Diversity Management and Discrimination: Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in the EU

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 6 June 2008




Wrench, J. (2008), "Diversity Management and Discrimination: Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in the EU", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 16 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/hrmid.2008.04416dae.003



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Diversity Management and Discrimination: Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in the EU

Article Type: Suggested readingFrom: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 16, Issue 4.

John Wrench, Ashgate, 2007

Keywords: Equal opportunities, Ethnic minorities, European Union

Some social groups are disproportionately represented in different occupations, and across hierarchical levels within organizations. Why, in such a competitive business market with unrelenting skill shortages, does such a phenomenon exist? The evidence points to the pervasiveness of discrimination.

Following the second world war, human-rights movements and the subsequent globalization of business and culture increased the requirement for society and organizations to remove historical and institutional discrimination, and to respond more effectively to the needs of a diverse workforce. Although issues of diversity and discrimination have been recognized internationally, the responses differ dramatically. Diversity Management and Discrimination: Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in the EU examines racial discrimination and diversity in the workplace, and the development of diversity management in the USA and, more explicitly, the European Union (EU).

The book brings together a range of literature into one concise volume in a readable format for readers new to the field of diversity and discrimination. As part of the Research in Migration and Ethnic Relations series, this book is one of many that John Wrench has published on race discrimination in Europe. His other publications include critiques of organizational strategies for combating discrimination in the workplace.

The book aims to provide both an overview of concepts related to the practice of diversity management and a context for understanding how diversity management has developed in the EU, particularly since the early 1990s. The focus is on employment-related discrimination in a single national organizational context rather than across countries. The main themes are the utility of diversity-management ideology and practice, the value of diversity management compared with anti-discrimination measures, and the impact contextual factors have on the development of diversity management in various EU countries.

The first chapter defines the parameters of the book and introduces concepts and definitions related to diversity management. Overall this chapter is easy to read and provides an inviting start.

Chapter 2, although brief, identifies some of the major historical origins of diversity management in north America. It then identifies “best practice” groupings, factors affecting diversity policy in organizations, some common diversity initiatives, and the general effectiveness of these. The chapter finally examines some of the major differences between the US and European contexts.

Chapter 3 provides a clear and informative background of diversity management in Europe. European countries have fewer ethnic minorities, estimated at 5-6 percent compared to 25 percent in north America, bringing about different drivers, needs and responses. EU countries have also been able to learn from the experiences in the USA, particularly in regard to the backlash and ineffectiveness of affirmative-action policies. The latter part of the chapter describes a new typology for retrospectively examining organizational practices.

Chapter 4 presents a brief overview of the diversity movement in several European countries, and introduces several key theories that underpin diversity responses, which may also be useful in identifying potential convergence in such responses. The impact of cultural, political, institutional and historical factors provides a basis on which to understand differences in responses to diversity and the development of diversity management in Europe compared with the USA. In particular, the influential role of trade unions in the EU is noted, as well as the different responses across national borders because of such factors.

Chapter 5 provides a good overview of the main criticisms of diversity management, and examines the two dominant perspectives of diversity responses, from the left and right. A key criticism of diversity management is that by taking a “soft” approach, for example, by valuing cultural diversity, it has weakened the effectiveness of more direct and harder anti-discrimination responses.

Chapter 6 examines this criticism in more depth by comparing the intent and practice of diversity management with anti-discrimination measures. This fairly brief chapter provides a compendium of relevant key concepts in a manner ideal for a reader who is new to the field.

The final chapter raises a number of unresolved issues affecting diversity management and addresses further limitations in the scope of the book.

Although the author explicitly notes his reliance on selected key sources of information for this overview, this is still a major weakness of the book. The over-reliance on only a few, albeit relevant, sources unfortunately conveys a lack of breadth needed for a strong and informed critique. In addition, the key literature on north American approaches was published a decade prior to this book and, while still relevant, it would have been good to see more extensive use of recent research literature.

The book is well worth reading by newcomers to the field, but those wishing to develop a more in-depth understanding of country-specific issues will need to supplement the book with further material.

Reviewed by Robyn Mason, Department of Human Resource Management, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

A longer version of this review was originally published in Women in Management Review, Vol. 22 No. 8, 2007.

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