The concept of diversity is based on the understanding that each individual is unique and that we recognize our individual differences. These differences can be along the dimensions of race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical and cognitive abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs and other ideologies. The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect.
It won’t be long before the US minorities are not in the minority any more. According to the Census Bureau, Asian, Hispanics and multiracial groups will become the majority of population by 2044. Our nation and our workforce are changing rapidly. The share of people of color in the United States is increasing; more women are entering the labor force, gay and transgendered individuals are making vital contributions to our economy while being increasingly open about who they are. To that end, businesses that embrace diversity have a more solid footing in the marketplace than others who do not.
Smart companies reflect the reality in the collective makeup of their employees. The reality is that diversity and inclusion are a business imperative. But diversity is not just mirroring the country’s demographics. It is about innovation and performance. According to a global management consulting firm McKinsey and Co., companies that exhibit gender and ethnic diversity are respectively 15 percent and 35 percent more likely to outperform those companies that do not. The firm adds that organizations with more racial and gender diversity bring in more sales and revenue, more customers and higher profits. In part it is because people with different backgrounds and perspectives bring different information to the table. This results in more creative ideas and solutions. In addition, diversity in employee population will match diversity in the consumer population. Conversely, as the economy becomes increasingly global our workforce becomes increasingly diverse.
Employers should strive to create a discriminate-free environment in the workplace. Diversity is about the mix of peoples. Inclusion is about the workplace that allows employees to feel they belong and are accepted and valued no matter their gender, color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation and other. Communicating with members of diverse teams takes extra effort, and that effort becomes increasingly diversified to include personality type, thinking style and other factors that influence how people see the world. Employees who have difficulty communicating in English and who speak with an accent hesitate to have themselves heard. Those who are striving to understand them tend to give up and turn away. It is clear that the bigger issue is how people interact with each other on the job and how employers, human resource personnel and supervisors handle communication problems with patience and empathy.
Companies that encourage diversity in the workplace inspire all of their employees to perform to their highest ability. Perceptual, cultural and language barriers need to be overcome for diversity programs to succeed. Ineffective communication that involves key objectives in the workplace results in confusion, lack of teamwork and low morale.
There are always employees who will refuse to accept the fact that the social and cultural makeup of the workplace is changing. The “we have always done things this way” mentality silences new ideas and inhibits progress. This of course can be an overwhelming challenge to all diversity advocates. Diversity training is needed and assessment of diversity in the workplace should be an integral part of management system. A customized employee satisfaction survey can be very helpful in determining what are the challenges and obstacles to diversity present in the workplace. The survey must be comprehensive, attainable and measurable. An organization must decide what changes need to be made as well as implement a timeline for those changes to take place.
Josh Greenberg president of Alpha Measure who provides an Employee Survey System on employee diversity in the workplace cites the following solutions:
• Warding off change resistance with inclusion- Involve every employee in formulating and executing initiatives in the workplace.
• Fostering an attitude of openness in the workplace- Encourage employees to express their opinions and ideas and attribute a sense of
equal to all.
• Promoting diversity in leadership positions- Provide visibility at the higher level as well as the willingness to develop a healthy
atmosphere at work.
• Diversity not only involves how people perceive themselves but how they are perceived by others. Those perceptions affect their
interactions. For a wide mix of employees to function effectively as an organization, human resource professionals need to deal with issues
such as communication, adaptability and change. Being aware that diversity will continue to increase significantly in the coming years,
organizations need to recognize the need for action and be ready and willing to spend time and resources on managing diversity in the
workplace. Organizational success in the workplace will depend on the ability to manage diversity and inclusion.
• The following is an often quoted maxim: “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance”.
Nawal Obeid MS, NCC, LMHC