Aligning an organization to reflect real world diversity can be overwhelming. When considering the metrics of race and ethnicity alone, today there are more than 30 different groups with more than a million members. But this is the world we live in and our workplaces should reflect this immense diversity.
But sensitivity goes far beyond race and ethnicity; religion, age, gender and even different ways of thinking or doing business are all ingredients in the corporate melting pot.
Since there’s no panacea when it comes to measuring a company’s sensitivity and cultural awareness, how can companies best assess their commitment to honoring and celebrating diversity?
“It really becomes the responsibility of every manager in the organization to take ownership for that,” says Linda W. Devine, Ph.D., vice president for operations and planning, The University of Tampa. “And it takes a ‘top down meets grassroots’ initiative to strengthen your commitment to a diverse workplace.”
Smart Business spoke with Devine to find out more about recognizing the subtle differences that make us stronger and how your company can respond with flexibility to honor and celebrate diversity.
How can organizations celebrate diversity with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, and also differences in ideas and ways of doing things?
The celebration of differences begins with active listening and being aware of the cultural dimensions of the organizational environment. It is easy to sail past the subtle nuances that characterize subgroups within the larger organizational context, and by doing so, we miss out on potential new solutions and new ways of knowing. The embracing of differences requires recognizing the obvious but also the not so obvious, and it takes intentionality on the part of the leaders, managers, and ultimately the members of the organization. Effective leaders recognize the inherent value in understanding and capitalizing on individual differences.
What are methods to engage and retain diversity beyond recruiting efforts?
The way to retain diversity in the organization is by engaging all members, not just those of the majority. This can occur at all levels of the organization and in a variety of work settings. It requires the work group leader to ensure that all members have the opportunity to contribute to solution building, bring intellectual capital to the table, or otherwise offer skills and abilities to the tasks at hand. From an intergenerational perspective, this contributing may take the form of the ‘greatest generation’ offering perspective on organizational structure and hierarchy, the ‘boomers’ creating the face-to-face opportunities to communicate, and the Gen-Xers and millenials assisting them in the application of new technologies.
Organizational diversity is also maintained through understanding worker motivation. Is it through compensation? Time off? Recognition? A collegial and productive work environment? Corporate volunteerism or service? Recreational activities after work? Learning opportunities? The diversity of the workplace calls for diverse responses in meeting employee needs whenever possible. In these trying times, new paradigms will emerge, and new ways of working and succeeding will become apparent. The solutions will rise from the current situation in ways not yet known, and wise leaders will tap into all their human capital and find ways to differentiate encouragement and motivation.
What should be considered when honoring holiday celebrations that respect and celebrate diversity?
Respect coupled with employee education is central to celebrating diversity. While the celebration should not detract from the organization’s core business or purpose, such celebrations can and do present rich interaction opportunities. For the celebrants, it is an opportunity to share traditions, customs, histories and perspectives, and for colleagues, it is an opportunity to learn. Honoring another’s beliefs and traditions promotes an organizational culture of mutual respect, and this is a healthy platform for any organization.
Who should be charged with guiding diversity initiatives?
Large organizations frequently have the opportunity to have a person or persons responsible for diversity training and other related initiatives. In the best of all worlds, diversity initiatives should be in the scope of every manager’s duties. In this way, the importance of differences permeates the organization and is looked upon as a strength and a source of capital.
How can an organization benefit from increasing sensitivity and embracing diversity?
Organizations that embrace differences are merely reflecting the larger society. The United States, with a population of roughly 308 million, is one of the most diverse nations. Work force diversity, whether measured by age, race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or any other characteristic, is societal diversity, and increasing understanding within the organizational environment can only be positive for society at large. It is simply the right thing to do.
Linda W. Devine, Ph.D., is the vice president for operations and planning at The University of Tampa and a board director at Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach her at (813) 253-6203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.