Diversity refers to the practice of understanding, acknowledging, accepting, celebrating and valuing differences among people with regard to class, ethnicity, age, physical and mental prowess, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and public assistance status (Green, López, Wysocki and Kepner, 2013). In the current global scenario when the driving forces of globalization like communication, transportation, advent of technologies, transnational companies and internet have diminished boundaries, the work place environment has become extremely diverse with people of various cultures, beliefs and backgrounds interacting with each other on a daily basis on account of work and business. The demography in USA has changed significantly in the last few decades. Not so long ago in the 1950s, over 60% of the American workforce was comprised of white males, but today the same American workforce is a melting pot of various cultures, ethnicities, genders, religion and age. At present, the US population consists of 78% white Americans, 13.1% Black or African Americans, 17% Hispanics, 5.1% Asian Americans, 1.2% American Indians or Alaska Natives and 2.4% some other race. But by 2060, this number is expected to change drastically with whites consisting 69%, Black Americans 15%, Asian Americans 8.2%, Hispanics 31% and other races consisting 6.4% of the total US population (USCB, 2012). With such change in demography, USA will become more diverse, and the work environment more multi-cultural. Therefore, companies must recognize the strength of diverse workforce and bring in policies and procedures to handle the issue more efficiently. This paper will first highlight the benefits of diversity in the workplace, and then discuss how diversity can create worst possible scenarios if the challenges of diversity are not properly dealt with. Finally, it will highlight the solutions and tools required to address diversity efficiently in the workplace.
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
International growth of an organization doesn't involve only expanding its size, it involves making a global presence that is possible only if companies make mergers and takeovers and turn their business into a transnational business. In the context of such global factors influencing global business market, multicultural organizations with a diverse workforce have a lot of competitive advantages over monolithic organizations in terms of international competitiveness. The performance of global organizations depends on "their ability to cope with heterogeneous cultural, institutional, and competitive environments, to coordinate geographically dispersed resources and to leverage innovations across national borders" (Carpenter, Sanders & Gregersen, 2000, p 3). A diverse workforce, consisting of employees of different backgrounds and experiences, generates a group of more creative, productive and innovative employees. Below are highlighted some of the benefits of diversity in the workplace:
Diversity boosts up the economic growth of a company. Human capital grows as more women, racio-ethnic minorities, gay and transgender people join a workforce. A study conducted by McKinsey & Company shows that an increase of women in the workforce in the USA, from 37% to 47% within the past four decades, has contributed to a quarter of growth in the current GDP of the nation (Kerby & Burns, 2012).
Diversity fosters innovation and creativity. Diversity helps an organization grow by adding fresh creative ideas provided from different perspectives. Since people of different cultures have a unique way to look at an issue, an amalgam of different views helps find a solution through a broader perspective. In a survey conducted by Forbes in 2011, about 85% out of 321 large multinational companies with about $500 million annual revenues agreed that diversity leads to innovation (Kerby & Burns, 2012). Rosalind Hudnell, who is a director of global diversity at Intel Corporation, states that "Because of our diverse workforce, we’ve experienced a boost in productivity..When you can move people to contribute to their fullest, it has a tremendous impact" (Forbes Insight, p 5).
Improvement in Marketing and Development of Products and Services
Several survey results have confirmed that a diverse workforce by bringing in different insights adds to the development of product and services for different segments of people. Frédéric Rozé, who is a CEO at L’Oréal USA, believes that his work in Europe, Russia and Argentina has helped him gain an insight into different cultures and people. Since L’Oréal has a rich portfolio of different brands catering to the needs of diverse customers, these insights have helped him pick up ideas to be used in product development and business practices (Forbes Insight). A diverse workforce by giving different inputs also helps ensure that the products and services of a company are up to the expectation of customers. Huey Wilson, the vice president of HR in Mattel, with his statement "Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are very important to us.They help us define products that work for their regions or demographics” reinforces the point how a different perspective from another culture group adds to the development of products and services in a company (Forbes Insight, p 5). That people of different cultures can add to the product development is proven further by the example of Balanda Atis, who is a group leader of research and innovation at L’Oréal USA. She being a woman of darker skin understood the problem faced by non-Caucasian women in selecting a foundation for their skin type. She with a team of scientists conducted a study across USA interviewing women of different skin tones, and thereby, she was able to demonstrate that women of different skin tones and color have their specific needs (Forbes Insight).
Diversity Attracts Talent Pools
Diversity also helps attract highly qualified candidates. Since diversity broadens the selection range, companies can hire the cream of the crop from the labor market. The economic situation in the world having become extremely competitive, a multicultural organization gets the advantage of choosing candidates from a diverse range of talent pools, which is essential for success in the current market condition. Many companies in order to attract the top talents in the market are incorporating diversity and inclusion policies to build a diversity-friendly work environment. Google is one such company that takes pride in its diverse pool of talents. In order to acquire talents from diverse backgrounds and maintain a healthy diversity-friendly work culture, Google has different programs and policies in place. For example, in order to increase the number of black employees, Google attends historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Howard University, Hampton University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and North Carolina A&T University to recruit talents. Google also makes investments by providing scholarships to black students in HBCUs to develop a generation of African American students for technical careers (Google, 2014).
Decreased Turnover Cost
A diverse workforce also helps companies retain the best talents in the job thereby reducing the employee turnover cost. Companies that don’t promote diversity foster a hostile work environment which results in high attrition rate and therefore they lose a hefty amount of money every year on employee turnover whereas companies which foster a healthy work environment with people from different ethnicities working together have higher employee retention rate (Kerby & Burns, 2012).
Problem Solving and Decision Making
Diversity helps in solving problems and making decisions. People from different backgrounds have different problem solving aptitudes and also the opinions on a particular issue vary among diverse group, which helps in solving a similar problem in different ways. The CEO of Bell Atlantic Ivan Seidenberg opines that diversity opens door for diversity of thinking and helps make better decisions, "If everybody in the room is the same, you'll have a lot fewer arguments and a lot worse answers" (Colvin, 1999).
Challenges of Diversity
Diversity is, however, not without its challenges. If diversity adds to innovation, creativity, product development and helps attract fresh pool of talents, diversity may lead to an array of problems if an organization is unsuccessful in its diversity initiatives and inclusion programs. Below are highlighted some of the diversity challenges, which an organization needs to overcome:
Conflict among Team Members
Diversity brings certain challenges in a team environment which, if not managed properly, may impact the productivity and the effectiveness of the team. People of different cultures for having different ways of approaching the same problem might get into a conflict with each other because each individual team member would make different assumptions about the given task, and the gap in their thought process could lead to a rift and tension that might affect the entire group's performance (Goessl, 2008).
Discrimination, Increased Turnover and Absenteeism
Since diversity brings people of different corners of the world in one place, there might be some members who might look down upon the members coming from third world countries or belonging to a minority group which, if not managed effectively, could lead to racial discriminatory practices. Moreover, if the team has more members of a particular ethnicity then those members might form a group and try to dominate the entire team. The culture conflicts and ethnocentrism may contribute to the growth of a negative dynamics within the team which may leave deep psychological impact on the members and if the leadership ignores the issue then the problem would lead to reduced productivity, increased turnover and absenteeism.
Harassment and Lawsuits
In the absence of proper rules and laws in the workplace, the minority group of employees often needs to face harassment at the hand of their colleagues. If this harassment is not dealt with on time, it could lead to litigation. In USA, sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination towards women are not uncommon in the workplace. For example, the sexual harassment case against the Mitsubishi Manufacturing plant in Illinois is an example of how women employees suffered sexual harassment at the hand of their male colleagues day after day. Despite Pregnancy Discrimination Act in place, many women are frequently subjected to discrimination because of pregnancy in USA. In the last decade, pregnancy discrimination incident has increased by 35%. Mallory Baker, a part time arts and crafts teacher at the University School of Milwaukee was fired when her supervisor came to know of her pregnancy. The EEOC filed a lawsuit in 2012 on her behalf for violating the PDA and the school has recently paid $37,500 as settlement (Vielmetti, 2013).
Communication is another challenge that needs to be overcome by an organization with a diverse group of employees. Many a time, employees of different cultures and ethnicities form assumptions about one another without getting into a real conversation, which, if continued, may grow into a huge communication gap between employees. The communication gap can result in reduced productivity and lack of cohesiveness among team members.
Solutions and Tools
Diversity is good thing in workplace, but if not properly managed, it can create worst possible scenarios for an organization. Therefore, it is recommended for any multinational company with diverse workforce to build a diversity-friendly work environment in which employees, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, can flourish. Below are described some of the tools required to incorporate diversity in an organization:
Diversity and Inclusion Programs
Companies should establish a number of diversity and inclusion programs to create awareness among all the employees about the need to comingle with each other. The organization should properly implement these all-inclusive measures to involve all the people belonging to both majority and minority groups in different aspects of the organizational objectives. There are several techniques that could be employed to create a diversity-friendly atmosphere in the organization. First of all, employees should be given training on awareness and skill building. Awareness training makes the employees aware of the meaning of diversity and how diversity should be managed in the workplace. The skill building training offers more specific input on how cultural norms of different groups may affect work behavior (Cox, 1991). There are many companies like Hewlett Packard, McDonnell Douglas, Google, PepsiCo, and Ortho Pharmaceuticals that have put these training programs to use.
Prevention of Discrimination
Every organization should strive to build a bias free environment by making use of equal opportunity seminars, training on civil rights legislation, bias reduction training, sexual harassment workshops, focus groups, research and task forces (Cox, 1991). Digital Equipment is one of the many organizations that have implemented in-house focus groups with the intent of scrutinizing the differences of attitude, feelings and beliefs existing among different culture groups and their influence on work behavior. These focus groups discuss about the group differences openly, and as more people take part in the discussion, lot of problems get sorted out on their own through communication. Further internal research should be conducted in order to ensure that minority groups are fairly treated. For instance, Time Inc. holds a yearly assessment program for men and women working at the same level to compare pay packages and equal treatment (Cox, 1991). Formation of task forces entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring the policies and practices of the organizations would also help diminish discriminating behaviors.
Reduction of Conflicts in the Workplace
Some conflicts are bound to exist in a diverse setting due to differences in culture, language, ethnicity and religion but in order to prevent the conflicts from taking a serious shape, conflicts should be managed through survey feedback and conflict reduction training. Survey feedback is the most effective tool to reduce conflicts. For example, Proctor and Gamble found out through a survey feedback that the average time taken by a white new joiner to assimilate into the organization is quite less compared to black females, who take longest time for integration (Selvaretnam, 2011). So the company developed an 'on-boarding program' to address the problem. Conflict Resolution Training is another technique used to reduce intergroup conflicts.
Managerial Role to Address Diversity
Managers play an important role in creating a diversity friendly work atmosphere. In order for managers to tackle the problems related to diversity, they should, first of all, build skills necessary to address these issues through proper training. They must be aware of discrimination and its consequences (Latham and Bryson, 2014). They also should remove cultural biases or prejudices from their own minds. If managers themselves are not bias free, then cannot treat employees of the minority groups fairly. Furthermore, the management of an organization should establish clear policies and procedures to make sure that the supervisors can make non-discriminatory decisions on the basis of sound judgment (Latham and Bryson, 2014). All the decisions made by the managers and supervisors should be consistent and used for future references.
Full Integration in Informal Networks
A multicultural organization should organize different mentoring programs, support groups and social events for the minority members so that the minority groups can utilize the opportunity to give an expression to their cultural identity and share their cultural norms with members of the dominant groups. This also helps the dominant groups get the drift of the cultural traditions and heritage of the minorities. For example, the support network group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) employees is called Gayglers in Google. Google holds different celebrations and programs to extend its support to the LGBT community. Till 2012, over 1,500 employees of Google have taken part in Pride celebrations, the annual festival of LGBT community organized in different cities across USA including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston (Google, 2014). Google also makes sure that Gayglers take part in Pride celebrations not only within USA, but across the world. Besides, Google holds different seminars and conferences to spread awareness about the LGBT community, making sure that they are treated fairly both inside and outside of Google (Google, 2014).
With the advent of technology and globalization, the workplace environment has become extremely diverse with people of various backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities working on the same platform. Diversity is a good thing for the workplace as it reaps several benefits, if properly managed. Some of the benefits of diversity include economic growth, innovation, improvement in marketing and development of products and services, attraction of talents, decreased turnover cost, decision making and problem solving. However, if an organization is unable to successfully implement diversity initiatives and inclusion programs in the workplace, then diversity can create worst possible scenarios including conflicts among team members, discriminatory practices, absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased turnover cost, communication gap, harassment and lawsuits. In order for diversity to be useful for organizational success, it is important to build a diversity-friendly work environment in which all the employees can feel comfortable and develop a sense of belonging to the workplace. Companies should set up a slew of diversity and inclusion programs to spread awareness about the benefits of diverse workforce among all the employees. Companies should build a bias free work environment by making use of equal opportunity seminars, training on civil rights legislation, bias reduction training, sexual harassment workshops, focus groups, research and task forces. Survey feedback and conflict reduction training should be held from time to time to reduce conflicts among group members. Furthermore, companies should organize different social events and support groups to let the minority group of employees share and express their cultural norms with the members of the dominant groups. If a company can successfully overcome all the challenges of diversity by implementing all these tools, then diversity will be a powerful instrument for organizational success.
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