Diversity is one of the most popular business topics over the last two decades. Despite this popularity, it’s also one of the most controversial and least understood topics. With its basis in civil rights legislation and social justice, the word “diversity” often invokes a variety of attitudes and emotional responses in people. Diversity has traditionally been considered a term used by human resources departments, associated with fair hiring practices, discrimination, and inequality. But diversity today is considered to be so much more.
Workforce diversity is defined as the ways in which people in an organisation are different from and similar to one another. Notice that our definition not only focuses on the differences, but the similarities of employees, reinforcing our belief that managers and organisations should view employees as having qualities in common as well as differences that separate them. It doesn’t mean that those differences are any less important, but that our focus as managers is in finding ways to develop strong relationships with and engage our entire workforce. Diversity is a big issue, and an important issue, in today’s workplaces. There are various types of diversity that we find in workplaces including:
The aging of the population is a major critical shift taking place in the workforce. With many of the nearly 85 million baby boomers still employed and active in the workforce, managers must ensure that those employees are not discriminated against because of age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits age discrimination. The act also restricts mandatory retirement at specific ages. In addition to complying with these laws, organisations need programs and policies in place that provide for fair and equal treatment of their older employees.
Race and Ethnicity
There’s a long and controversial history in the United States and in other parts of the world over race and how people react to and treat others of a different race. Race and ethnicity are important types of diversity in organisations. Race is the biological heritage including physical characteristics such as one’s skin colour and associated traits that people use to identify themselves. Most people identify themselves as part of a racial group and such racial classifications are an integral part of a country’s cultural, social, and legal environments. Ethnicity is related to race, but it refers to social traits that are shared by a human population.
Women and men now each make up almost half of the workforce. Gender diversity issues are still quite prevalent in organisations. These issues include the gender pay gap, career start and progress, and misconceptions about whether women perform their jobs as well as men do. It’s important for managers and organisations to explore the strengths that both women and men bring to an organisation and the barriers they face in contributing fully to organisational efforts.