Diversity in the workforce is an offshoot of anti-discrimination legislation which seeks to bring workplace harmony, growth, productivity, creativity and profitability to organizations, through the acceptance and harnessing of individual and group differences for the corporate good. There is no single method of implementing and managing diversity that works for all organizations, but there are certain factors that are essential for the creation of an environment that may engender success with diversity strategies.
Keywords Affirmative Action; Diversity; Diversity Management; Diversity Training; Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
In most western nations, the corporate workforce has historically been dominated by white males. In other parts of the world, the story is similar: One or a few groups of people tend to be the majority in the workplace. In the 1960s, the American government, under the leadership of President Johnson, introduced the concept of affirmative action with the aim of correcting the wrongs caused by hundreds of years of slavery and segregation. The civil rights cause was then taken on by women and other minority groups, who also felt that they had been discriminated against.
Legislation such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, helped to reduce discrimination among minority groups in the US, and gave organizations the mandate to maintain diverse workforces. US companies responded to legislation in the late 1960s by making formal efforts to eliminate discrimination.
Likewise, in Europe, cooperation through the European Union led to the removal of barriers and increased freedoms, such as the freedom of movement between member states, and the right to be treated equally. These developments gave rise to legislation such as the EU Article 13 Race and Employment Directives, the Racial Equality Directive 2000/43/EC, and the Employment Equality Directive 2000/78/EC, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
A narrow definition of diversity is one that concentrates on race and gender, but diversity in the workplace can be broadly defined as differences, similarities and related tensions among people in the workplace based on visible dimensions, secondary influences, and work diversities. All of these differences affect the manner in which people function within an organization. Visible dimensions include age, race/ethnic heritage, gender, physical ability and qualities (including obesity), mental ability and qualities, and sexual or affectional orientation. Secondary influences include religious beliefs, socioeconomic class, background, and education. Work diversities include differences like management versus union; functional level; classification; and proximity or distance to the corporate headquarters. Other differences include personality and work style.
In sum, diversity concerns the differences, similarities and related tensions between the characteristics and experiences of every individual in the workplace. There are also other, lesser recognized forms of diversity related to the workplace, such as customer, product, function, acquisition/merger, family, or community diversity.Organizational Challenges Regarding Diversity
The increase in workplace diversity has led to increasing challenges for organizations seeking to have and maintain a diverse workforce. Even in the twenty-first century there is still much to learn about how to minimize the negative outcomes of diversity (for example, stereotyping, confusion and discomfort); and how to maximize the positive outcomes.Equal Employment Opportunity
Diversity is different from equal employment opportunity (EEO), affirmative action, or quota systems. With equal employment opportunity, every candidate has an equal chance at employment regardless of race, gender, religion, or any other characteristic. Emphasis is placed on avoiding discrimination and unfairness, and on increasing the proportion of minority groups — mainly women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities — in the workplace. EEO is more to do with positive action than corporate vision.Affirmative Action
Affirmative action is a means of achieving EEO. It requires employers to pay heed to demographic factors like race/ethnicity, gender, and so on, when making employment decisions, either to meet government guidelines or to meet the goals an organization sets for itself. Affirmative action has been alleged to discriminate against one group to help another.Management of Diversity
Compliance with legislation, through initiatives such as affirmative action and equal employment opportunity, still has its place; however, there is more to diversity than mere compliance or recruiting and retaining disenfranchised groups of people. So serious is the issue of diversity that some scholars believe that the management of diversity is the single biggest factor which will determine the survival of firms in the 21st century.
Diversity management involves making good quality decisions in the midst of a diverse workforce in order to eliminate the negative outcomes of interactions between individuals. Basically, diversity management involves enhancing an organization's effectiveness by developing suitable organizational structures, systematic strategies and processes, and by creating an equitable and fair work environment for all kinds of employees.
Diversity management involves a three-stage process:
- The identification stage, where the diversity mixture is recognized and the necessary action determined;
- The implementation stage, where appropriate actions are selected and used;
- The maintenance stage.
Diversity management differs from affirmative action and EEO, in that it is based on scholarship and practice rather than law; and it includes organizational activities that are meant to enhance information sharing and acceptance — even celebration — of cultural differences.Further Insights Achieving Success through Diversity Programs
Many companies have experienced success with diversity programs. For example, diversity is touted as the untold reason for the successful turnaround of firms such as IBM in the mid-1990s. When IBM dramatically altered its already diverse composition, the company created millions of dollars in new business through expanding its minority markets.
Proctor & Gamble also created a diversity strategy; Wisconsin Power and Light has made employee diversity one of its key goals; and Chevron Corporation has incorporated diversity programs into all levels of their business planning because of their multinational activities and changing demographics. Boeing Co. has been advertising throughout the US to attract women and ethnic minorities who do not feel properly utilized in their current jobs.Creating a Diverse Culture
Ensuring diversity in the workplace is a process which takes time, often years. Firstly, organizations must introduce the necessary changes in systems and processes; and secondly, they have to review their organizational culture. Real changes in organizational culture take place when the group with the most power (which is often the senior management team) considers its behavior and makes any necessary changes, both on a personal level and...
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