The importance of a diverse workforce is becoming more important in the business world. Diversity has taken on a new meaning as we move to a global economy. While American business has moved to increase diversity, there is much ground to cover in this area. There are many benefits for businesses with well-developed diversity management programs.
Affirmative action generally refers to federal mandates to seek out minorities for employment and promotion. Diversity goes beyond the mandate, involving a recognition and appreciation for the differences in people and cultures.
Adjusting to diversity in the workplace means more than just accepting another person as they are and giving them the equal opportunity of employment. Diversity includes creating a cohesive culture within the workplace, by understanding the differences and similarities of each employee and making full use of the strengths of all employees.
Diversity should be encouraged and managed because it helps a business to improve and maintain its competitive advantage. The current fast-paced business world with its new technology has taken employers beyond traditional boundaries, sometimes forcing businesses to adjust to differences in culture quickly. For example, an international buyer who saw your webpage may want to propose a contract for your company’s product or services. Before you know it or know how to deal with it, you are faced with cultural differences for which you may not be prepared.
Among the reasons for encouraging diversity are the following:
A business that has serious intentions to diversify must do more than hold a seminar or two for employees. Employer policies, recruitment, compensation orientation, training and work arrangements should all be evaluated and modified as necessary to support diversity.
Critical to the success of any diversity plan is the support of top management. Employees probably expect the human resources department to be dedicated to diversity, but if the company CEO shows a strong interest, the impact on employees and lower-level supervisors will be visible. Executive involvement is also critical for the necessary financial support to implement a diversity initiative.
Trends in human resources favor a broad approach to diversity, rather than the traditional integration of individuals with various visible characteristics. Diversity can and should include a respect for not only the visible differences between people, but also the various personalities and work styles that each employee brings to the company.
A diversity program should be broad enough to include all employees and each employee should be made to feel like the program will benefit them. If employees can relate to the need for diversity, they will be much more likely to support and encourage a program. Above all, employees should not expect the diversity program to correct past inequalities or be tailored to fit their individual agendas.
Review your company climate, procedures, customer base and workforce to determine the focus your diversity initiative should take. For instance, consider the following areas:
Any diversity initiative must include a continuous training component. No program is worthwhile if it is not communicated to your employees and used on a daily basis.
The most expedient means of accomplishing the necessary employee education is through a training process. Training may take any of a number of forms, however. Employers have the option to provide written materials, seminars or individual sessions. Some companies may find it expedient to use the services of a consultant or to involve legal counsel. Others may choose to present the training by current human resources staff or other supervisory employees.
Don’t expect training to change the way your business operates or to change employee attitudes overnight. People must make the effort to accept and welcome diversity and change often comes slowly. Training, however, creates awareness of the diversity initiative and may teach skills that will facilitate change. Training can change behavior, which is often the first step to changing attitudes.
Diversity training should not be limited to single sessions on the single topic of “Diversity.” Your diversity training should also be incorporated into other educational venues provided to your employees. For example, once the diversity program has been formulated, relevant aspects of the program should be included in orientation sessions for new employees.
Supervisory training should always include refresher sessions on the diversity initiative. Keeping track of accomplishments in diversity and sharing them in ongoing educational sessions can be encouraging to both supervisors and employees.
After the initial educational efforts and policy reviews have been completed, the next step should be re-evaluation. Diversity is a continuing process. Progress should be noted, wherever possible. Failures should be reviewed, and an effort made to come up with alternate plans. Managers must continue to be motivated to encourage diversity in promotion and job assignment.
It is often helpful to develop a committee or taskforce that is dedicated to continuing the diversity initiative. Regular meetings should be held at which progress is analyzed, problems are addressed and further goals are set. The taskforce should include a variety of employees.
For the small to medium-sized business, it is often difficult to achieve a diverse workplace with a single initiative. Limited staffing needs and budgets can hinder the implementation of an all-inclusive plan for diversity. The alternative is to start with small steps, selecting two or three aspects of the business that need improvement. Efforts can then be focused efforts on increasing diversity in those areas. As improvements are noted, other areas can be targeted. A commitment to the process is the most important aspect of a diversity program, not its initial size or scope.
Visit the website for Dialogue on Diversity, a nonprofit educational organization at: