News - June 2008

The Importance of Diversity in 2008 and Beyond

Diversity in the workplace has been a hot topic for human resource professionals everywhere, and for good reason. Today’s workforce is a reflection of the considerable mix of cultures, ages, religions, and races that makes up America. Years ago, organizations unsuccessfully attempted to assimilate minorities and employees of various backgrounds into the organizational culture. Today, HR departments collaborate with diversity rather than try to avoid it.

According to a 2004 study by Hewitt Associates, women and minorities will represent 70% of the new labor force entrants , and by 2010, 43% of the workforce will be non-Caucasian. This means that the workforce is no longer dominated by the same perspectives, ideas, and approaches that were popular 30 years ago. HR’s collaboration with employees of these cultures and different perspectives is now increasingly becoming a sought after asset. This collaborative approach allows for greater creativity and resources to improve organizational performance. To achieve this global diversity, managers need to know how to define, understand, and manage a diverse workforce.

If you are a human resource professional and have not truly considered the reality of your employees’ backgrounds, you may be in for a rude awakening. Employees from different cultures come with different expectations, values, and communication styles. These, in turn, must be understood and integrated into the organizational culture for a successful work atmosphere. However, there are more similarities than differences when it comes to what is important to employees. People tend to agree about what inspires their commitment to a particular employer:

• employees supported their organizations’ business plans,
• employees had a chance to use their skills on the job,
• employees enjoyed a competitive pay package, and
• employers acted on employee suggestions.

Although employees of different backgrounds do have similar organizational motivations, employers should know that a diverse workforce does come with some challenges. Having an inefficient organizational strategy for a diverse organization can reduce both morale and effective communication, and heighten conflict. Having good diversity practices will help decrease employee turnover, absenteeism, low productivity, and legal complaints.

An effective strategy used by diverse organizations is called the Inclusive Workplace Model. According to Managing Diversity Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace, by Michalle E. Mor Barak, the ideal work organization has four levels which include the following organizational characteristics:

1. is accepting and utilizing the diversity of its own workforce,
2. is active in the community,
3. alleviates the needs of disadvantaged groups in its wider environment, and
4. collaborates across cultural and national boundaries with a focus on global mutual interests.

With these four points in mind, human resource professionals can take some of these steps provided by the Society for Human Resource Management to promote and manage diversity with ease and profitability:

• Allow employees to take unpaid leave to observe a religious or cultural holiday not observed by the organization or “swap” holidays

• Provide career development opportunities designed to increase diversity in higher-level positions within the organization (e.g, mentoring, coaching)

• Employ recruiting strategies designed to help increase diversity within the organization

• Employ retention strategies designed to help retain a diverse workforce

• Ensure that diversity is a consideration in every business initiative and policy

• Collect measurements/metrics on diversity-related practices

• Support employee affinity groups (groups formed around an aspect of diversity)

• Employ strategies to ensure diversity in the organization's suppliers, contractors, and so forth

• Offer training in English as a second language

• Engage in community outreach related to diversity

• Provide incentive pay for management linked to the achievement of organizational diversity goals

• Provide career development opportunities specifically tailored for diverse employees

• Provide incentive pay for management linked to the achievement of organizational diversity goals

• Demonstrate diversity awareness in the form of celebrating different cultural events (e.g., Black History Month)

Tips provided by: SHRM: 2005 Workplace Diversity Practices Survey Report
The most important thing that your HR department should keep in mind is the focus on management of diversity – not your employees’ cultural differences. A good diversity program focuses on the management of diversity and yet meets very common needs, such as child care, flextime, leave to take care of elderly parents, and maternity / paternity leave.

At the end of the day, organizations that want to keep pace with their competition must increase their diversity efforts. Diversity within an organization that is encouraged and embraced will increase contributions toward the accomplishment of organizational goals. With the increasing number of minority groups in the U.S., as well as the growth in global business transaction, it would be unwise not to. The more similar an organization is to its customers, the better for everyone involved. 





June 2008

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