Defining Diversity in the Workplace
Workplace diversity is an issue that has increasingly become a talking point in many businesses – particularly, in human resources departments. Although some managers may feel legally compelled to create a diverse workforce, others may see the strategic benefits of having a broad range of types of employees. Understanding the complexity of diversity issues may help you manage your company’s workforce.
Defining Workplace Diversity
In order to explain the term diversity, it is important to understand that diversity directly affects the workplace – and with increasing significance. The term diversity includes and understanding and acceptance of the fact that people have individual characteristics, which make them unique from each other, particularly when comparing individuals in a group. These characteristics may include race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political ideologies, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities or socio-economic status. These characteristics also may include life experiences and cognitive approaches toward problem solving.
Since the workplace is filled with people, the differences that each unique person brings to a company directly affects what takes place within the company. Many aspects of the company – from production, to marketing to corporate culture – are influenced not only by diversity but also as to how the diversity is perceived company-wide. To those outside the company, that company may seem as if it is made up of many types of people. However, if the differences are creating discord and frequent turnover, then that company is not using its diversity to leverage the business to its advantage
History of Diversity and Affirmative Action
In an attempt to rid work places of unfair, unequal treatment of individuals – specifically, those who are members of minority ethnic groups – which had historically been discriminated against. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order, which then became known as “Affirmative Action.” Affirmative Action stated that U.S. government employers could not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, creed, color or national origin.
In later years, similar laws expanded the idea to include sex (gender), physical disabilities and veterans. These laws are mandated only for federal agencies, contractors and subcontractors – who must take affirmative action or steps to not only make sure that they are not discriminating against individuals – but also that they are actively seeking to hire those who have been discriminated against historically or who are a member of a minority group.
Backlash Concerning Affirmative Action
Although many saw these legislative actions as positive, others felt that they created reverse discrimination. However, because the emphasis for job opportunities was on those who were a member of a minority group – and that instead of creating a level playing field, it was then felt that the laws had put some at at a disadvantage for job opportunities, since the emphasis was on hiring minority individuals. However, others believed that this early diversity law provided talented individuals with opportunities, to which they might not have had previous access.
The backlash concerning affirmative action is also an issue when it comes to workplace diversity in the larger business world. Some people are concerned that when management is focused on creating a culturally – or otherwise diverse organization – then it is possible that the quality of qualified and talented personnel will suffer. They believe that the focus may be on hiring a candidate that fits into a category, which then adds to the company’s appearance of diversity, even though those individuals may not be the most qualified candidate for a specific position.
Many Dimensions of Diversity
The word “diversity” itself almost hints at the multi-faceted aspects of how differences among employees can play out in the workplace. And although a broad array of unique individuals can bring many positives to a company, there can be a downside to the many diversity issues that arise.
Diversity of Perspectives
One of the great positives of diversity in business is the range of perspectives that happens when various types of people are brought in to the work force. People who have backgrounds that differ from each other – experientially and culturally – will view problems and challenges in different ways, and that they will also bring diverse solutions to the table. Their different perspectives not only bring about unique solutions – often, they provide a wealth of options with which to experiment.
Many times, these ideas also lead to innovative concepts that bring about new ideas for corporate growth or initiatives for internal management. However, the challenge for corporate managers is to get everyone to appreciate and to adapt to each other’s perspectives.
Diversity in How People Think
Once issues are uncovered, individuals nearly always differ from each other in their ways of thinking, recognizing problems or in approaching solutions. Most people would readily agree that men and women tend to think differently, and that they will often have different approaches toward finding a solution to the same problem. In fact, one person may not even recognize that there is an issue in a specific area – when another person may see the problem as being crystal clear! So, even though diversity within a team may help uncover problem areas, trying to work out a solution amidst differing viewpoints may prove challenging.
The same is true among various cultural groups. In many cultures, the roles of men and women are very different – so, in a business environment – one person’s expectations of behavior may not always agree with the cultural norms of another culture. In some cultures, women are expected to take a subservient position, and cannot act as independently as women do in western cultures. When the two genders and cultures mix in the business world, the social norms of each group may cause misunderstanding or tension.
Navigating Workplace Diversity Challenges
Whether you feel positively or negatively about workplace diversity, you are likely to come face to face with one or more of the many challenges currently facing company owners and managers in business. Making yourself aware of potential issues and then finding ways to proactively address them – will create a more productive, cohesive work environment for your business.
Diversity Can Cause Discord
A significant concern for those working in a diverse company is that employees who don’t feel that they fit into the corporate environment are often unhappy in their work, and the company’s effectiveness or ability to grow, ultimately, may be stunted. For example, an individual may feel like an outcast in his department because of his ethnicity. In another department, someone may believe that she was passed over for a job promotion, because of her gender, sexual orientation or religion. In each instance, those employees are feeling the sting of prejudicial treatment, and they may become increasingly unhappy in their job.
On a large scale, businesses cannot operate efficiently, if there is widespread discord, because of inequality as to how employees are viewed and treated in their jobs. Time and money are lost, if there is a high level of turnover because of constant job vacancies – not to mention the additional time necessary to hire and train replacements. Instead, training and developing a positive, inclusive corporate environment may be the answer.