Socially Conscious Companies Lead the Way With Diversity Initiatives
By Jason McDowell
We live in a time when social movements like #BlackLivesMatter are calling attention to problems of systemic racism in our society, and the business world is not isolated from social issues like these. Take, for example, the gender wage gap that exists in the United States.
Recruiters are in a valuable position to combat systemic discrimination by making an effort to ensure candidate pools for open positions are diverse and that job offers and benefit packages are equal across all races and gender identities.
Strides are being made in the area of workplace diversity, according to the Emerging Workforce Study (EWS) from recruiting agency Spherion Staffing Services. For example, 94 percent of workers say they “feel comfortable working with any employee regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation,” according to the EWS.
Furthermore, 75 percent of employees and 89 percent of employers believe a diverse and inclusive workplace allows the company’s labor force to grow and learn more effectively.
“This year’s data found that companies’ increased interest in workplace diversity largely stems from globalization,” says Sandy Mazur, division president at Spherion. “As customer bases become more varied, nearly one-third of both employees (37 percent) and employers (31 percent) believe their companies need to have a diverse mix of workers on hand to bring new and creative solutions to the table for different audiences.
“For instance, employees who have extensive experience in a specific global market can inform their teams of important cultural customs and work structure differences and ultimately foster more rewarding relationships,” Mazur adds. “A team that includes members with a range of skills and perspectives can solve problems and address new challenges creatively, and bring a new energy to an office. This likely is the reason why nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of businesses believe hiring employees from diverse backgrounds is essential for their company’s continued success.”
Making the Grade
At first glance, the stats don’t seem to add up, since only 28 percent of companies (and a matching 28 percent of their workers) give themselves a grade of “A” for their efforts to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.
“The EWS found that a main reason why employers and employees unfavorably rate their diversity efforts stems from the lack of a clear vision on the topic,” explains Mazur. “Both parties indicated that they struggle to understand what exactly ‘diversity’ means in the context of their workplace, which can lead to skewed perceptions. For instance, an employee who has one definition of diversity may think his or her company is doing fine in this area, while another employee may think the company is doing poorly in this area.”
Companies need to make an effort to ensure their employees understand their policies and diversity efforts.
“Defining its diversity vision can help a company improve recruiting,” Mazur says. “Only 64 percent [of employers] say they highlight their diversity values and programs when meeting with candidates, perhaps because they are uncertain of how to frame their diversity efforts to potential employees. Employers that are seen as progressive and receptive about how to improve office diversity and inclusiveness are more likely to attract and retain top-tier talent regardless of employees’ gender, race, ethnicity, education, religion, or other traits.”
Perceptions of Reverse Discrimination
Sadly, many misinterpret workforce equality efforts as instances of “reverse discrimination.” In fact, 37 percent of employees and 31 percent of employers believe that their companies are “more concerned with hiring for diversity than qualification when looking to fill open positions,” according to the EWS.
To combat this perception without sacrificing diversity initiatives, recruiters need to be sure they are putting jobs before candidate pools that are both diverse and qualified.
“Today’s employable population is more diverse than ever before, with workers from a range of ages and demographics accounting for larger shares of the overall workforce,” says Mazur. “Proactively, businesses can build relationships with a variety of professionals through targeted networking – even when they are not hiring. More than half of workers say they feel comfortable networking with their peers even when they are not looking for a job, and businesses should capitalize on this open-minded attitude to lay the foundation for future hires.”
“This networking plan also can include partnerships and an increased presence with local business organizations whose goals are creating opportunities and exposure for specific race, gender, and skill demographics,” Mazur adds.
Socially conscious companies will not only benefit from talented and diverse workforces, but also play crucial roles in combatting systemic racism in our society. Businesses that lead the way now will be remembered as being on the right side of history, and that can only benefit their bottom lines in the future.
Jason McDowell holds a B.S. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and is currently an MFA candidate for fiction at The New School in New York City. He also owns and operates his own freelance writing business. Prior to this, he worked as a magazine editor and business journalist.