diversity has been widely studied for many years. A lot of literature and case studies discuss about diversity in the workplace (Bartz, in Maxwell, et al, 2001; Jenner in Friday, 2003; Ruffino, 1999; Nankervis, 1995, Sonnenschein’s,1997; Iverson 2002; Carrel, 2006; Vela, 2006). Therefore, the literature reviewed here was summarized and categorized under the following sections: definitions and advantages of managing diversity, workforce diversity issues, legislation and policies related to workforce diversity, discrepancy between theories and practices, challenges and barriers in implementing management diversity strategies.

3.1      Definition and Advantages of Managing Diversity

According to Bartz, in Maxwell, et al (2001) “managing diversity involves understanding that there are differences among employees that these differences, if properly managed, are an asset to work being done more efficiently and effectively”. Furthermore, Jenner in Friday (2003) argue that managing diversity should be considered an active phenomenon, which involves supervising or coordinating and directing the diversity or differences individuals bring to the organization to ensure the organization’s strategic goals are being fully and effectively met.

Numbers of studies have provided evidence that managing diversity brings a lot of benefits for the company ((Bartz, in Maxwell, et al, 2001; Jenner in Friday, 2003; Ruffino, 1999; Nankervis, 1995). According to Ruffino (1999;9), “the variety benefits of managing diversity include: attracting and retaining the best available human talent, increasing organizational flexibility, gaining and keeping greater market share, reducing cost, improving the quality of management, creating and innovative more powerfully, solving problems more effectively, increasing productivity, contributing to social responsibility, increase profit”.

Nankervis (1995) alleged that “in labor intensive industry such as hospitality, the effective utilization of human resources can give hotel a competitive advantage”.


3.2      Workforce Diversity Issues

Awareness of diversity is becoming more widespread. The success of  organizations is influenced by how well they deal with the diversity of people (Swanson, 2002; Bartz, in Maxwell, et al, 2001; Jenner in Friday, 2003; Ruffino, 1999; Nankervis, 1995). In Sonnenschein’s book (1997: 2),” diversity in workplace defined as the differences on the workplace based on race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, age and physical abilities”.

In order to find out issues of greatest concern to the employees in the organization, Iverson (2000) interviewed 74 hotel managers inUSAby conducted semi-structured interview. The interviewees were asked to answer the open-ended questions related to their perception about the diversity policies and practices in their organizations. The research found the issues becoming the main concern in their company, such as: effective communication between management and all employees, respect for the diverse cultural belief and valuing diversity. Conversely,  the issues least discussed by the managers are: sexual-orientation bias, bilingual skills for employees, personal sense of fair compensation and personal sense of belonging.

Similar research conducted by Carrell, et al (2006) found that there is no exact meaning of the term workforce diversity.  This longitudinal study compared the current employee’s perception of the characteristics of diversity with a similar study published by Labor Law Journal (1994). This survey asked the decision makers in organizations to choose ten characteristics (culture, race, gender, age, national origin, language, physical ability, regional origin, sexual orientation) that might be included in working definition of diversity. The findings of this survey said that in 1994, race/color was the top-ranked issue of concern to the decision makers in organizations, followed by gender and age, while issues of least concern to managers were regional origin and religion. Sexual orientation and language were even not mentioned in the diversity definitions in the managers’ perceptions. This feature changes slightly. In 2004, culture/ethnicity became the greatest concern of the managers in the organization, followed by color and gender. Furthermore, there are two additional diversity characteristics included in diversity definitions, such as regional origin and sexual orientation.

3.3      Legislations and Policies Related to Workforce Diversity

Despite the increasing research discussing about diversity, the level of research related to workforce diversity legislation is quite limited. This may be partly due to the lack of awareness toward diversity legislation.

According to R. McInnes, “legislation is one of predominant factors that forces company to utilize management workforce diversity.  Many companies are under legislative mandates to be non-discriminatory in their employment practices. Non-compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity or Affirmative Action legislation can result in fines and/or loss of contracts with government agencies”  (

 Legislation ensures the employees get fair treatment regardless of their background (HREOC, 2006; BSR, 2006).  In order to minimize discrimination toward the minority groups inAustralia, The human rights and equal opportunity commission (HREOC) administers federal laws. There are five specific legislations related to workforce diversity in this law, such as: Age Discrimination Act 2004, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 (HREOC, 2006). Those legislations ensures that everyone get fair treatment regardless of sex, nationality, race, age, physical ability, medical record, criminal record, impairment, trade, marital status, mental, sexual preference, union activity, nationality, religion.

In another country like inUK, discrimination legislation covers a broad range of protected grounds and most types of workers. The specified grounds covered by discrimination legislation are: age, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, general equalities legislation (

Although different countries have different legislation related to workforce diversity, overall at legislation have similar purposes to protect people against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.


3.4      Discrepancy between Managing Diversity Policies and Practices

Every company has a different strategy to deal with workforce diversity (Swanson, 2002). Various research methods are applied in the area of managing diversity in order to find out the most effective way to deal with differences in workplaces. Iverson (2000) exhibits one model of diversity-management strategy, about how a company can manage diversity in the office. This model contains three themes that correlate with valuing diversity such as: culture, opportunity and leadership. In brief, this model shows that a company can generate managing diversity by conducting diversity training programs, respecting the differences, improving company’s concern for equality (equal pay, reward and respect for minority and majority groups), active recruitment and raising the number of multicultural employees, and communicating effectively with all employees.

  Other studies report that in order to generate the maximum advantages from diversity, the company diversity strategy needs to be evaluated to confirm the strategy linkages between  a company’s culture, policies, procedures, systems and its diversity initiatives ( Friday, 2003; Vela, 2006).

Although numerous studies have provided evidence that managing differences in the workplace plays a significant role in ensuring profitable and competitive business (Maxwell, 2000; Nankervis, 1995; Ruffino, 1999; Cox & Stacy, 1991; Friday, 2003). However, not all the organizations show concern about diversity issues. (Swanson, 2002; Carrell,et al 2006; Groschl, 2004; Unger& Kregel, 2003; D’Netto & Sohal, 1999)

A survey conducted by Carrell, et al (2006) found surprising findings. From the 169 member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) chosen as respondents, 53% reported that their organizations do not have a written policy or program related to workforce diversity. Furthermore, a survey inCanada(Miller & Rowney, 1999) also found that only 50% organizations have diversity programs and only a few organizations perceive any need for diversity programs.

 Similarly, Swanson (2002) found that most managers lack familiarity with terminology related to diversity and most of them believe that diversity theories are difficult to implement in reality. In addition, Swanson (2002) also reported that although during the interview managers could explain their perceptions about workforce diversity, there is an obvious dearth of implementation of the theories in their daily activities.

Along with the studies which are focused on current human resources practices related to workforce diversity, the case study conducted by Groschl (2004) found that there is a gap between human resources theory and the reality.  The majority of large hotels inTorontoutilized a re-active recruitment approach toward people with disabilities. Other interesting findings from this research are: “none of the hotel in city centerTorontocould explain of how many disability employees work in their company, they do not target disabled people and modification in hotels is focused on the customer’s need not the employees’.

Furthermore, Unger & Kreger (2003) indicated that although a number of organizations have diversity programs, they have very limited awareness of workplace supports for disability workers. The majority of the organizations interviewed in this research have a program to manage disability but they can not utilize these programs in providing facilities to workers with disabilities.

      A similar situation also occurs inAustralia. Wilson & Weiler (2000) evaluate a pilot cross-cultural training program conducted for hospitality staff inMelbournein 1998. In this paper Mallinson & Weiler reported that the staffs who joined the cross-culture awareness training from the first meeting until the training program ended, were very enthusiastic and highly recommend that this program continue in the future. However, the majority of  staff and managers inMelbournedid not realize the importance of cultural awareness in hotels. Most of the hotel staff are unmotivated to take cross-cultural training program because they feel less likely need the cross-cultural awareness.

  In addition, D’Netto & Sohal (1999) also argued that “overall, management of workforce diversity is only mediocre”. This research found inadequacy of diversity programs in the areas of recruitment, selection and training.

Although managing diversity programs have been studied and executed in some organizations, however, the case studies above showed that the result of the programs are not as good as expected.

3.5     Challenges and Barriers in Implementing Management Diversity Strategies

There were many challenges met by the organizations when managing diversity (Groshl,2004; Mallinson & Weiler, 2000; Vela, 2006; Smith, 2002). Groschl (2004) in his study case in Toronto argued   “ that the complexity of Canada’s legal framework and the limited awareness, understanding, and communication between person without a disability people with a disability within the case study organizations seem to enforce a reactive  approach”.

Furthermore, a paper written by Mallinson & Weiler (2000) indicated the challenge in building cross-cultural awareness is to motivate hotel staff to undertake the multicultural training. In addition, several obstacles that cause to organizations use the reactive approach in managing diversity were: bigger training expenditure, rising unpleasant conflicts, mismanaged diversity, need to provide a various need and expectations, reverse discrimination,   how to influence stakeholders funding the diversity program and how to handle the conflict of interest between stakeholders (Vela, 2006).

Another research about vision impaired people in the workplace in Australiaconducted by Smith (2002) reported that with certain facilities the vision impaired workers can do their job as well as others; however they still faced negative attitudes and misperceptions of their colleagues and employers.


From the literature review and study cases mentioned above, there are three main findings can be generated in this paper. Firstly, the cultural, race and gender issues were becoming the main concern in organization were. From those main issues, culture most frequently became the main concern of the organizations. Conversely, national origin, religion, language, physical ability, regional origin and sexual orientation have been ignored by the decision makers in organizations (Smith, 2002; Groschl, 2004).  Disability and sexual orientation might be not a priority for Human Resources directors and teams. This might be the causes of prejudice, misconception and negative attitudes (Iverson, 2000; Smith, 2002).

Moreover, although there are many academic articles and study cases discussing about cultural diversity, only a small number discuss the other characteristics. Using a broad keyword “managing diversity” to search a search academic literature available in this area, it is found that generally the findings can be categorized into: managing cultural diversity (Vela, 2006; Hartel, 2004; Yamashita, 2004; Cox and Stacy, 1991; Mallinson & Weiler, 2000; Spillane, no date) and the strategies to deal with diversity (Friday, 2003; Iverson, 2000; Carrell, et, 2006). This demonstrates that culture/ ethnicity is becoming the main issue concerned by managers and employees in the organizations. Moreover, it is difficult to find the articles about managing diversity which are related to people with disabilities and sexual orientation in the hospitality industry. For example, in Indonesiaonly one article discussed managing cultural diversity and there were no other articles discuss about other characteristics of diversity (, 2006)

The second finding underlines the assertion that there is a gap between managing diversity theories and practices in the reality (Swanson, 2002; Carrell,et al 2006; Groschl, 2004; Unger& Kregel, 2003; D’Netto & Sohal, 1999). Although workforce diversity has been a fact for many years and numerous experts said that managing diversity brings lot of benefits for the organizations, however, a lot of organizations are still not concerned about diversity. The following study cases will confirm that the managing diversity program is still “middling”.

An obvious example of the gap between theories and practices in organization can be seen in the article written by Carrell, et al (2006)  which  found that from 169 member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) interviewed in this survey, only 47% organization have diversity policies and program. It means that more than 50% organizations from the sample research ignored about diversity issues. Similarly, inAustralia, cultural diversity training programs which were organized by many organizations still could not encourage staffs to undertake the programs by the own initiative (Mallinson & Weiler, 1998).

In term of disability recruitment, employers also fail to utilize the diversity program in providing facilities for workers with disabilities (Unger & Kreger, 2003; Groshl, 2004; Smith, 2002). Survey conducted by Groshl in 2004 found that majority hotels inTorontouse re-active approach toward disability recruitment as most of the hotels not give a chance for disability person to be an employee. Moreover, Unger & Kreger (2003) indicated that although a number of organizations have diversity programs but they have very limited awareness of workplace supports for disability worker.

Last but not least, it can be seen from the literature review that the challenges of managing diversity could come from inside organization and the outside organization. From inside organization, the barriers might be including cost of the training, how to communicate effectively toward whole stakeholders, and encouraging awareness of employees to respect diversity and to undertake the training program. Barrier from outside organizations include complexity of legal framework related to workforce diversity and no consensus about the definition of workforce diversity might be lead to confusing the organizations in planning the diversity policy and program in organizations.


In the fierce competition of global market, organizations ability to manage diversity effectively will become the most important factors in ensuring the organizations competitiveness. Therefore, this paper suggest several changes in order to minimize the gap between managing diversity theories and practices and also to improve the human resources managers ability to face the challenges in implementing diversity policies.

First, considering that human resources manager more concern about the cultural issues and almost ignore other characteristics of diversity, this paper give suggestion for the manager to change the training approach from reactive approach to proactive approach. Managers need to listen effectively what is the demand of their employees exactly and how the managers can encourage them to participate actively in valuing diversity in the workplace and motivate them to respect each other. If the managers can change the content of the training program from only focus on the cultural issues to broaden content which include all aspects of diversity, for sure the company will gain competitive advantages in the future.

 Secondly, since the complexity of the workforce diversity definition  as the main reason there is a gap in implementing diversity policies, the term of workforce diversity should be defined precisely. Precise definition and clear legal framework will minimize bias perception among the human resources managers and staff. This can achieved if the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) work together and make some consensus related to workforce diversity definition. The society generates rules that can be adopted by every organization all over the world. Although every organizations and every country has different situations and barriers in managing diversity, at least there is the same guideline can be followed by the organizations in making the diversity policies and programs.

Finally, Human Resource managers should foster openness to dissimilarity of stakeholders in organization. Respecting the dissimilarity and open communication hopefully can minimize barriers in implementing diversity program and reducing bias and prejudice in organizations. As stated by Hartel & Fujimoto in Hartel (2000), “at the dissimilarity openness end of the continuum, difference is viewed positively and as an opportunity for learning”.


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About sustainabletourismforbali

I am the lecturer in Hotel Department , Social Science faculty, Ganesha Education University, Bali
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