The quest for workplace diversity today is evidenced by the proliferation of the chief diversity officer position now utilized by many leading corporations. Meanwhile, less dynamic organizations continue to plod ahead, clinging to the mantra, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” But companies who fail to commit to developing diversity strategies are leaving a lot on the table.
“Diversity in the workplace should be welcomed rather than feared,” says Dr. Kathryn Epps, assistant professor of Accounting, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. “Leading companies are finding innovative ways to increase the diversity of their work forces, and many of these companies are reaping the rewards of increased productivity, decreased turnover, expanded customer bases and heightened innovation.”
Smart Business recently spoke to Epps about how embracing a strategic plan for diversity can help retain top talent and promote worker engagement and why it’s crucial to address diversity on a continual basis.
Why is a diverse workplace so important?
As companies increase the level of business conducted internationally and as the population of the United States becomes more diverse, it is critically important for the work-place to reflect the diversity of a company’s customer base and potential new markets. Additionally, an understanding of and respect for the diverse cultural backgrounds of coworkers and customers is important to create the synergistic environment that fosters innovation in today’s competitive work environment. Employees want to work for companies that respect individuals for work contributions, regardless of cultural background.
The hidden costs of employee turnover, lost customers and failure to capitalize on the strengths of heterogeneous work groups can exceed the costs of strategic diversity initiatives. Also, good will is established with customers and the surrounding community when the work force is inclusive of members of diverse segments of society.
What are the consequences of not having a diverse workplace?
Promoting inclusiveness in the workplace is an intentional act that usually requires the utilization of company resources and the support of top management. Failure to create a diverse work force can harm productivity, inhibit innovation and send negative signals to those outside of the organization. In terms of productivity, talented employees are more likely to remain with an employer that fosters a welcoming environment to individuals from diverse backgrounds.
What common problems do companies face with diversity?
Common problems include failure to address diversity issues or problems that arise, to devote significant resources to diversity and to establish an appropriate stance towards diversity from top management. As the workplace environment becomes more diverse, the skill set of your managers must broaden to include establishing professional relationships with your employees and customers from differing backgrounds. This skill set is not included in the standard business curriculum, and many managers tend to ignore problems when they arise.
How can diversity issues be diffused and/or resolved?
Like many other areas that can impact the ability of a company to succeed, diversity issues should be addressed before they arise, when they arise and on a continuous basis. The prevention of diversity issues can include training regarding cultural insensitivity and communication with colleagues and customers from diverse backgrounds. Training on the subject of diversity should be regarded with the same level of importance as training in technical or operational areas. Appropriate handling of issues related to discrimination can mitigate costly legal problems, prevent a negative company image and protect and promote company productivity.
Employees should know whom to contact when they believe they have been the victim of discrimination, bias or harassment. Equally important, employees should feel that their work environment won’t become even more hostile when issues are identified.
How can a diverse workplace lead to better business?
First, businesses that foster diversity and create a welcoming environment for employees from diverse backgrounds are likely to attract top talent. When potential new hires believe they will be allowed to be productive without regard to their age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ability status or sexual identity, then the pool of talent that is interested in employment is broadened. The population of the United States is predicted to become more diverse, and talented workers are found in many different groups. Attracting and retaining these workers to your business is a challenge that can be met with appropriate strategic planning in the area of diversity.
Second, we live in an era of global commerce. The tools of establishing international work relationships are often sharpened in the diverse work groups of the home office. These skills include respecting individual differences and backgrounds, developing solutions to perceived barriers and finding common grounds for successful outcomes.
DR. KATHRYN EPPS is assistant professor of Accounting, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. Reach her at (770) 423-6085 or email@example.com.