The term “Diversity” normally makes Americans think of legally protected classes based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age and disabilities. However, Workplace Diversity encompasses more than those protected classes. The globalization of business is also an aspect of Diversity: uniquely American ideas, customs and ways of doing business just don’t “cut it” anymore; U.S. businesses work in a shrinking globe where worldwide business is a fact that forces them to deal with people of widely varying cultures, languages and customs. Yet another aspect of Diversity is the fact of four simultaneous generations of American workers, with differing values, expectations, and attitudes: Veterans or Radio Babies, born from 1925 – 1945; Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964; Generation X’ers, born from 1965 to 1981; and Generation Y’ers (a/k/a “the Millennium Generation” or “Echo Boomers”), born from 1982 to 2000. In business, Diversity extends far beyond the rigidly protected classes set by Federal and State laws.
Most business scholars believe that embracing Diversity means greater effectiveness and profitability, as companies with more diverse workforces have the organizational culture and tools to serve a wider range of customers. Of course, Diversity also presents businesses with challenges. One general difficulty is the belief of some businesspeople that Diversity consists of empty platitudes that actually harm business. A second general problem is longstanding societal prejudice that makes inclusiveness difficult: companies are comprised of people and people have prejudices that cannot be easily erased. A third general problem is the difference in attitudes of various cultures. A recent study using a fictional job applicant who lied on his resume revealed differing cultural/racial responses to an ethical problem. In contrast to non-minority participants, minority participants believed more strongly that the liar was preventing a more qualified person from getting the job, were more sensitive to ethical transgressions, felt more negatively impacted, were slightly likelier to report the lie if the liar was from a different ethnic group, and were less comfortable in reporting the lie to a recruiter or company. Though this study was limited, it reveals a possibly serious gap between non-minority vs. minority workers about ethics, and since ethics is an integral part of business, employers will have to address that gap. A fourth general difficulty in Diversity is the apparent tendency of business to inadequately honor international cultural differences. Recent studies trace the failure of some international business ventures to three factors: lack of intercultural skills and competence, inability to communicate effectively at a global level, and failure to practice acceptable etiquette in business negotiations. Consequently, it is not sufficient for businesses to merely include legally protected classes in their Diversity programs; they must also learn and respect a huge array of cultural and national differences if their businesses are to succeed.
Additional challenges to Diversity are posed by specific groups. One group-specific challenge is posed by Middle-Eastern workers, who have experienced a significant degree of discrimination in workplaces, public offices, housing, and casual encounters in the wakes of 9/11 and the ensuing war. Another group-specific challenge is posed by women and minorities, who have lower advancement expectations, lower organizational commitment, lower job satisfaction, and a stronger intention to leave an employer in the face of a real or perceived “glass ceiling.” A third group-specific difference/challenge for American business involves those four generations of American workers: Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Social scientists have found that: Veterans exhibit patriotism, loyalty, and faith in institutions, value logic and discipline and dislike change; Baby Boomers are idealistic, optimistic, and question authority, want stellar careers and rewards of money, title and recognition, and are willing to work long hours to get those rewards; Generation X’ers are suspicious of politics and may be cynical about the world around them, value teamwork, value flexibility that balances work and personal life and aren’t intimidated by authority; Generation Y’ers are extremely conscious of the environment, worry about our local and global future, are more open-minded about Diversity and are very expressive. While those differences in four simultaneous generations of workers bring richness to American business, they also pose a complex challenge to businesses who wish to retain and attract those separate generations.
The lion’s share of research involves ways in which American businesses can accommodate and use Diversity, both in America and around the globe. Though sources may disagree about some specifics, they apparently agree on general attitudes that must be adopted for successful Diversity. The first general attitude adjustment is “Recognition of Diversity,” a basic business requirement, for success is determined by the company’s ability to identify the differences and incorporate them in the company’s strategy and operation. A second general need is “Diversity Training,” for at least three reasons: due to increasing Diversity, training is just the correct action; it’s good business because better working relationships increase productivity and reduce costs; it helps the company defend itself against discrimination cases. Accepting those two general principles, American businesses then need to set up a “corporate culture” of mutual learning and cooperation. This corporate culture requires communication, and the company must not merely rely on one department or group for this communication; rather, the company as a whole must act as a “moderator” of these Diversity values. By acting as moderator for open communication in a diverse corporate culture, the company can counteract deep-seated cultural prejudices and create an atmosphere of “inclusion.” A final general proposition is a “Management Plan for Diversity,” from the top down and throughout the company. Once those general principles are accepted, the specifics of creating a “corporate culture” of Diversity vary. However, the main themes remain inclusion and appreciation of Diversity by learning about the specific attributes of diverse groups and by implementing Diversity measures “from the top down” and throughout the company to create a uniform, uniting force.
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.