The term “diversity” has evolved over the years. To some employers, it means including a mix of males and females in the workplace. To others, it involves taking advantage of what people from different generations can bring to the table.
“Diversity covers a multitude of differences, which are not limited to race, gender, age, social status, marital status, sexual orientation and physicality,” says Nakita Harris, payroll manager with Ashton Staffing.
No matter how you define it, the advantages of including people who can bring different perspectives and experiences into the fold are clear. Employers are learning that limiting themselves to one viewpoint means they are limiting their ability to grow and change with the marketplace.
Whether it means you can better reach diverse customer audiences or you gain an advantage over the competition in attracting the best and the brightest, making an effort to generate a work environment that embraces change and differences can improve the bottom line as well as the workplace itself. And winning the talent war is an issue not to be taken lightly in today’s economy.
“You will have a high turnover rate if you are not willing to be open to adaptation,” Harris says.
Smart Business spoke to Harris about how employers can make sure they are maintaining a workplace that embraces diversity.
How do different cultures, age groups and backgrounds affect the workplace?
Having a diverse business allows you to be able to understand the differences of the marketplace and therefore allows you to be better equipped to service a broader range of customers. It also affects employee morale, productivity and retention when you have a diverse workplace. Morale is impacted because involving more than one perspective makes people feel included in the decision-making process. People work differently — some are more efficient or productive than others, and if you can mix up the work force, you will utilize each person’s strength. And when it comes to retention, people are less likely to look for other employment if they feel like their strengths are being used in an effective manner.
Also, some people are more comfortable in a diverse workplace. For example, young people will prefer to work in a place where there are some other young people and women will like to work with other women occasionally, and not always in an all-male environment.
What are the benefits of having a diverse workplace?
Diversity allows for benefits such as better creativity and decision-making, which in turn helps product development. You have different input on what will be more successful. It also helps with marketing because if you have a variety of different types of customer groups, you will have a better idea of what everyone likes.
Your work force will also develop an appreciation for an atmosphere of tolerance, which helps to create a better working environment for everyone.
What are some of the challenges?
As with most workplaces, you will encounter challenges because not everyone will think alike and agree on the same things all the time. You have to be able to communicate with everyone in a manner that will relay the same message, although you may have to word it differently to each person. If you have employees from a variety of cultures or who speak different languages, they may interpret words and meanings differently. An older person may not understand the lingo that younger people may use.
Another challenge is that in the age of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, you have to be able to communicate how a person is not performing their job duties if they are being terminated to avoid liability in an employment practices suit. You must be able to communicate differently to different people.
How should employers best handle the challenges?
You have to have sensitivity training to try to limit any preconceived ideas from workers concerning other cultures. This may include frequent team meetings or occasional outings for team building. Offer classes for credits for things such as effective communication, business etiquette, or language classes. Hold an annual company luncheon where each employee brings food from their culture and people intermingle between upper management and other employees.
How can employers make sure they are running their company in a way that encourages diversity?
You have to make sure you have a diverse leadership or management team. Managers need to be able to be sensitive and open to challenges to help create an atmosphere of support and understanding. Managers’ performance ratings can be based on any instances of complaints of discrimination and how many training classes they have attended throughout the year. This can lead to advancement and bonus incentives. You have to always create learning opportunities and encourage certifications where they are available.
Offer benefits that will give paid time off for all holidays observed in different cultures and religions. For example, don’t just give time off for Christmas, but offer time off for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. Also, recruit from different venues to attract a variety of applicants.
Nakita Harris is payroll manager with Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.