What is Diversity?
October is Diversity Awareness Month, but what exactly is Diversity in regards to the workplace?
According to the DOL, “Although the term is often used to refer to differences among individuals such as ethnicity, gender, age and religion, diversity actually encompasses the infinite range of individuals’ unique attributes and experiences.” Dimensions of diversity can also include physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, work experience, job classification, and so much more.
Many of the attributes that make a workforce diverse are covered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in regards to fair employment practices and procedures. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older) disability or genetic information. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by the EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). The laws apply to all types of work situations including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
While equal opportunity employment focuses on employment practices, the concept of diversity in the work place is much broader and extends to the work environment. In the context of the workplace, valuing diversity means creating a workplace that respects and includes differences, recognizing the unique contributions that individuals make. Workplace diversity values everyone’s differences. It is about learning from each other regardless of our cultural background, and bringing those differences and experiences to broaden our knowledge. Managing diversity focuses on maximizing the ability of all employees to contribute to organizational goals. Affirmative action focuses on specific groups because of historical discrimination, such as people of color and women. Affirmative action emphasizes legal necessity and social responsibility; managing diversity emphasizes business necessity. In short, while managing diversity is also concerned with underrepresentation of women and people of color in the workforce, it is much more inclusive and acknowledges that diversity must work for everyone.
Do you believe in the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated? This assumes that how you want to be treated is how others want to be treated. But what if we consider the diversity in different cultures, etc.? What does respect look like? It may not be the same for everyone. While making eye contact may be the respectful thing to do in one culture, it may be a sign of disrespect in another.
Maybe instead of using the golden rule, we should use the platinum rule which states: “treat others as they want to be treated.” But how do we know what different groups or individuals need? Having a workplace culture of inclusivity allows for those questions to be asked and answered in a respectful atmosphere.
Many people think that “fairness” means “treating everyone the same.” How well does treating everyone the same work for a diverse staff? For example, when employees have limited English language skills or reading proficiency, even though that limit might not affect their ability to do their jobs, transmitting important information through complicated memos might not be an effective way of communicating with them. While distributing such memos to all staff is “treating everyone the same,” this approach may not communicate essential information to everyone. A staff member who missed out on essential information might feel that the communication process was “unfair.” A process that takes account of the diverse levels of English language and reading proficiency among the staff might include taking extra time to be sure that information in an important memorandum is understood. Such efforts on the part of supervisors and managers should be supported and rewarded as good management practices for working with a diverse staff. (University of California at Berkeley)
As this suggests, workplace diversity can provide tremendous benefits in terms of improved morale, outside-the-box thinking, greater teamwork, and an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect.
How Well Do You Manage Diversity?
- Do you test your assumptions before acting on them?
- Do you believe there is only one right way of doing things, or that there are a number of valid ways that accomplish the same goal? Do you convey that to staff?
- Do you have honest relationships with each staff member you supervise? Are you comfortable with each of them? Do you know what motivates them, what their goals are, how they like to be recognized?
- Are you able to give negative feedback to someone who is culturally different from you?
- When you hire a new employee, do you not only explain job responsibilities and expectations clearly, but orient the person to the department culture and unwritten rules?
- Do you rigorously examine your existing policies, practices, and procedures to ensure that they do not differentially impact different groups? When they do, do you change them?
- Are you willing to listen to constructive feedback from your staff about ways to improve the work environment? Do you implement staff suggestions and acknowledge their contribution?
- Do you take immediate action with people you supervise when they behave in ways that show disrespect for others in the workplace, such as inappropriate jokes and offensive terms?
- Do you have a good understanding of isms such as racism and sexism and how they manifest themselves in the workplace?
- Do you ensure that assignments and opportunities for advancement are accessible to everyone?
If you were able to answer yes to more than half the questions, you are on the right track to managing diversity well. (University of California, San Francisco)
If you have questions or concerns regarding either Diversity or the laws and regulations in regards to affirmative action or the EEOC, please contact our HR/Client Service Reps at 770-339-0000.