Ireland needs to embrace workplace diversity

Sep 21 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Irish employers have been warned they have to get a grip with the notion of workplace diversity, as it is now one of the key challenges facing managers in the country.

From being a country that once saw many of its young workers emigrating overseas, Ireland has in recent years seen more and more of an influx of workers from other parts of Europe, attracted by its booming "Celtic Tiger" economy.

The result, Irish Property & Facility Management Association has said at its annual conference, is that managers now need to develop a new set of skills to cope with and benefit from this more diverse workforce.

"Ireland has become a destination for workers and their families not only from Europe but also from other countries worldwide," said IPFMA chairman Patricia Crisp.

"We have literally become a multicultural society overnight. So how do you show leadership in motivating and at the same time fulfil the aspirations of a multicultural workforce?"

Workplace diversity was now one of the main drivers of change in the Irish workplace and equality and diversity management initiatives needed to be integrated into company policies, particularly those around planned change, said IPFMA's Richard Fallon.

"We live in an era of globalisation and unprecedented freedom on movement of people, labour, capital and investment. But while we were busy watching out for diversification in the banking sector, the food sector, the services sector, etc, we have had an emerging diversification of the workforce," he said.

Managers needed to become more flexible in forming perspectives and more willing to change workplace and cultural horizons.

It was essential that people managed, not controlled, the diversity of cultural and working backgrounds from which employees and customers were now being drawn, Fallon added.

"Equality is about merging and broadening horizons. And so too is good business," he said.

The Irish workforce had now surpassed the two million mark, with foreign nationals now making up 10 per cent of this total.

"Half of the 20,000 new jobs in construction and one-third of the 17,500 jobs in the retail sector represent workers from other countries," said Fallon.

"Proactively addressing equality and diversity supports the wider capacity for organisational flexibility and adaptability," he added.