Diversity in the Workplace

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Diversity in the Workplace

By: Judith Lindenberger

As you look around your office, is everyone just like you? Probably not. The demographics of the American workforce have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. In the 1950s, more than 60% of the American workforce consisted of white males. They were typically the sole breadwinners in the household, expected to retire by age 65 and spend their retirement years in leisure activities. Today, the American workforce is a better reflection of the population with a significant mix of genders, race, religion, age and other background factors.

The long-term success of any business calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring fresh ideas, perspectives and views to their work. The challenge that diversity poses, therefore, is enabling your managers to capitalize on the mixture of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages and lifestyles to respond to business opportunities more rapidly and creatively.

Here are two examples of the challenges inherent in managing a diverse workforce:

An American health insurance company hired employees from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The variety of different native languages and cultures, however, did not mix. Instead of making employees feel that they had a sub-group within their larger team, it gave rise to paranoia ("They must be talking about me.") and assumptions ("They think they are smarter than everyone else."). When the group needed to learn a new intake system, rather than pull together, they became even more estranged and productivity and morale plummeted.

In an American subsidiary of a global bank based in Japan, a few Japanese female workers complained to management that their older Japanese male bosses were being disrespectful to them. The human resources manager questioned all of the women in the office. Every Japanese woman reported problems with the Japanese men. In contrast, the American women reported no problems at all. Confused, the human resources manager questioned the Japanese male managers. The answer? The Japanese men responded that they understood American expectations related to sexual harassment, so they were careful about what they said to the American women. They were perplexed by the responses of the Japanese women. "What is the problem?" the Japanese men wanted to know, "They know that we don't mean anything. Any Japanese person would understand." Communication, which has never been straightforward and easy in the first place, is becoming even more complicated as organizations take on global partners.

Diversity is no longer just a black/white, male/female, old/young issue. It is much more complicated and interesting than that. In The Future of Diversity and the Work Ahead of Us, Harris Sussman says, "Diversity is about our relatedness, our connectedness, our interactions, where the lines cross. Diversity is many things - a bridge between organizational life and the reality of people's lives, building corporate capability, the framework for interrelationships between people, a learning exchange, a strategic lens on the world."

A benefit of a diverse workforce is the ability to tap into the many talents which employees from different backgrounds, perspectives, abilities and disabilities bring to the workplace. An impressive example of this is found on the business cards of employees at one Fortune 100 technology company. Employees at this company have business cards that appear normal at first glance. On closer inspection, the raised Braille characters of employee information are evident.

Many companies, however, still face challenges around building a diverse environment. Part of the reason is the tendency to pigeonhole employees, placing them in a different silo based on their diversity profile. If an employee is male, over 50, English, and an atheist, under what diversity category does this employee fall? Gender, generational, global or religious? In the real world, diversity cannot be easily categorized and those organizations that respond to human complexity by leveraging the talents of a broad workforce will be the most effective in growing their businesses and their customer base.

So, how do you develop a diversity strategy that gets results? The companies with the most effective diversity programs take a holistic approach to diversity by following these guidelines:

  1. Link diversity to the bottom line. When exploring ways to increase corporate profits, look to new markets or to partnering with your clients more strategically. Consider how a diverse workforce will enable your company to meet those goals. Think outside the box. At a Fortune 500 manufacturing company, Hispanics purchased many of the products. When the company hired a Director of Hispanic Markets, profits increased dramatically in less than one year because of the targeted marketing efforts Your new customers may be people with disabilities or people over the age of 65.) How can your employees help you reach new markets?
  2. Walk the talk. If senior management advocates a diverse workforce, make diversity evident at all organizational levels. If you don't, some employees will quickly conclude that there is no future for them in your company. Don't be afraid to use words like black, white, gay or lesbian. Show respect for diversity issues and promote clear and positive responses to them. How can you demonstrate your company's commitment to diversity?
  3. Broaden your efforts. Does diversity at your company refer only to race and gender? If so, expand your definition and your diversity efforts. As baby boomers age and more minorities enter the workplace, the shift in demographics means that managing a multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce will become a business norm. Also, there is a wealth of specialized equipment available to enable people with disabilities to contribute successfully to their work environments. If your organizational environment does not support diversity broadly you risk losing talent to your competitors. How can your recruitment efforts reach out to all qualified candidates?
  4. Remove artificial barriers to success. The style of interview - behavioral or functional- may be a disadvantage to some job candidates. Older employees, for example, are less familiar with behavioral interviews and may not perform as well unless your recruiters directly ask for the kind of experiences they are looking for. Employees from countries outside the US and non-Caucasian populations may downplay their achievements or focus on describing, "who they know" rather than "what they know" Train your recruiters to understand the cultural components of interviews. How can your human resources processes give equal opportunity to all people?
  5. Retain diversity at all levels. The definition of diversity goes beyond race and gender to encompass lifestyle issues. Programs that address work and family issues - alternative work schedules and child and elder care resources and referrals - make good business sense. How can you keep valuable employees?
  6. Provide practical training. Using relevant examples to teach small groups of people how to resolve conflicts and value diverse opinions helps companies far more than large, abstract diversity lectures. Training needs to emphasize the importance of diverse ideas as well. Workers care more about whether or not their boss seems to value their ideas rather than if they are part of a group of all white males or an ethnically diverse workforce. In addition, train leaders to move beyond their own cultural frame of reference to recognize and take full advantage of the productivity potential inherent in a diverse population. How can you provide diversity training at your company?
  7. Mentor with others at your company who you do not know well. Involve your managers in a mentoring program to coach and provide feedback to employees who are different from them. Some of your most influential mentors can be people with whom you have little in common. Find someone who doesn't look just like you. Find someone from a different background, a different race or a different gender. Find someone who thinks differently than you do. How can you find a mentor who is different from you?
  8. Measure your results. Conduct regular organizational assessments on issues like pay, benefits, work environment, management and promotional opportunities to assess your progress over the long term. Keep doing what is working and stop doing what is not working. How do you measure the impact of diversity initiatives at your organization?

In the book, Beyond Race and Gender, R. Roosevelt Thomas defines managing diversity as "a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees." Successful strategic diversity programs also lead to increased profits and lowered expenses.

The long-term success of any business calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring fresh ideas, perspectives and views and a corporate mindset that values those views. It's also no secret that the lack of diversity can affect your ability to communicate effectively with diverse clients. Link your diversity strategies to specific goals like morale, retention, performance and the bottom line. Build your business with everything you've got, with the complex multi-dimensional talents and personalities of your workforce, and make diversity work for you.

Copyright 2003.) All rights reserved.

About The Author

Judith Lindenberger, MBA and Marian Stoltz-Loike, Ph.D.

Judith Lindenberger, Principal, The Lindenberger Group, LLC and Marian Stoltz-Loike, CEO, SeniorThinking, provide human resources learning and consulting. Learn more about them at www.lindenbergergroup.com and www.seniorthinking.com.



Sandra 08.01.2008. 14:09

What is a good topic relating to Diversity in the workplace? I have to give a presentation on a topic related to Diversity in the workplace. The last one was about inclusiveness. Any suggestions?


Admin 08.01.2008. 14:09

Diversity is OVER RATED!


Kee K 14.08.2008. 14:34

What is the value of diversity in the workplace? Should diversity be mandated legally? Why or why not? ? What is the value of diversity in the workplace? Should diversity be mandated legally? Why or why not? ?

Kee K

Admin 14.08.2008. 14:34

Diversity has no value!


Kee K 13.08.2008. 17:33

What is the value of diversity in the workplace? Should diversity be mandated legally? Why or why not? ? What is the value of diversity in the workplace? Should diversity be mandated legally? Why or why not?
What is the value of diversity in the workplace? Should diversity be mandated legally? Why or why not? ?

Kee K

Admin 13.08.2008. 17:33

Mandating diversity is a form of affirmative action, which I am against. A person should be hired because of the skills they posses, not because they belong to some minority group.

But, I am not against diversity. Diversity does give a wider range of thoughts and ideas. Instead of people that just go with the normal work flow, you can get people that think different, and may have other ideas that no one else thought of.

*EDIT* - I believe affirmative action was good at a time, but there are enough anti-discrimination laws now that we do not need to force companies to have a certain percentage of their workforce to be minorities.


D W 20.01.2010. 15:12

Do you have paperwork or a website on diversity/discrimination in the workplace? I saw some training yesterday regarding the importance of dealing well with diversity in the workplace without discriminating. We are having problems with one person in particular who, if you don't do it his way, it is always the WRONG way. I am the director of HR and would like some handouts in this regard, but cannot find something online easily.


Admin 20.01.2010. 15:12

about it you can get information from here http://sitefinance1.notlong.com/5AACtGl


Lydia Acb2 29.01.2010. 16:08

how to deal with negative attitudes toward diversity within your workplace? As a concerned employee, how would you deal with negative attitudes toward diversity within your workplace? What training programs might you suggest to improve employee acceptance?

...thanx in advance! =)

Lydia Acb2

Admin 29.01.2010. 16:08

When I was in the military they had an agency called Social Actions. They were the ones who handle issues like that. In the military we were such a diverse culture of people from everywhere, but if there was an issue the immediate supervisor handle it and up the chain of command or if it was serious, it was reported to Social Actions. The work force is a lot like raising children, they will get away with only what you let them. If you do disciplinary actions against people doing wrong things and let them know there are consequences for their actions, they know what they can't get away with. Your company sets the stage for what they allow and don't allow as a company. There should be training manuals and employee hand books that let employees know what is allowed and what isn't. Most places I worked had a page or two or three on issues you could be fired for on the spot. I usually put those issues on a word document and made it like a contract for employees, so they knew the companies rules and what the consequence was for breaking the rules. I never threatened to fire anyone I wasn't prepared to fire. Your company sets the standards, you set the example. You shouldn't need a training program on how to be decent to others, but I guess you could do some role playing to show what is offensive or acceptable or how to handle things of offense to other cultures. Ben Franklin said... A good example is the best sermon.


Meels 15.08.2010. 13:39

How to answer this job interview question re: equal opportunity and diversity? So they always throw these type of job and person specifications into job applications (i.e., the written application BEFORE they decide to give you an interview), and I never know how to answer them.

This is one of the essential criteria for the job:
"Commitment to equal employment opportunities, recognition of diversity in the workplace, and in educational processes"

Of course I believe in equal opportunities, but just saying that isn't really going to cut it, hey? How do you actually demonstrate you have done this?


Admin 15.08.2010. 13:39

Say you have worked in harmony with dedicated citizens who are minorities.


annetteb2@prodigy.net 03.12.2006. 00:28

What percentage of companies have diversity training? This is dealing with cultural diversity in the workplace.


Admin 03.12.2006. 00:28

I don't know the statistics, but I do know it is getting more common at big employers for a number of reasons. I work for the State of Illinois and we have it every year.


Ross G 19.01.2007. 14:34

Does anyone know any good exercises for diversity training? I'm teaching 20 people the importance of diversity in the workplace and need an exercise i can do with them to really make them understand why it is important.
The age range of my students is 19 - 45.
Many thanks

Ross G

Admin 19.01.2007. 14:34

Have you ever watched 'The Office'? You will get some good tips from there.

Jokes aside, put something physical in to your lesson, a game - it aids learning and makes a team. Hope you get more help than I have been


Xirh 04.05.2013. 21:47

What is diversity and how is it important in the workplace? What answers can you think of for how is diversity important in the workplace?

Also do you know any other questions and answers for other Hollister interview questions?


Admin 04.05.2013. 21:47

Here are a couple of articles to help you along:


Mr. Brooks 29.06.2012. 01:09

How do I recruit diverse candidates to increase diversity in the workplace? I am in HR and looking to bring diversity to my organization. Any suggestions?

Mr. Brooks

Admin 29.06.2012. 01:09

Good question! I would suggest two things:

advertise in the local media used by the population or minority group you want to attract, or indeed as many minority populations as you can.

The other approach is around generating the desire to want to work for you. Many minority groups feel 'there is no point' in applying for a job with a staff group dominated by a particular race as there is institutional racism at play. So its about building bridges and getting the message over that this isn't the case. So I would suggest giving talks to minority groups and/or the leaders of the communities about what you do and your inclusive philosophy.

Good luck!


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