To recognize and encourage diversity in the workplace requires a clearly defined strategy. An organization must demonstrate a commitment to a diverse workplace and promote that vision to employees and the public.
Why Diversity Is Important
Diversity in the workplace allows differences to shine. Apart from the benefits that differences of background and lifestyle bring to the workplace, diversity is also a legal issue. The US Anti-Discrimination law prevents companies and organizations from employee discrimination based on gender, race and religion. Diversity is also important for a company to attract top talent. If you Google the name of a company with the word diversity, you can find out a lot about company values and their commitment to reaching out to diverse job candidates.
Commitment to Diversity
For a successful diversity program, an organization succeeds when it approaches a diversity strategy much like any other business strategy. It must evaluate the business need for diversity. It needs to understand the marketplace and demographics of its consumers. The marketplace is full of many different ages, races, socioeconomic levels and religions. An organization with employees that reflect these different groups will be more successful in serving consumers because their workforce reflects the diversity of the marketplace.
In developing a diversity strategy, a company should develop a unified message on diversity, preferably from the corporate level. If different departments develop their own diversity strategy, there will be a misconception of what the company policy really is. Under Jack Welch, General Electric created a chief diversity officer position to oversee the diversity strategy. Having an officer in charge of diversity ensures that there is direct accountability and implementation of the strategy throughout the business.
What Works and What Doesn't
Diversity training is a popular way to educate employees about diversity but has been met with some skepticism. Some feel that the training is too scripted and can actually reinforce stereotypes instead of breaking them down. Studies show that diversity training and education are imperative but need to be done carefully. Instead of an all-day mandated Diversity Training, consider more informal forums or panel speakers that employees will actually enjoy. Forums can include topics like religious diversity where leaders from religious groups talk about ways their religion might influence religious employees at work.
If there is a central office of diversity, different departments can appoint diversity champions. These champions can encourage diversity practices in individual departments or business units. Some companies also have affinity groups, where members of different religions or races can gather for informal discussions or activities. This isn't meant to isolate but rather allow them to relate to one another.