In today’s workplace, diversity is an important issue that is top of mind for both employers and employees alike. While many people may think diversity is limited to race and gender, it goes far beyond that to include aspects such as disability and socioeconomic status. In fact, many organizations also include thinking style, personality and life experience when considering diverse candidates for their business.
Workplace diversity comes in many forms: race and ethnicity, age and generation, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, religious and spiritual beliefs, disability and more.
Several state and local governments have enacted equal employment measures that forbid discrimination due to specific diversity characteristics. There are several legislative acts that have been passed over the last 50 years that help to protect workers. Some of the legislation that promotes diversity in the workplace includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Americans with Disability Act, Civil Rights Act and Equal Pay Act.
Diversity in the workplace based on race and ethnicity are important factors to consider, especially given the long, controversial and complicated history of race within the United States and other parts of the world. Race and ethnicity are sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different forms of diversity.
Race is tied to a person’s biological heritage, which includes physical characteristics such as skin color, hair type and other associated elements. One’s race can have an effect on aspects such as life expectancy and treatment by the criminal justice system. Ethnicity, while related to race, is more about a person’s culture than his biology. Someone’s ethnicity can encompass multiple racial or ethnic categories. It’s more about a shared cultural or geographic history than biology.
People from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds bring unique and varying perspectives to the workplace. In fact, a recent study by McKinsey shows that organizations with a high degree of racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have stronger financial returns.
Age is often categorized by generation, such as baby boomers, Generation X, Y and Z and millennials. While not all people of the same age group think the same way, there are some similarities that are defined by a person’s age. For example, Generation Z, born after 1995, hasn't experienced a world without cell phones or the internet. This makes the way they think quite different from those workers who grew up in the 1960s.
Companies often engage in age bias, whether knowingly or not. For example, recruiting solely on university campuses excludes older workers who may also be entry-level status. Similarly, some organizations look for experienced employees based on their age, which may discriminate against younger employees who also have valuable experience needed for the job.
Women make up half of the population in the country, so it’s important that they have equal representation in the workplace. However, as one of the most visible types of diversity, having a workplace that is gender diverse isn’t just about the number of women and men in the company.
In order to be a truly gender-diverse company, businesses need to address issues like the gender pay gap, where women are routinely paid less for the same jobs as their male counterparts. In order to be successful, organizations need to look at the barriers faced by both genders when contributing to the workforce and see how they can alleviate some of those restrictions for their employees.
Over 1.4 million people in the U.S. identify as transgender. An organization’s human resources policies need to use inclusive language that doesn’t focus on the binary language of male and female genders and instead also accounts for the transgender population.
Sexual orientation is about to whom a person is attracted. While it’s a very personal matter, employees need to feel safe in expressing their sexual orientation with the people with whom they work without fear of discrimination. The LGBTQ+ community is comprised of several distinct groups of people who have different experiences, interests and challenges in the workplace. It’s important for an organization to develop a safe place where all employees can freely share their identities.
There are multiple world religions and spiritual practices that employees may choose to observe. In order to have a diverse workplace, it’s important to be aware of any biases your organization may have in your hiring practices with regard to religion. Allowing employees to wear religious symbols, like a necklace with a cross or religious garments like a hijab, shows tolerance and diversity within the workplace. Creating a quiet space in the office for workers to pray or observe religious holidays can also help create a diverse environment.
Some people think disabilities are only physical and related to mobility. However, employees can have disabilities that vary from vision and movement to thinking and learning. In order to promote diversity in the workplace, businesses can ensure they implement accommodations that enable people with a disability to be productive at work. For example, this can include adding elevators or ramps in place of stairs or telephone headsets and screen readers to facilitate communication.
Employees from different socioeconomic backgrounds likely have varying attitudes toward certain aspects of life, like money. For example, someone who grew up in poverty could bring a different perspective than someone who comes from a wealthy family. It’s important to note whether the types of diversity in your organization account for socioeconomic status. Reaching out to different classes may require the use of varying methods, such as recruiting through newspaper ads versus online job search sites.
Working with people who think differently can lead to innovative ideas and effective teamwork. Consider if everyone in your department was an introvert, for example. If your department was in charge of doing a quarterly presentation in front of the whole company, it may be difficult to manage it without making your team uncomfortable and uneasy. However, if your department was made up of people with different personality types, you would be able to call upon someone who excels in public speaking.
Many businesses ask their workers to take personality tests upon hiring to see how they will fit in with the rest of the organization and what kinds of skills, weaknesses and ideas they might bring.
While this is one of the most generic diversity categories, it is an important element to consider when hiring workers. Sometimes, people bring with them radically different experiences that don’t always translate well in a typical business-related resume.
Military veterans, for example, have certain skills like leadership and management that would be very valuable to a business. However, veterans in the U.S. face a low employment rate. Often, their military training has provided them with life experience that is drastically different from the rest of the workforce.
Someone who has traveled extensively would also bring life experience that is unique and varied, especially compared to someone who has lived in the same country all her life. As a result of extensive travel, this person might have a long gap in her resume that doesn’t go over well with some employers. However, by welcoming people with different life experiences into the workplace, organizations can drive innovation and uncover new ideas that lead them to success.