Creating a More Diverse Workplace

Gone are the days when a glance could confirm or deny whether a business was diverse. Back then, if there were a handful of women and minorities in visible positions, the company's diversity initiatives would have been considered a success. Today, savvy leaders know that workplace diversity isn't just having a certain number of minority hires; rather, it's creating an inclusive, progressive environment that values and leverages every staff member's background.

A Broader, Deeper Definition

Current population trends indicate that, by 2050, there will be no racial majority in the United States. This is according to the Pew Research Center, a not-for-profit research group that studies public policy issues. Our nation's shifting demographics underscore the need for companies to revise how they look at diversity.

Clearly, diversity can no longer be viewed in simple terms. Currently, a new definition of diversity is emerging. Forward-thinking organizations are now recasting the concept of diversity to embrace all the ways people can bring a unique perspective to the workplace.

In accepting a broader and deeper definition of diversity, companies need to examine whether they've progressed beyond looking at only traditional differentiators such as race, gender and nationality. For instance, does your organization include workers with physical disabilities; of different generations; or from a variety of social, economic and educational backgrounds? Does it allow employees to be open about their sexual orientations, cultures and religions?

Business Imperative

By 2050, nearly one in five people employed in the United States will have been born outside of the country, says Pew. In other words, the world continues to get smaller. Our increasingly mobile population and global economy means being diverse now isn't just the right thing to do — it's the only thing to do.

To be successful, businesses must recruit and retain a richly varied mix of employees who understand the cultures and practices of their current and potential customers. What's more, companies must nurture a workplace that enables each employee to make decisions and innovate based on his or her distinctive set of experiences. It's only through diversity of thought, experience and perspective that organizations will be able to compete on a global level — both now and in the future.

Ways to Make It Work

When it comes to becoming truly diverse, corporate actions speak much louder than words. Here are some ideas for better managing diversity within your organization:

Broaden recruiting horizons. To reach out to the widest range of potential candidates, employers need to think beyond traditional recruitment strategies and events. One option is to seek out associations, job boards and hiring fairs that highlight diversity, such as the US Business Leadership Network's (USBLN's) annual conference, which is dedicated to linking individuals with disabilities to potential employers.

Network wisely. Leading companies use employee networks — for instance, Asian-American; African-American; Latino; and gay, lesbian and transgender groups — as a way to foster diversity. These networks offer members an internal support system for growth and development while enabling businesses to demonstrate their commitment to an inclusive organizational culture that views diversity as a competitive advantage.

Appreciate differences. In the past, diversity initiatives called for companies to be blind to differences, downplaying them as the politically correct thing to do. Today, businesses are realizing the benefits of recognizing — even celebrating — individual differences as a way to respond to business challenges more quickly, creatively and effectively.

Hire with diversity in mind. To show employees how much your organization values diversity, employ a diverse range of people at all organizational levels, especially in the senior ranks. Without this proof, promising workers may decide there's no room for growth at your company and take their talents elsewhere.

Provide ongoing education. If diversity is a core value of your company, make sure management is acting in a way that reflects it. Offer diversity and cultural sensitivity training to reinforce your commitment, because employees won't believe it unless leadership acts upon it.

Every Company's Goal

All companies, no matter what their product or service, share the same goal of enhancing the bottom line. Creating a diverse workforce — and one leveraged to its fullest — can accelerate the achievement of this objective, while building organizational sustainability.

Be Sure to Foster Open Communication

A company can benefit from the depth and breadth of its workforce's experience only if its management listens to what employees have to say. Empower your workers to contribute ideas, manage business challenges, and express opinions and views — even if they don't always mesh with management's.

Make sure you have a formal channel of communication in place so employees can tell you if they feel they're being treated unfairly or are somehow being marginalized by a perceived difference. And conduct regular employee surveys to determine how well diversity initiatives are being met.

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