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Ideas to Promote Diversity in the Workplace

written by: Marjory Pilley•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/30/2011

Training is just one component of a diversity program...and may not even be the most effective one. These ideas to promote diversity in the workplace will help you see real results.

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    Why Promote Diversity?

    Diversity brings new ideas to a business. For the past 30 years, large and small companies alike have spent lots of money and time on diversity training. Why? Some are required based upon legal actions that have been taken, others do so because they have a diverse set of employees that need to work well together, others want to be competitive and ensure diversity at the upper ranks of the company. The benefit of a diverse workforce is the generation of ideas and solutions that might not otherwise be considered. If your customers are diverse, then a diverse workforce is more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions tailored to the needs of those customers. It just makes sense.

    In addition, employee talent is likely coming from a variety of backgrounds. Some areas of difference may include age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice and public assistance. This environment is ripe for success or failure. Company morale and productivity depends, in part, on whether employees are aware and appreciate the differences between their co-workers.

    Diversity training for the workforce is important. But, standalone training won't accomplish these objectives. Instead a comprehensive approach is needed that encompasses a variety of tools. Following is a list of ideas to promote diversity in the workplace that work:

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    Diversity Task Force

    Establish a diverse group of employees to oversee diversity initiatives headed by a senior member of management. This structure sends a message that diversity initiatives are important. In addition to spearheading training and supporting other ideas to promote diversity in the workplace, this group should address conflicts and opportunities. For example, this group can assist the advancement of underrepresented groups by reviewing key human resource functions, such as minority outreach, hiring policies, review procedures and promotion practices to ensure unintended consequences don't occur. If a senior manager is a stakeholder in the group, then steps are more likely to be taken to implement necessary changes. When employees feel that there is an equal opportunity for advancement, then morale, productivity and loyalty to a company increases.

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    Mentoring

    An employee mentoring program involves pairing an employee with a higher-ranking member of the company for the purpose of developing the career of the lower level employee. Both parties benefit with respect to diversity. The mentor gains an understanding of the issues faced by a rising employee. Biases and other roadblocks to advancement may be identified. And, the mentor is likely in a better position to deal with them, not just for the mentee, but for similar employees that may follow. On the other hand, the mentee receives focused guidance to navigate the particular barriers in a company.

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    Flexible Schedules

    There are many reasons to offer different types of flexible work schedules including increased job satisfaction and productivity. Did you know that these options also support diversity initiatives? It frees employees to participate in religious activities as well as other personal endeavors. If a full-blown program is not appropriate for an organization, there are still ways to use this tool for diversity. Consider offering a certain number days off for holidays, rather than specifying which ones. Also, limited flexibility can be built into a schedule. For example, adjusting the start and end time or allowing longer lunch periods to accommodate personal needs addresses the diverse needs of a work population.

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    Learning Resources

    Studies show that voluntary diversity awareness programs are more effective than mandatory ones. With that in mind, look for opportunities to teach diversity principles and provide information about different cultures in a voluntary environment. Consider relating these issues to your customer base. Does your company have a lot of clients from a particular culture? Is your support team in another country? Learning about different cultures in a stress-free environment, such as in a lunch and learn with colleagues, may make learning more attractive. In addition, provide a library of resources for employees to access on diversity and identify a contact for questions on related matters.

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    Accountability Metrics

    Add a metric to the employee appraisal process that relates to getting along with co-workers. A successful business environment requires everyone to work together to achieve a common good. Diversity awareness supports the desired behavior. By including a metric that is impacted by diversity awareness, the employee becomes accountable. Accountability = results!

    Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/888077

    References:

    Bennett, Drake. "Who's still biased? - The Boston Globe." Boston.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe

    Dessler, Gary. Human Resources Management (12th Edition). 12 ed. Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

    Green, Kelly, Mayra Lopez, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner. "HR022/HR022: Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools ." EDIS - Electronic Data Information Source - UF/IFAS Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hr022.