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Workplace Diversity

Being an Equal Opportunity Employer


Jun 25, 2014

Fostering Diversity in the Workplace

50 years ago Bob Dylan sang, “The times, they are a changin’,” and boy, was he right. And while Mr. Dylan was referring to the changes in society as a whole, the current workforce demographics can be seen as microcosm of all that has—and is still—changing throughout society.

Workplaces all around the country are becoming more and more diverse. And having a diverse workplace isn’t just about hiring employees of different races anymore, either. Modern diversity incorporates a variety of races, ethnicities, religions, sexualities, economic backgrounds, geographic roots and more.

So what does this mean for your company? Are you as diverse as you need to be—as diverse as your community and target audience? What are your goals where diversity is involved? How can all parties involved in your organization benefit from a diverse workforce? Enough with the questions—it’s time for some answers. Let’s start from the top:

What it all means.

Talent can’t be contained within imaginary boundaries, so why restrict prospective talent based on demographics? According to this article by Diversity World, “workforce diversity” refers to the policies and practices that include people within a workforce who are considered to be, in some way, different from those in the prevailing constituency. But these days, differences are no longer holding employees back. Instead, these differences are propelling qualified candidates forward.

What does your company need as far as improvements in its workforce? If it’s to connect with the communities in which you operate, diversifying your workforce and widening the pool of prospective employees provides ample opportunities.  You want the public to see your business as a part of the community, so it’s vital that the demographics of your company match those of your community.

This article also notes that companies who interact directly with the public find it more and more important to have the makeup of their workforces reflect the makeup of their customer base.

But demographics alone are not enough to build a competent and competitive workforce.

Who is included in a diverse workplace?

Everyone who is qualified based on his or her applicable skill set is included in a diverse workplace. Today’s labor pool is much different that it used to be. Top talent is now represented by people from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. A college degree isn’t a free pass to employment, and looking (and thinking) like everyone else isn’t an automatic hire—in fact, it could be seen as a weakness. To remain competitive, companies cannot allow discriminatory preferences and practices stand in the way of a well-qualified and good hire. Aside from being illegal, it’s also a bad business decision.

Additionally, companies should be welcoming to a diverse workforce.  Providing benefits such as on-site daycare, childcare subsidies and flexible schedules helps employees who may be struggling economically. Accommodating religious and cultural holidays and apparel choices (assuming they are office-appropriate) also shows potential new hires that your company is a welcoming and inclusive place.

If you’re not sure how to go about making your office more inclusive, there are plenty of resources just waiting to be tapped. For example, local organizations with community connections, religious institutions and higher education organizations are a bastion of knowledge when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Nonprofits like the Urban League, the National Council of La Raza and websites like diversityworking.com offer searchable channels of minority job hunters.

Be a driving force in workplace diversity—your employees and community will notice and be appreciative. 

Why is diversity integral?

Have you ever heard the adage, “two heads are better than one?” Imagine that those two heads come from different backgrounds, have different approaches to problem solving and draw creative conclusions from completely unrelated skill sets. That’s precisely what a diverse workplace aims to accomplish. Hiring employees from a larger—and more diverse—pool helps to ensure that your company is getting the best and brightest minds for the job.

This article written by Ruth Mayhew suggests assigning employees to work on teams together, when possible, who otherwise would not have the opportunity to work together. These teams should encompass a variety of work styles, generations, skills and cultures. As a leader, it’s important for you to encourage your employees to use these opportunities to learn and grow from those who have different approaches to the same end goal. This is just one advantage of a diverse workplace.

Additionally, these days buying power is represented by a plethora of backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexualities and races. And to make sure that your products and services appeal such a diverse variety, a wise business move is to hire employees who represent these groups. They have specialized insight and knowledge about their communities that you’re not going to be able to pick up simply from reading a market analysis.

What are your legal responsibilities?

First and foremost, it’s integral to make certain that whatever your diversity policy is, it follows the guidelines set forth by the Federal EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This includes providing basic training to your employees and supervisors on equal employment opportunity laws.

Legally speaking, you will want to establish a hiring practice that is age, race, gender and minority neutral, and based solely on a candidate’s merit. It’s vital for your human resources department to monitor your recruitment and outreach efforts and maintain accurate logs in case your company is audited for compliance with affirmative action regulations. Making the recruiting process more transparent helps ease the minds of skeptics.

How can you train team members to set them up for success?

A diverse workplace can only go so far. It’s one thing to hire qualified employees, but retaining them is a whole different story. This Wall Street Journal article suggests giving your new hires a reason to stay:

Devote an equal amount of time and effort in retaining new employees. Familiarize them with the new job and company culture. […] It’s important to show they have a future in the company. Clearly communicate opportunities for advancement. Set up mentoring programs to build close working relationships. Finding mentors that share personal interests can foster new friendships.

It’s important that your employees view diversity as highly as you do, and managers must also be fully committed to supporting diversity.

When should you get started?

Yesterday. But in all seriousness, as soon as you identify your company’s needs and goals, it’s time to develop a recruiting strategy for a diverse workplace.

Take the initiative to encourage recruiters, employment specialists and hiring managers to improve recruiting and hiring outreach. You, as well as your employees, should take time to volunteer with organizations that serve the needs of underrepresented segments of your community.

It’s also wise to research job posting sites for diversity-focused groups, such as the American Association for Affirmative Action. However, remember to make qualifications, not demographics, your No. 1 priority.

Diversity should never supersede skills- it should only enhance and improve the workforce.

As the world continues to grow more and more diverse, it’s important to remember that diversity is not a trend—it’s our future.

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