Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity in the Workplace
Generally when someone begins speaking about diversity in the workplace, thoughts of Affirmative Action, racial diversity, or even sexual equality are usually foremost in our thoughts. However, diversity in the workplace really is so much more than this, we must also consider aging workers, handicapped workers, those with alternative lifestyles, and even physical traits to name others (For the sake of simplification, throughout this paper these will usually be included in the term, minorities).
Gender, racial, and ethnic diversity means different things to different people. Some believe that diversity is about quotas, and affirmative action. Others believe that diversity is something that will happen on its own with out intervention. Some experts who study diversity, however, believe that diversity is not something that should be left up to chance. It is important, therefore, for organizations to take action to encourage and foster diversity in the workplace (Clarke, 1995, p. 13).
Diversity in the work place has generally been thought of as purely an employment equity issue. However, diversity is coming to be recognized as an asset which can, like any other asset that is well managed, contribute to the bottom line. Diversity is growing almost as quickly as the number of software vendors at an accounting convention (Talbot-Allen, 1995, p. 3)
Defining Diversity
One of the best definitions for diversity I have come across says, “Diversity is the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values, and beliefs as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact ” (Rasmussen, 1996, p. 274). This definition has three noteworthy points. First, it describes diversity as a mosaic, which is different form the traditional label of a melting pot. A mosaic enables people to retain their individuality while contributing collectively to the bigger picture. Second, this definition of diversity applies to and includes everyone; it does not rule out anyone. According to this definition, we are all diverse. Finally, this definition describes diversity as an asset, as something desirable and beneficial! When viewed from this perspective valuing diversity is openness, fun, and can even be a cause for celebrating in discovering how we can join together to create more as a united team than any one of us can on our own. It is vital to business survival that the workplaces strive to attain this ideal collaboration. Collaboration provides a logical structured and disciplined framework for creating a workplace where cultural change happens because members of a company accept responsibility for behaving differently, and they are willing to be held accountable to each other for that new behavior (Marshall, 1995, p. 60).
The American workplace is changing and is expected to change at an even more accelerated rate in the near future. This change represents a move away from dominance by the white-Anglo male toward an increasingly diverse and segmented population. This workplace will include growing numbers of women, people of color, people of different ethnic backgrounds, aging workers, workers with a variety of physical handicaps, and people with alternative lifestyles. The workplace must endeavor “…to understand and use the full range of human potential within a very diverse population…”(Wentling & Palma-Rivas, 1998, p. 235). How well organizations deal with this demographic shift from a workforce made up primarily of the white-Anglo male, to one including more nontraditional and diverse workers will directly affect the bottom line. Only companies that have cultures that support diversity will be able to retain the best talent necessary to remain competitive.
Diversity is not the same thing as employment equity. Employment equity is usually tied to legislation and focuses on preventing or correcting discriminatory practices that apply to designated groups. In contrast, diversity is voluntary and it looks at every employee in the organization. Again, it is a matter of inclusion not exclusion.
Basis for Diversity in the Workplace
Managing diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity for management. It is a challenge because it requires organizational change; it means fostering a cultural environment that values differences and maximizes the potential of all employees. It is an opportunity because organizations that proactively address diversity have a competitive advantage. They are able to attract, motivate and retain high potential employees. And they have greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. These advantages translate into higher productivity