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Diversity in the Workplace is Bigger Than You Think

August 7, 2018
| ByGina Jessica Smith

Imagine if everyone in your company, from the CEO to controller to developer, grew up in the same town and graduated from the same college, the same year, with the same degree. Taken to such an extreme, homogeneity has obvious shortcomings, particularly if your business needs to target those with different demographics.

Most companies address diversity on societal or legal grounds. However, striving for diversity in 2018 is broader than hiring and promoting personnel. Diversity is about acknowledging and embracing differences in your workforce and marketplace. Nowadays, it is no longer sufficient to think about diversity based solely on ethnic, sex or racial factors. With multiple generations in the workforce, companies need to broaden their diversity efforts to include important categories such as skills, personality and backgrounds.

Changing definition of diversity

For decades, companies focused diversity training, hiring and marketing spreads to reflect a mix of races, genders, ethnic groups and, in recent years, physical conditions. These factors are still valuable and not antiquated with change coming slowly in some occupations and in C-level positions. However, shifting societal demographics will force more change.

The country is becoming more diverse. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population was 81 percent white in 1975 and only 61 percent white by 2016. Researchers estimate that by 2055, the U.S. will no longer have any racial or ethnic majority. This more diverse population will undoubtedly have major impacts on employers and businesses.

Broader view of diversity

Many companies have expanded their view of diversity beyond demographics such as race to address multiple generations in the workforce and vast differences in backgrounds. As the last election highlighted, there are cultural dissimilarities between smaller cities and metropolitan areas as well as coastal versus flyover states. So, firms are recognizing that diverse workplaces reflect diverse societies with different education levels, family statuses, skill sets, regions and other factors.

Millennials reportedly view diversity this way. They expect teams at work to reflect a mixture of backgrounds, experiences as well as perspectives. Called cognitive diversity, this more collaborative environment values sharing of different ideas and perspectives for its positive impact on decision-making.

Why diversity matters

Companies need diversity in their workforce to better meet the needs and desires of a diverse customer base. People of different races, generations and other factors bring diverse perspectives with them.

Accordingly, employees from varying backgrounds can be helpful for organizations looking to expand operations in international or different local markets. Teams composed of people with a wider range of interests and experiences to draw upon understand potential product users better than less diverse teams.

Additionally, having a diverse staff will help to ensure that marketing reflects cultural differences and does not offend audiences. While someone does not have to be African-American or Asian to target recruitment or marketing efforts to those populations, sensitivity to cultural differences is important.

Revamp training and other HR efforts to reflect true diversity

Companies need to help their workforce accept and address differences, whether avoiding age discrimination or making a religious accommodation. Large firms have taken various approaches to diversity training, from increasing awareness of unconscious biases to cultural sensitivity training. However, more can be done to create greater awareness of ways that different diversity factors impact staff.

One example is the job interview. Differences in interview styles can have a huge impact on hiring. Older candidates are less familiar with behavioral interviews. Some cultures encourage people to downplay achievements or focus on different aspects of their resume than people from other cultures would. Recruiters and hiring managers need to understand how diverse demographics may impact hiring decisions.

Even in recognizing stellar performances, people need to be aware how cultural differences can affect expectations and reactions.

Embracing differences

Encouraging and embracing diversity is critical in today's global market and changing U.S. workforce. That requires incorporating diversity of thought and open dialogues to vet ideas and issues. Your new customers and staff may not reflect the same demographics as your old ones, and the long-term impact of diversity in your workplace will be bigger than before. So, forward-thinking organizations need to redefine diversity and their commitment to it.


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