This report is a discussion of the proposition that the strategic management of diversity leads to a wider range of ideas and abilities, offering greater scope for innovation and future competitive performance. The B&Q Company is critically analysed in order to test the validity of this proposition, and examples are drawn from the literature on diversity and performance to place the subject in context. Following the analysis, a diversity strategy outline is proposed for the B&Q Company.
Currently B&Q is the largest do-it-yourself retail chain in the UK, selling materials and equipment for both the home and domestic garden market. The founders, Richard Block and David Quayle, started the business in 1969. Subsequent to a 20 years growth cycle, the company is now part of the Kingfisher Group, which also owns similar European companies providing market presence in France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Russia. B&Q presently has stores throughout the UK and Ireland, is headquartered at Chandlers Ford in Hampshire, and has expanded into the Far East with stores in Taiwan and China. In 2006 the company employed over 38, 000 people in more than 300 stores across the UK. In terms of diversity, during 1989 B&Q noted the demographic changes taking place in the UK, particularly the ageing population, coupled with the fact that it had at the time a young workforce with a high staff turnover. In the DIY business product knowledge is critical and the younger workforce was seen as lacking in the relevant experience. The company embarked on a policy of employing older workers, having first carried out a very successful pilot in a new store, staffed entirely by workers over 50. The evidence of success persuaded the bard of B&Q to adopt a positive approach to recruitment of an age-diverse workforce. The company viewed the move as making good business sense. The B&Q website displays its commitment and belief in diversity and a mix of talents, and their policies in this respect promote equal opportunity of employment regardless of gender, ethnic origin, nationality, culture, religion, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or political views. They have appointed a Diversity Manager, reporting to the Board, and their philosophy on diversity is reflected in its HR policies (Mullins 2008: 86). B&Q remains the UK’s largest retailer in its sector and noted profitability of the business in its most recent annual report (B&Q website).
Price (2007:385) quotes Cox et al (2001:31) as defining diversity as the variation of social and cultural identities among people in an employment situation. The reality is that people are different, varying in gender, culture, race, social, physical and psychological characteristics. These differences may cause either negative or positive reactions, depending on individual perspectives and prejudices. In the workplace this can cause positive influences as some believe diversity is a source of creativity and innovation. In other cases, diversity can be the source of misunderstanding, suspicion and workplace conflict affecting performance.
The dimensions of diversity may be broken down into primary and secondary characteristics, according to Daft (2006: 469). The primary dimensions are age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, and physical ability. Secondary dimensions can either be acquired or changed in life, impacting less on the primary dimensions but affect an individual’s view of the world and how others view them. Examples are differences in housing status, with some individuals coming from affluent suburbs and others in run-down inner city environments. Likewise married people with children have a different set of attitudes and values than those who are single and childless. A person’s religion, native language, socio-economic status, educational and work background add dimensions of differentiation not only to the person but also to how others view them. These secondary dimensions are very relevant in a workplace setting, and for those managers who believe in the concept of value through diversity, the challenge is to recognise the individual’s values and strengths, as opposed to their diversity aspects. Bratton and Gold (2001: 94) echo this by stating that diversity in the workplace, changes in demographics and social values all make the management of people more complex and challenging.
The business case for diversity is articulated by Boddy (2008: 370) who quotes Anderson and Metcalfe (2003; 26) as arguing that business will benefit from promoting diversity as it will facilitate access to a broader range of individuals, their strengths, experiences and perspectives. It will offer a greater understanding of the diverse groups of both potential and existing customers represented within the workforce. Additionally, it will experience better communication with these diverse groups of potential and existing customers.
The increasing pace of competition requires companies to focus on companies internal assets in the shape of employees to drive performance improvement. However, according to Torrington et al (2004: 110) changing social trends and legislation have made the task of attracting and retaining the best employees more complex, leading organisations to become more minded of the strategic value of a more diverse workforce, in an effort remain competitive. The composition of the workforce is changing, with an increased number of women and members of ethnic minority groups entering, and the age profile of the working population is changing with an increase in the average age of employees (Redman and Wilkinson 2006: 307).
Daft (2006:466) outlines the case for diversity, noting that some top management believe that it offers a broader range or opinions and viewpoints, reflects an increasingly diverse customer base, demonstrates the company’s commitment to the “right thing” and helps attract the best talent.