The effectiveness of a diverse workplace depends on the openness of the staff and leadership to accept change, as well as how they engage others from different backgrounds. Whilst today’s workforce is no longer made up of one single race or gender. It is made up of many different races with different cultural beliefs. In an essay I read called Diversity of Race and Ethnicity Sociology it states that better decisions are made with ethnically diverse groups, than those of the homogeneous teams (Diversity of Race and Ethnicity Sociology, 2017).
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Diversity can be complex, and is not defined as one specific thing. It is loosely defined as the understanding and acceptance of others that are different than you. Diversity is categorized into two separate categories. The first category covers the basics such as race, age, gender, and sexual orientation. The other category is a little more complex and it covers everything from cultural values, religious beliefs, income, location, and of course ethnicity (Min, 2017).
The effects a diverse workforce can have on a company and the challenges they face, can vary from place to place, and can be dramatically different in the United States compared to other countries? Diversity, or the lack thereof can also affect a company’s revenue stream. By not having a the best and the best, companies take the risk of losing out to competitors. Therefore, having a larger pool of candidates to choose from becomes critical if they want to retain the talent. This is also important to companies because they fill positions quicker. If a company is not structured to handle diversity, that pool becomes smaller and smaller. One component is to have diverse leadership that can recognize the importance of diversity, and hire candidates based on talent and experience, and not on race and gender.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which allowed blacks to be accepted into job-training programs in defense programs, which established Fair Employment Practices Commission. FEPC was subsequently abolished after the war. In 1943 Congress first introduced equal employment legislation, and it was not until 1948 that President Harry S. Truman signed in to law Executive Order 9981. Executive Order 9981 was to abolish segregation in the Armed Services. This order allowed minorities to be housed, as well as fight alongside their white counterparts (Feng, 2015). Because of this order, 95% of African American Army soldiers were serving in units integrated with whites by 1953.
In the 1960’s, when the civil rights legislation was passed, due primarily to social and political changes. This legislation prohibited discrimination based on color, religion, race, national origin, and sex. This legislation is known as Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964. Age would later be added to the list.
According to McCormick (2007), a study was conducted in 1987 by the Secretary of Labor, William Brock. The study highlighted five demographic factors that would have significant effect on the labor force in the US. This study later became the book, Workforce 2000 -Work and Workers in the Twenty First Century. The five factors include; the slow growing workforce and population, young workers coming into the workforce will shrink, while the average age of the population will rise, women will enter the workforce more rapidly, the labor force will see that minorities are the larger share of workers, and the largest increase of population in the workforce since WW1 will be by legal and illegal immigrants. With diversification becoming imminent, companies would have to diversify their workforce in order to stay competitive. Many companies started to focus on a diversity effort and they created a business case (McCormick, 2007, p. 5).
Research has found that multicultural environments are linked to positive outcomes, whether it be intellectual, or social. Although major focal points in diversity are still based on gender and ethnicity, many organizations are starting to put greater enfaces on other areas of diversity. Based on a recent HR survey by Harney Nash, organizations are currently pursuing the following areas of diverse; 80% gender, 41% ethnicity/cultural, 38% age, and 14% LGBT. Another way companies can avoid bias, is by using artificial intelligence when sourcing its candidates. AI can be beneficial because it can be programmed to avoid and ignore information such as demographics on candidates resumes (Min, 2017).
According to Forbes, Five Trends Driving Workplace Diversity in 2015 one-fifth of participants indicated that their companies dedicate a very small percentage to diversity efforts. Their reasoning is because they are just too busy. Some of the trends according to Forbes are: the involvement of more CEOs. Some of the top Fortune 500 companies are being ran by females. Companies such as GMC, IBM and Lockheed Martin. Many companies are making diversity even simpler by looking for talent that have a strong problem-solving background, as well as have different ways of viewing complex issues (Rezvani, 2015).
Maintaining a competitive advantage is of high importance to companies. To stay one step ahead of their competitors, companies are hiring the most qualified talent possible. But this goes much further than just recruiting candidates with a diverse background, it is having a diverse leadership that understands the importance of inclusion within an organization. While a great deal of large corporations have adopted diversity programs and implemented changes in the way we view differences, the training and development of diverse groups does not always lead to retention of such employees. Often there are organizational barriers that affect implementing successful diversity programs. Many things change in companies when you introduce diversity. Such as cultural difference, which if not managed appropriately, can and will cause discomfort to any that are perceived as different. That in which we are not familiar with, can cause unwanted discrimination and prejudice. Some organizations are taking it a step further and creating atmospheres that cultivate innovation and productiveness through communication and collaboration (Williams, n.d). This type of environment leads to abundance of tolerance for those that are perceived as different.
Cultural issues can also become somewhat of an issue for some companies. Therefore, proper training of employees on the differences in backgrounds is beneficial to avoid cultural issues. For example, in places like Argentina it is customary to hug people when you meet them. While places like Italy, Spain, and Portugal kissing on the cheek is customary. However, in other places like Japan and China no contact is made at all. They simply bow as a show of respect. When a new employee is hired and people are unaware of their culture, you may find that what is normal in one culture may make people very uncomfortable for other cultures. That could pose a serious issue for HR to deal with. The challenge is to implement the proper training to avoid any misunderstanding. Policies should be put in place that protect employees’ rights, as well as follows guidelines and is compliant with regulations. Companies would also benefit from having sensitivity training. Which will help employees become more aware, as well as help them to understand any cultural biases they may possess and how to best handle these biases. Some benefits to this training include: appreciating the views of others, what actions can be perceived as offensive, and conflict resolution (Dyson, 2017). Some companies are assembling focus groups made up of staff and leadership of all different backgrounds, to research and address the major issues. To develop strategies and provide resources to those who may have a difficult time adjusting to the differences.
Around the world, countries are embracing diversity. Although, it may not necessarily mean exactly what it means in the United States, and the laws may differ some. Place like Norway require their companies to meet a 40% quota for women to serve on the boards of public limited companies. According to an article in the Diversity Journal, most countries have some sort of law that helps disadvantaged groups in their regions (Heffertvet-Aoudia, 2011).
The company I currently work for has over 80,000 employees and is in over 100 different countries. Which means diversity and inclusion is an integral part of the success of our company. One of the ways our company fosters diversity and inclusion is by having very large network groups. Groups such as African-American Network Group, Hispanic Latin Business Resource Group, LGBTQ & Allies, and Women’s Network just to name a few. We have yearly diversity training that lasts anywhere from an hour to two hours, and is mandatory. This training is also important because the clients we meet with are from all around the globe. Therefore, we are held to the highest standards and we take our RISE values very seriously (People and Culture, n.d).
For instance, we have a young lady that works in the accounting department in D.C. She is from Africa and has a very strong accent. She speaks four different languages and English is one she is still learning. Because of the slight language barrier, her communication to some may come off as rude. She speaks very quickly and sometimes has to be asked to slow down just a tad. She does not get offended, she apologizes and continues the conversation at a slower pace. I also work very closely with a lady from Greece who also has a very strong accent and is extremely feisty. But this is her culture and the way she communicates in her country. It is not a case of being rude and/or obnoxious, it is strictly cultural. Every day I am in contact with someone who is different than I am, and for me this is what makes my job pleasant. Of course, the language barrier can be extremely challenging, but I have to think that it is just as challenging to them as it is to me. Therefore, we learn together how to navigate projects.
The branch of the company I work for deals with public entities such as, state and local agencies all around the United States. Therefore, we are also required to deal with a whole other set of diversity laws that are put into place by each state. I respond to Request for Proposals (RFPs) that almost always require us to have some sort of diversity group within our company. Another requirement is, if we use subcontractors, they too must have a certain percentage of minorities and women. Companies that do not show diversity are automatically disqualified from submitting a bid response. Diversity is entrenched in every part of my company, and as of now I do not plan on pursuing another career. In the future if I do leave this company, I will choose a company that has the same values as my current company.
To conclude, a diverse workforce is not just something that is tolerated, or dealt with. It is a reflection of the world we now live in. Teams that are diverse, offer an elevated advantage to organizations, both collaboratively and competitively. Individual differences should be respected, as they will likely benefit and elevate a company. If a company looks to having a competitive advantage, one way to do this is to change the makeup of their employees to include others with a more robust view on the world.
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