What It Is
The concept of diversity in the workplace is about more than just hiring a diverse workforce. Diverse businesses go beyond mere tolerance to encourage true understanding of the individual differences that frequently fall along dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.
Why It Matters
There is mounting evidence that points to the value of diversity in the workplace. Not only is it enriching for individuals to be exposed to cultural differences, but it also creates a more dynamic, creative business when employees bring different sets of life experience to the table. Just as investors diversify their portfolios in order to hedge against the unknown, employers can diversify their workforces in order to capture best practice ideas.
Homogeneity, particularly within upper management, can create stagnation in your business and impede your ability to nimbly react to changing external forces. Moreover, in some cases, potential employees will not consider certain employers due to a lack of diversity, which can limit the talent pipeline.
The first place to start is in your hiring practices. One easy step to take is to make certain that all job postings specifically invite women and minority candidates to apply. The job posting may be the first place that a potential team member hears about your business; having this language in your posting may help subtly shape their opinion of your organizational culture.
As you evaluate candidates, it is not uncommon for the concept of “fit” to arise. Who is a good fit for your business/culture/hiring manager? As you consider candidates, make certain that the concept of “fit” does not become a proxy for “someone like us.” It’s an easy trap to fall into – but a critical one to overcome in order to create diversity.
Entrepreneur Magazine recommends the following ideas for managing diversity:
- Acknowledge what you don’t know. If you have a worker who’s from a culture or religion you don’t know much about, let them know you’re feeling your way here, but you want to make sure they’re comfortable and supported.
- Keep communication lines open. Tell minority hires you’re serious about growing a diverse workplace. Include them in human-resource discussions about how to make your workplace more welcoming and inclusive. Tell these workers they have a direct line to you any time they have a concern.
- Learn more. If you don’t know what you need to do to make a worker comfortable, you can’t do it. Find out what prohibited foods, modesty issues, days off needed or other cultural differences might come into play in your workplace so you can avoid any inadvertent gaffes.
- Set policy. Set clear policy that you want to know if anyone is being teased, bullied or in any way feels uncomfortable. And reinforce it with real education for everyone on your staff. Be sure to attend yourself. There are even free basic courses on this topic online, so there’s no excuse for not putting a diversity training session together.
- Celebrate it. Consider giving workers an opportunity to share their cultures in a low-key, social way such as with a company potluck.
- The Diversity Council has a story about how the diversity practices of a local business helped shape the small town as a whole.
- Inc.com has a story about a company that rejuvenated itself by diversifying.
 Carol Tice, “How to Make Your Business a Multicultural Success,” Entrepreneur, 25 May 2011, http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/219707.