The Changing Faces of the Workforce
Diversity is acknowledging, understanding, accepting, valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to factors such as age, class, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, physical abilities, mental ability, race, sexual orientation, education background, spiritual practice, geographical background, income, marital status and others. Such dimensions of workplace diversity however do not fit in silos, and a single individual may be a part of multiple dimensions at varying levels.
In the 1950s, more than 60 percent of the American workforce was white males, who were typically the sole breadwinners in the household. Recent research indicates that about 68 percent of new workers in America are females and people of color, and both theses factions have different expectations and driving forces than do white males. This growing diversity makes an understaning of diversity issues in the workplace important.
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Accommodation of Divergent Beliefs
The most common diversity issue in the workplace is religious and spiritual beliefs and also political beliefs. The accommodation of such beliefs can pose a challenge.
Employers need to ensure employees do not force their religious or political beliefs on others, and strive to ensure employees keep their beliefs independent of work. Employers however also need to ensure reasonable accommodation of such beliefs. Such accommodation becomes even more relevant in situations when the company providing some incentives that contradict the employees religious norms or customs.Accommodating the beliefs and practices of some groups and disallowing the same for other groups invite charges of discrimination.
Gender Equality and Sexual Harassment
Recent years have witnessed the influx of many women in the workforce, and the proliferation of dual income families. The need to maintain gender equality and prevent gender discrimination in aspects such as hiring, remuneration, promotions, and the like is another major diversity issue. Women were traditionally paid less than men, and the Equal Pay Act mandated equal pay for men and women doing the same job.
Another major issue in the workplace is sexual harassment. This takes many shapes such as making unwanted jokes or offensive words, touching or any other unsought bodily contact, unwanted flirting, transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature, displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters, and the like. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers that sexual harassment occurs when submission to or rejection of such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Racial and Cultural Issues
Another major diversity issue in the workplace is preference or discrimination based on racial and cultural considerations.
A controversial related issue is affirmative action that entails hiring or promoting employees belonging to a certain race, color, religion, sex, or national origin to benefit an unrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the history of discrimination. Companies hiring or promoting employees from minority groups to satisfy affirmative action however run the risk of ‘reverse discrimination’ or overlooking better qualified employees.
One of the biggest diversity issues in the workplace is negative attitudes caused by prejudice and stereotyping of employees of other races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. This translates to various forms of discrimination, and if people in the management also inculcate such negative attitudes it affect hiring, firings, promotions and other functions of the organization.
Very paranoia, assumptions, and pre-conceived notions accompany negative feelings. The presence of such negative attitudes negate any benefits of diversity, and rather cause a severe dent in employee morale and productivity, besides the organization running the risk of facing damaging discriminatory lawsuits.
Federal and State equal opportunity legislation specify the rights and responsibilities of both associates and employees in the workplace and hold both groups accountable to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee based on race, color, religion, sex including pregnancy, national origin, disability or genetic information, and age above 40 years. EEOC also prohibit employers from discriminating or discharging employees who complain or file charges against discrimination.
The challenges workplace diversity brings for the organization are many. The best approach to solve such diversity issues in the workplace is not by ignoring or managing diversity, but by acknowledging and embracing diversity, and the extent to which a company can do this has a major bearing on its success.