There numerous benefits to equality and diversity in the workplace. Workplace equality and workplace diversity are very different concepts; however, they are intertwined, and equality is largely dependent on an acceptance of diversity in order for there to be equal treatment in the work environment.
Broaching sensitive topics such as race, color, religion and other traits unrelated to your employees' professional expertise and qualifications can be nonproductive if the benefits of diversity aren’t first explained to employees. The issue of diversity in the workplace isn't a "resolvable" one – it’s simply a reality. Given the shift in workplace demographics, generational, religious, genetic and sexual orientation differences are attributes that contribute to an organization’s wide appeal within its community and throughout the global marketplace.
Diversity refers to the range of cultural, ethnic and generational differences present in the workplace. Equality is the concept of treating all employees with equal consideration, regardless of their culture, race, gender, disability or any number of other factors. The better training available concerning diversity, the better an employer is able to effect workplace policies that instill values related to equality, equity and equal treatment in the workplace. Above all, training is a necessary component in achieving equality.
Advantages to Diversity
Exposure to diverse groups enlightens and educates your staff. It also encourages colleagues to explore alternative ways of developing interpersonal relationships. In addition--and this is probably the most profitable of all advantages--workplace diversity can effectively broaden your client base. A diverse staff is better able to communicate with others who share the same language, nationality and culture.
Tangible Benefits of Diversity and Equality
Interaction with co-workers of varied cultures, races and generations provides your work force with an exposure they might never have had if not having been employed with your company. Workplace diversity is one of the reasons globalization is gaining strength in the 21st century –global success means reaching areas which were not previously considered. Proponents of diversity believe a diverse workplace can experience greater profitability, global appeal and a positive reputation among the community your organization serves.
Challenges of Diversity
There are challenges to workplace diversity; however, discussing the challenges can be extremely difficult because conversations about less-than positive aspects of diversity are often deemed socially unacceptable. Talking about challenges associated with workplace diversity can suggest there’s something wrong the concept. Nevertheless, there are challenges your business may encounter as a result of a diverse workforce. The best way to approach this topic is with candor, sensitivity and honesty. Individuals in a diverse work force may experience communication barriers with co-workers whose native language is not English. Diversity in work styles or religion could present challenges pertaining to scheduling and work rules to accommodate workers whose culture prohibits them from working certain days or times, or requires clothing that may not be consistent with your company's dress policy.
Traditional Diversity Training
Diversity training is big business for human resources consultants, trainers and industrial/organizational psychologists. Small businesses without a dedicated HR department or businesses under contractual agreement with public agencies that require diversity training, are diversity consultants’ target market. This scenario presents an issue because it transforms diversity into a mere commercial venture instead of a vehicle that focuses more on improving workplace relationships.
Look at the talent you already have in your workplace. There may be employees who have experience in leading discussions about sensitive topics, or managers who have been involved in diversity training in previous roles. Facilitating focus groups to engage your employees in candid discussions about the challenges that diversity poses is an innovative and strategic move where training is concerned.
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Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In addition, she is a certified facilitator for the Center for Creative Leadership Benchmarks 360 Assessment Suite, and is a Logical Operations Modern Classroom Certified Trainer . Ruth resides in North Carolina and works from her office in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.