In our highly connected global community, the workplace is becoming more and more diverse. The modern workforce is the most diverse the business world has ever known.
According to the University of Florida, "Diversity is generally defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting, valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and public assistance status."
Stephen Butler, co-chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum's Diversity Initiative Task Force, says, "Diversity is an invaluable competitive asset that America cannot afford to ignore."
Understanding the state of diversity in the U.S. workplace is crucial to business success.
The contemporary workforce is the most gender-balanced in history. According to 2008 statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, women account for 46 percent of the workforce. Moreover, the Washington Post reported in 2007 that women are more involved in previously male-dominated industries such as construction and automotive sales. On the other hand, Market Watch reported in April 2010 that women made 79 percent of men's average income for the same positions with equal experience and education.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have become more accepted in the workplace, increasing overall workplace diversity. UCLA's Williams Institute reported in 2009 that "there are just under 7 million LGBT private employees and just over 200,000 LGBT people working for the federal government." A 2007 Trib Live article, however, reported that "23 percent of gay employees have been harassed at work, 12 percent have been denied promotions, and 9 percent were fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Racial diversity continues to expand in the U.S. workforce. According to a 2004 report from the Readership Institute, minorities make up 31 percent of the workforce. In 2008, the Census Bureau issued a prediction that the total number of minorities would outnumber non-minorities in the United States by 2042.
The civil rights advocacy group Think Progress reported in 2010 that the Arizona Department of Education had told the state's school districts to fire any teacher whose spoken English was "heavily accented or ungrammatical," which the organization saw as targeting the large Hispanic immigrant population in the area.
Four different generations are represented in the U.S. workforce. One generation, often called "traditionalists or the "Silent Generation," was born between in the 1920's and '30's. People born between 1946 and 1964 are known as "Baby Boomers." People born in the 1970's and '80's are dubbed "Gen- X'ers," while those born after 1986 are called "Millenials." Each generation has its own priorities and values, providing vastly different perspectives in the business world.
Benefits and Disadvantages
Workplace diversity is an unavoidable component of the 21st-century business world, and provides both advantages and pitfalls in a professional setting. On one hand, diversity provides multiple perspectives and can contribute to better decision-making. It also contributes to more effective product design and marketing that appeals to an increasingly multicultural consumer population. Diversity also can slow down the decision-making process, as many different perspectives can make it harder to achieve compromise. Diversity also has necessitated training programs to encourage cultural sensitivity among employees, creating additional costs for employers.