Schools need ‘diversity sentinels”
by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nattavud Pimpa
9 October 2018
published in Bangkokpost.com
Thailand has always been a diverse country made up of people from different racial, cultural and even religious backgrounds. Yet this reality has remained largely unrecognised by Thais, due to our gravitation towards “Thai-ness” and growing nationalism.
In the age of globalisation and expanding regionalism, especially with the so-called “Asean community”, Thai businesses’ greater incorporation of individuals with different conditions and abilities into their workforce can enhance their productivity while helping contribute to social and economic progress as a whole.
Unfortunately, diversity management at the workplace has remained unspoken and under-utilised.
The creation of diversity sentinels is crucial to a productive and cohesive Thai society, and this can start at our business schools. They must commit themselves to intersectoral thought partnership on diversity mainstreaming. Within business schools, this starts by systematically promoting real learning in diversity management through a targeted curriculum.
Thai academics are fully aware of diversity management. This I have witnessed first-hand through engagement in a number of Thai business schools over the past decade. Most can relate positive business outcomes to the strong diversity management policies of Thai and international organisations, when these are instituted. Nonetheless, there is a disconnect between this understanding and actually using the different qualities employees bring to the workplace to increase overall staff performance. This is not good enough.
The challenge now for Thai business schools is how to push through the ceiling of nationalistic sentiment.
Two approaches have emerged. The first, known as “continued globalisation”, sees emerging economies and hyper-growth in trade as major conduits of world advancement and poverty reduction. It draws power from diversity. Taking care of issues such as employing people of diverse physical, mental, and cultural backgrounds can enrich knowledge and promote societal productivity.
Research shows that the promotion of social diversity in developed countries, such as Australia and Germany, is related to higher political participation among their citizens, decreases in poverty and upgrades in economic and technological capabilities. Good education can accelerate the level of diversity.
Conversely, in Thailand we still commonly experience intense criticism of diversity and mobility of people as a perceived negative consequence of globalisation. As a result we see misplaced nationalism, reduced geopolitical cooperation, and discrimination against migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Obviously, we do not fully comprehend the concept of diversity. Nationalism together with ultra-conservatism stymie the adoption of diversity, leaving businesses less well-off and our society relatively unfulfilled.
Most Thai business and management degrees aim to produce managers of an international standard. Thailand needs business operators, owners, managers and leaders who are fully aware of the benefits and challenges of diversity in the current global and local contexts. Thai business schools’ pedagogy should align with that aim, and be designed to enhance diversity competencies among our future graduates.
Yet, debate and action on diversity management in Thai education remains sluggish. Diversity management must go beyond current Thai legislation pertaining to diversity, which is still in its infancy.
There are two important points that Thai business schools should consider when they develop their management curricula.
The first is how to teach high-level diversity management in the business and management curriculum. There are, in fact, a wide range of learning and teaching activities that can help students recognise the humanity and essential value of different types of people. Engaging students with activities that help them to understand the framework for diversity is a good starting point.
Thailand lacks a strong national framework on diversity management. The diversity framework of schools must be developed as we await national legislation designed to promote equal opportunity in society at all levels. Starting in the classroom, our business students can design the organisational frameworks on diversity management.
We need more role models when it comes to diversity in Thailand. Business organisations are well-placed to embrace this role. They can demonstrate conviction in promoting skills for people with disabilities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) staff, equality among women and men in the workplace, positions for older workers and the high value of the fair treatment of migrant workers.
Providing our students with role models who demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities from diverse backgrounds, and make social contributions in a non-stereotyped way, will help students to recognise the meaningful and limitless ways in which they can have a positive impact on society.
The development of the future workforce is a critical issue for business schools. We must find ways to remain innovative. Diversity of thought is fundamental. The key question is, how do we teach these issues in such a way that business and management students can achieve a true understanding of the impact of diversity on business, as called for by accrediting standards?
We need to teach future business leaders to be clear on what they want to achieve in developing diversity policies. There are a number of lessons-learnt on the fundamental error of failing to align corporates’ diversity practices with their goals. Some Thai business organisations superficially build ostensibly diverse teams by selecting members from different social and ethnic groups but pay little attention to engendering an organisational culture supporting harmonious and effective diversity.
Without nurturing diversity through clear and appropriate goals and objectives, they go halfway, are destined to fail, and ultimately give up on the promotion of diversity policies. We can do better.
Ignoring diversity is not an option for Thai business schools. They need to serve the community, mainstream diversity and enact real change in business practices, which would benefit both productivity and society on a broader level. *****