• Managing cultural diversity
  • in small and medium-sized organizations
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Project description

Initial Situation:

The EU member states are facing difficult demographic changes. Their societies are ageing. The average age of the European population will increase from approximately 40 to 50 years in the next four decades. Life expectancy has been increasing in an almost continuous and uniform trend at the rate of 2-3 months every year. In numerous EU countries the domestic population is also shrinking. On the other hand the first decade of the 21st century has seen large waves of immigration into the EU. Every year, about 1,8 million people immigrate into the EU. Since the beginning of this century, migration has been the most important factor influencing the size of the population in the EU – much more than the natural growth of the domestic population. The Commission’s ‘Demography report 2008’ (p. 62) summarizes that ‘the EU has thus become a major destination for global migration flows, surpassing even the US.’

It is estimated that about one half of the immigrants to the EU were previously residing outside the EU. The largest number of authorizations to reside in an EU-27 member state in 2008 was issued to the citizens of Morocco followed by China, India, Albania, Ukraine, Brazil and the United States (European Commission, 2010). The proportion of non-nationals with tertiary educational levels differs significantly across the EU. The proportion of tertiary-educated non-nationals is over 40 % in Ireland, Sweden and Luxembourg. However, there are also Member States with large numbers of non-nationals who have a low level of education. Immigration will challenge the state of the European Union as a political, economic and social entity. Workplaces become nationally and culturally diverse. Immigrants are visibly or invisibly different from what is considered “normal” or “average“ in the receiving society. They bring along different rules of conduct, values, mindsets, and normative orientations. A national or cultural diverse workplace does not necessarily imply that they find paths to their domestic colleagues or the host society in general and become socially integrated. Immigrants may experience rejection, skepticism, and discrimination with respect to work tasks, wages, promotions, layoffs, etc. The situation at the workplace reflects in many ways the dominant attitudes and behavioral tendencies toward immigrants, as found in the host society.

In response to a more and more national/cultural diverse workforce a number of European private companies and public institutions have initiated so-called management of diversity programs. Generally, management of diversity is intended to encourage employees to be comfortable with diversity in the workplace and to develop an appreciation for differences in age, gender, nationality, cultural background, sexual orientation or any other factors that may not be shared by everyone working in the same organization. Despite increased research on this topic during the last years disagreement over what management of diversity means is restraining the development of a coherent body of knowledge. Much work is hypothetical and findings of empirical studies about diversity management are still fragmented and inconsistent. That is why the focus of this study will be on the management of cultural diversity.

Summary of the project:

The study will explore the management of diversity practices directed at highly-skilled immigrants working for small and medium sized private and public organizations in four EU member states. The project follows a transnational, mixed method approach bringing together different researchers from various disciplines in order to provide solutions for the upcoming challenges of integrating highly qualified non-EU immigrants at their workplaces and make use of the potential of immigration in Europe. There is no agreed definition of the highly skilled workforce. Highly-skilled employees are most frequently categorized through their level of educational attainment (generally set at several years of tertiary study following the completion of high school courses). The term highly skilled is commonly stretched to cover a wide range of educational or occupational backgrounds, including business executives, IT specialists, engineers, researchers, physicians and other professional health workers. In line with important upcoming shortages of highly skilled employees in specific professional areas we intend to explore non EU immigrants working in the sectors of engineering, medicine and science. The project will involve researchers from Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria. The countries have been selected for their differing paths toward acceptance of immigration and their specific labor markets. The project will be coordinated by the “Bayreuth Research Institute for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises “(BF/M) that is affiliated with the University of Bayreuth.