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What Every HR and Business Leader Should Know about Diversity in the Workplace

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Diversity is an important trend that permeates every aspect of the modern workplace. As an HR leader, you need to know how to understand and adapt to this changing landscape.

The Global Workplace

In recent decades, the global workplace has become a much more diverse environment. Improved access to education and economic opportunities has helped to level the playing field so that people of all races and genders have more opportunities to take on roles that were previously closed off to them.

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As an HR manager, you may be wondering how this will impact your job or company. Make no mistake, diversity is a powerful force, and learning how to harness it can go a long way toward making your company into a more efficient and progressive entity.

Trends in Diversity

There's no denying that the modern workplace is more diverse, and a quick look at college enrollment statistics confirms that trends in diversity are not going to peak anytime soon. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment among minorities has increased dramatically in recent decades. Most noticeably, the number of enrolled Hispanic students jumped from nearly 353,000 in 1970 to over two million in 2008. Even more telling, the percentage of white students dropped from 82% in 1976 to 63% in 2008. These statistics clearly demonstrate that the workforce of the future is and will continue to be an encouraging mix of different races.

Millennial Influence

Evidence also suggests that the millennial generation is overwhelmingly in favor of a more tolerant and open-minded workforce. In their paper about tolerance in America, researchers Jean M. Twenge, Nathan T. Carter, and Keith Campbell found that Americans have been growing more accepting of other beliefs, ideologies, religions, and races, stating that ''American culture has become more individualistic.'' This study shows the upside of treating people as individuals: There's ''more tolerance for those who are different,'' says Twenge. Tolerance of others has reached a high point with the millennial generation, with Twenge adding that ''Millennials believe that everyone can live their lives as they want to,'' which makes them more accepting of diversity both in and out of the workplace.

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In other words, more diverse workplaces aren't just a fad. As an HR professional, you need to be able to adapt to new attitudes and philosophies regarding diversity. Homogeneous staffs are a thing of the past, and any offices that cling to the notion of waiting out this trend and continuing to employ a single gender, race, or nationality are in for a long and potentially endless wait.

Benefits of Diversity

As much social progress as we've made, unfortunately, there will always be close-minded managers and executives who will not support and may even outright combat efforts to bring in individuals from different backgrounds. If you find that your company's management is less than willing to embrace diversity, you can bolster your argument by pointing out that hiring a more racially inclusive staff doesn't just fulfill some imaginary quota; having a diverse staff with unique ideologies leads to more innovative developments and improved corporate performance.

Fresh Perspectives

Internally, these new perspectives can help your team solve problems more efficiently. Having a fresh set of eyes take a look at a problem is always an effective way of finding solutions; having sets of eyes with different world views and philosophies is an even more productive way to resolve any challenges.

Cultural Insights

Having a diverse staff can also provide a company with valuable cultural insights in an increasingly global marketplace. Communicating and establishing professional relationships with different cultures and nations can prove a challenging task for even the most experienced professionals. Study.com's Human Resources Issues in International Business course, for example, explains a variety of challenges that HR managers can expect to face when dealing with international businesses. Having a team of individuals from different backgrounds can provide you with information about how to best negotiate and interact with new clients across the globe.

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Expanded Hiring Pools

Returning to the idea of numbers, it's also important to realize that failure to promote office diversity can directly hinder your ability to bring on and cultivate the most talented hires, Statistically speaking, a greater percentage of applicants belong to various genders, races, and religions to the extent that not paying attention to those qualifiers will limit the number of candidates from which you can choose.

Failure to accept or promote diversity in the workplace is more than a moral failing; as any seasoned professional can attest, intentionally limiting your access to new ideas and talent pools is not a viable approach to long-term success. A diverse staff does more than just look good from a PR standpoint; it can propel your business and drive innovation in the right direction.

Role of HR in Promoting Diversity

Understanding the role of diversity in the workplace is certainly important, especially if you're working in the tech industry. However, understanding the sort of impact diversity will have on you as an HR professional is even more important.

Keys to Success

The key to a successfully diverse workplace starts with your department. HR is responsible for hiring and onboarding new talent, which means you have a direct influence on the racial makeup of your workplace; as mentioned earlier, creating and maintaining a diverse staff is an essential part of your job as an HR manager.

On the other hand, be mindful not to let the need for diversity overrule your business sense. When attempting to find the right staffing balance, be careful not to ignore a candidate's overall competency during the interview process. For example, imagine you're interviewing candidates and have narrowed the search down to two potential hires. Candidate A has a stellar resume and impressive recommendations and makes for a strong interview, while Candidate B has an average resume and more modest recommendations and makes for an unimpressive interview. Even if Candidate B would give your office a more diverse representation, Candidate A is clearly the better choice.

Courses for Success

This Study.com course on soft human resource management (HRM) explores the concept of treating employees as individuals and not just resources for the company to use. If this doesn't mesh with your management style, think back to the statistics we covered in the first section of this article: younger generations respond well to this style of leadership, so at the very least, consider implementing a few of these techniques into your model. As with diversity, there are competitive advantages to investing in your employees and sustaining a high level of employee satisfaction. In the event that you're eager to encourage diversity but are a little unsure of how to go about doing so, check out this lesson on promoting diversity and inclusion for some innovative and effective ideas.

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A Final Thought

Diversity in the workplace is here to stay, and it's your job as an HR professional to find ways to help your company adapt to and make the best use of this changing landscape. By remaining open to change and creating a tolerant office, you can provide your company with some long-term cultural and professional benefits.

By Bill Sands
December 2017
professional skills organization development

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