Enhancing Diversity in the Workplace

If you include women, more than half of the workers in the U.S. are minorities. And while race might be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of the word “minority,” it really encompasses much more than that. Added to the diversity of different races and ethnicities, there are gender considerations, age groups, religion, education, fashion, beliefs, diet and a variety of other choices that make us all very different.

Even though diversity should be celebrated, it also increases the difficulty managers face of getting everyone on task and dedicated to achieving common goals. Whether you supervise one or 100 people, you are faced with complex combinations of preferences, styles and personalities.

Workforce diversity and inclusion promotes employee productivity, retention, team collaboration and commitment, all of which ultimately add value to the services provided to clients and customers. In an increasingly competitive business environment, every advantage is important.

If you’re having trouble embracing diversity as a company, or want to know how to achieve greater harmony and productivity, here are some techniques that work for many organizations:

  1. Become a Change Purveyor

Diverse groups have diverse habits and these habits may require change. The best way to implement change is to ensure buy-in from all concerned. Change is accepted when everyone understands the reason behind it. One CEO personally holds town hall meetings with employees and regularly goes to the employee cafeteria to listen and talk about diversity and the changes needed to make it flourish. And, because he consciously champions an open-door policy with everyone, his employees know that they can criticize processes in the company and not fear retribution.

Remember that managers manage change, but best-in-class leaders create change by inspiring their employees. Companies hoping to attain and retain diverse workforces should also encourage the formation of affinity groups, such as African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American and gay/lesbian networks.

  1. What’s In It for Me (WIIFM)?

People must be aware of how they benefit from the change, or who benefits from the change. If they don’t have a clear understanding of those ideas, they will fall back on old habits.

Even positive change brings about stress, so when the workplace changes, people become anxious, then become resistant, when they lack the skills necessary to make the change. Training is an essential key to success. Finally, you must be sure that the resources are available to make the change happen (time, money, equipment, etc.).

  1. Put the Mission Statement into Practice

Companies should include references to diversity in their mission or values statements to signal an explicit commitment to all employees. Even more crucial to attracting a diverse pool of applicants are actions that reflect diversity from the top down. Simply having black, brown, yellow and female faces in high positions is not enough. All staff, including top management, must receive regular, ongoing diversity training.

  1. Create a Diversity Committee

As we pointed out in #2 above, employee buy-in is essential to accomplishing the goals of your diversity program. One of the most effective ways to do this is by creating a stand-alone diversity committee comp0sed of members representing all facets of your organization’s workforce. In addition, make sure your organization’s leadership plays a visible role. Empower the committee to develop a diversity statement consistent with your strategic goals. Furthermore, empower the committee to develop programs to support diversity. Such programs may include “lunch and learns” with featured speakers, diversity workshops, mentoring and community outreach programs.

  1. Be Deliberate With Hiring Practices

Growing a diverse workforce doesn’t just happen. It requires deliberate, intentional conduct. If the pool of applicants you’re seeing doesn’t reflect the diverse demographics of the clients you’re serving, expand your search beyond traditional hiring sources. Acceptance of diversity cannot be mandated. Rather, it must be sold to all involved. To gain productivity from diverse groups, your strategy must include:

  • Inclusion—Don’t exclude anyone from the communication process
  • Openness—Be as transparent as possible. Avoid keeping secrets.
  • Training –Implement a consistent program of communication skills training and make it available to all employees
  • Feedback—Provide constant, constructive feedback

Don’t forget to have fun! Conduct social gatherings where people can explain their cultures to one another. Have potluck lunches where people can bring food indigenous to their respective culture. Reward employee behavior that demonstrate inclusiveness.

A quote by John Cogley Commonweal provides an appropriate summary: “Tolerance implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human.”

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