Managing Diversity – What Is Workplace Diversity – Why Is Managing Workforce Diversity So Important

 

What Is Workplace Diversity?

Diversity has been “one of the most popular business topics over the last two decades. It ranks with modern business disciplines such as quality, leadership, and ethics. Despite this popularity, it’s also one of the most controversial and least understood topics.”5 With its basis in civil rights legislation and social justice, the word diversity often invokes a variety of attitudes and emotional responses in people. Diversity has traditionally been considered a term used by human resources departments, associated with fair hiring practices, discrimination, and inequality. But diversity today is considered to be so much more.

We’re defining workforce diversity as the ways in which people in an organization are diferent from and similar to one another. Notice that our definition not only focuses on the diferences, but also the similarities of employees. This reinforces our belief that managers and organizations should view employees as having qualities in common as well as diferences that separate them. It doesn’t mean that those diferences are any less important, but that our focus as managers is in finding ways to develop strong relationships with and engage our entire workforce.

We want to point out one final thing about our description of “what” workforce diversity is:6 The demographic characteristics that we tend to think of when we think of diversity—age, race, gender, ethnicity, and so on—are just the tip of the iceberg. These demographic diferences resfect surface-level diversity, which includes easily perceived diferences that may trigger certain stereotypes but don’t necessarily resfect the ways people think or feel. Such surface-level diferences in characteristics can afect the way people perceive others, especially when it comes to assumptions or stereotyping.

Why Is Managing Workforce Diversity So Important?

In this section, we want to look at why workforce diversity is so important to organizations. The benefits fall into three main categories: people management, organizational performance, and strategic:

People Management 

  • Better use of employee talent 
  • Increased quality of team problem-solving efforts 
  • Ability to attract and retain employees of diverse backgrounds
Organizational Performance  
  • Reduced costs associated with high turnover, absenteeism, and lawsuits 
  • Enhanced problem-solving ability 
  • Improved system flexibility
Strategic 
  • Increased understanding of the marketplace, which improves  ability to better market to diverse consumers 
  • Potential to improve sales growth and increase market share 
  • Potential source of competitive advantage because of  improved innovation efforts 
  • Viewed as moral and ethical; the “right” thing to do
TYPES of workplace diversity
Age 
The Marriott hotel group, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, employs more than 100,000 employees in the United States. What’s interesting is that 43 percent of those employees are age 45 and older, and 18 percent are 55 and older.37 To make it easier for older workers, company managers are redesigning tasks that require bending, stretching, lifting, pushing, and pulling. For instance, an older employee may be paired with a younger one, and tasks such as bending to clean under beds are shared.
the aging population is not the only age-related issue facing organizations. Some 50 million Generation Xers juggle work and family responsibilities. And now some 76 million members of Generation Y (often referred to as Millennials) are either already in or poised to enter the workforce.42 These Gen Yers will make up about 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.43 Having grown up in a world where they’ve had the opportunity to experience many diferent things, Gen Y workers bring their own ideas and approaches to the workplace. For instance, one study revealed that Millennials are 71 percent more likely to focus on teamwork, 28 percent more likely to focus on business impact, and 22 percent more likely to focus on a culture of connection. In contrast, non-Millennials are 31 percent more likely to focus on equity; 28 percent more likely to focus on acceptance, tolerance and fairness of opportunity; and 26 percent more likely to focus on integration.
Gender
Women (49.5%) and men (50.5%) now each make up almost half of the workforce.46 Yet gender diversity issues are still quite prevalent in organizations. Take the gender pay gap. The latest information shows that women’s median earnings were 83 percent of male full-time wage and salary workers.47 The Wall Street Journal cites a recent study which determined that about 8 percent of the wage gap cannot be explained by job-related factors, concluding that discrimination may be the reason.48 Other issues involve career start and progress. Research by Pew Research Center shows that young women now place more importance on having a high-paying career or profession than do young men.
Not that either women or men are the superior employees, but rather a better appreciation for why it’s important for organizations to explore the strengths that both women and men bring to an organization and the barriers they face in contributing fully to organizational efforts. And it’s important to note that many companies are “grooming more women for the corner office.” The pool of highly qualifed women continues to grow as those who have received advanced degrees and worked in the corporate world are moving up through the ranks. In fact, research by McKinsey & Co. found that 24 percent of senior vice presidents at 58 big companies are women.
Race and Ethnicity
nning and creating shared value. Extraordinary things truly happen.” Many other companies have had similar racial issues. There’s a long and controversial history in the United States and in other parts of the world over race and how people react to and treat others of a diferent race.64 Race and ethnicity are important types of diversity in organizations. We’re going to define race as the biological heritage (including physical characteristics such as one’s skin color and associated traits) that people use to identify themselves. Most people identify themselves as part of a racial group. Such racial classi•cations are an integral part of a country’s cultural, social, and legal environments. The racial choices on the 2010 Census included white, black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and some other race. This last choice, which was on the 2000 Census form for the first time, provided respondents the opportunity to identify themselves as multiracial.65 The Census Bureau’s chief of the racial statistics branch says, “Multiracial Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country.”66 A Pew Research survey found that biracial adults with a white and American Indian background represent the largest multiracial group.67 Ethnicity is related to race, but it refers to social traits—such as one’s cultural background or allegiance—that are shared by a human population.
Disability/Abilities
A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 61 percent of the HR professionals responding said that their organizations now include disabilities in their diversity and inclusion plans. However, only 47 percent said that their organizations actively recruit individuals with disabilities. And 40 percent said that their senior managers demonstrate a strong commitment to do so.70 Even after 20-plus years of the ADA, organizations and managers still have fears about employing disabled workers. A survey by the U.S. Department of Labor looked at these unfounded fears.71 Exhibit 5-6 describes some of those fears as well as the reality; that is, what it’s really like. Let’s look at one company’s experience. Walgreens has hired individuals with mental and physical disabilities to work at its distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina.72 These employees work in one of three departments: case check-in (where merchandise initially comes in), de-trash (where merchandise is unpacked), or picking (where products are sorted into tubs based on individual store orders).
Religion
Religious beliefs also can prohibit or encourage work behaviors. Many conservative Jews believe they should not work on Saturdays. Some Christians do not want to work on Sundays. Religious individuals may believe they have an obligation to express their beliefs in the workplace, making it uncomfortable for those who may not share those beliefs. Some pharmacists have refused to give out certain kinds of contraceptives on the basis of their beliefs. Similarly, in 2015, Kentucky state clerk Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until she was directed by court order not to interfere with same-sex couples’ constitutional rights to marriage. Ms. Davis refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses because homosexuality is not supported by her religion.
LGBT: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Despite the progress in making workplaces more accommodating of gays and lesbians, much more needs to be done. One study found more than 40 percent of gay and lesbian employees indicated they had been unfairly treated, denied a promotion, or pushed to quit their job because of their sexual orientation.85 Another study found that “closeted” LGBTs who felt isolated at work were 73 percent more likely to leave their job within three years than “out” workers.86 This statistic is not surprising based on the results of a third study: More than one-third of LGBT workers felt they had to lie about their personal lives while at work, and about the same percentage expressed that they felt exhaustion from spending time and energy hiding their gender identity.87 Among those who remained, engagement surfered up to 30 percent because of unwelcoming environments.
Other Types of Diversity
As we said earlier, diversity refers to any dissimilarities or diferences that might be present in a workplace. Other types of workplace diversity that managers might confront and have to deal with include socioeconomic background (social class and income-related factors), team members from di‹erent functional areas or organizational units, physical attractiveness, obesity/thinness, job seniority, or intellectual abilities. Each of these types of diversity also can afect how employees are treated in the workplace. Again, managers everywhere need to ensure that all employees—no matter the similarities or dissimilarities—are treated fairly and given the opportunity and support to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
CHALLENGES in managing diversity
Personal Bias
Women drivers. Smokers. Working mothers. Football players. Blondes. Female president of the United States. Hispanic. Blue-collar worker. What impressions come to mind when you read these words? Based on your background and experiences, you probably have pretty specifc ideas and things you would say, maybe even to the point of characteristics you think that all smokers or all working mothers or all Hispanics share. Each of us has biases—often hidden from others.  Employees can and do bring such ideas about various groups of people with them into the workplace. Such ideas can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes—all of which shape and influence our personal biases. And research is pointing to a troubling fact: Eliminating bias is a lot more dificult than previously thought Bias is a term that describes a tendency or preference toward a particular perspective or ideology. It’s generally seen as a “one-sided” perspective. Our personal biases cause us to have preconceived opinions about people or things. Such preconceived opinions can create all kinds of inaccurate judgments and attitudes. Let’s take a look at how our personal biases afect the way we view and respond to diversity.
One outcome of our personal biases can be prejudice, a preconceived belief, opinion, or judgment toward a person or a group of people. Our prejudice can be based on all the types of diversity we discussed: race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or even other personal characteristics.
A major factor in prejudice is stereotyping, which is judging a person on the basis of one’s perception of a group to which he or she belongs. For instance, “married persons are more stable employees than single persons” is an example of stereotyping. Keep in mind, though, that not all stereotypes are inaccurate. For instance, asking someone in accounting about a budgeting problem you’re having would be an appropriate assumption and action. However, many stereotypes—red-haired people have a bad temper, elderly drivers are the most dangerous, working mothers aren’t as committed to their careers as men are, and so forth—aren’t factual and distort our judgment.
The Legal Aspect of Workplace Diversity
However, e‹ectively managing workplace diversity needs to be more than understanding and complying with federal laws. Organizations that are successful at managing diversity use additional diversity initiatives and programs. We’re going to look at four of these: top management commitment, mentoring, diversity skills training, and employee resource groups.
Top Management Commitment to Diversity
One of the first things to do is make sure that diversity and inclusion are part of the organization’s purpose, goals, and strategies. Look back at our chapter opener. That’s one of the things that the Coca-Cola Company does. Even during economically challenging times, an organization needs a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion programs. 
Diversity needs to be integrated into every aspect of the business—from the workforce, customers, and suppliers to products, services, and the communities served. Policies and procedures must be in place to ensure that grievances and concerns are addressed immediately. Finally, the organizational culture needs to be one where diversity and inclusion are valued, even to the point where, like Marriott International, individual performance is measured and rewarded on diversity accomplishments.



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