How to Foster Diversity in Your Workplace

Diversity is a hot-button issue and one of the most important philosophical discussions occurring in America and in the global business world today. From politicians to educators to bloggers, it seems that everyone has an opinion on what diversity means, how important it is, and how to encourage it in the workplace. All these voices can tend to make the topic confusing and ambiguous. However, it’s vital to take the time to discuss diversity and how it is related to the workplace. It’s a subject that speaks to the very heart of the American dream, and one that can’t just be ignored.

Why a Diverse Workforce is Important

It seems like every individual has a unique opinion on what the term “diversity” means. However, the most commonly held definition as it relates to the workplace is related to equal employment opportunity for people of every gender, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. The Workplace Diversity blog gives the following definition:

“Diversity is a generalized term that encompasses race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, education, background and more that are too many to mention.”

Many people also believe it’s important for businesses to not only hire diverse candidates, but foster a spirit of inclusivity within the organization by seeing the benefits of a diverse workforce.

While the law regarding equal employment opportunity means your company is required to hire diverse candidates, the topic is much deeper than that. There’s a moral argument to be made that it is wrong to discriminate against a person for his race, religion, or orientation. Additionally, it’s morally right to create an environment that is inclusive and encouraging toward all people. It’s not enough anymore to just allow differences of ethnicity or gender, it’s about embracing those differences and appreciating the benefits a diverse workforce can bring to your business.

How to Encourage Diversity

Of course, the first place to start when working toward more diversity in your company is with the hiring process. You can use recruitment as an opportunity to seek out diverse candidates for certain positions. For example, it’s well known that engineering jobs are largely held by males. When you are looking to hire entry level candidates or interns, work directly with local university engineering groups such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to encourage female candidates to apply.

The push for more diversity can’t just stop at hiring, however. It’s just as important to take steps toward more diversity in promotions, leadership jobs, and senior executive positions. There are many different viewpoints about how to encourage diversity in senior leadership. It’s vital to take the responsibility for researching each theory and method, and figuring out what will work best in your company. Then it’s important to get the senior management staff on board with the plan and to apply the chosen methods to the promotion process.

One extremely effective method involves requiring hard facts and business metrics to support a manager’s personal recommendation for a promotion. There are documented cases where managers tend to choose people similar to themselves for promotion when they aren’t required to produce metrics on a candidate’s performance. It’s well known that most senior executive boards are dominated by white males, and they tend to promote white males. When a promotional packet is required to include hard facts about a candidate’s performance, it’s much easier to choose a candidate based on merit.

The Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

While of course it’s necessary to encourage a more diverse workforce based on legal requirements and the moral argument of doing the right thing, it’s also important to foster an appreciation of diversity in your workplace environment. You need to see the benefits of a diverse workforce yourself, and also convey those benefits to your employees. The idea is that everyone in your company understands that having a diverse workforce gives the company numerous advantages. Encouraging this view of diversity benefits morale, and makes your company stand out among competitors.

There are too many benefits to list here, but one of the most important is the dramatic rise in creativity and innovation. By employing people from several walks of life and with varying life experiences and perspectives, you get the benefits of creative, outside-the-box thinking. A team with diverse members is less susceptible to “groupthink” and more likely to come up with innovative solutions.

Listening to the Experts

Once you know the benefits of a diverse workforce and want to encourage your company toward a more inclusive environment, it’s time to take action. Changes to the hiring and promotional processes are a good start. You can also encourage your employees to join outside networks or organizations that advocate for diversity or support under-represented groups. It’s also important to seek out experts in the topic of diversity to learn more. Luke Visconti is one such expert and his DiversityInc company has online resources, consulting services, and events. His works on workplace diversity are a great place to start.

Diversity in the workplace is more than just a buzzword or passing fad. It’s a complex issue that involves legal and moral aspects, as well as challenging methods for practical application. However, it’s worth the time and effort to research how to foster diversity in your company. Once you have several actionable ways to promote diversity in your workplace, you can take the necessary steps. Very soon you can start seeing all the benefits that come from an inclusive atmosphere and diverse workforce.

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