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Diversity in the Workplace

“Diversity” seems to be one of the trendy buzzwords that are being thrown around often these days in the business world. Is it worth the time and effort to make sure your organization has a diverse workforce? Years of research on this topic provide an emphatic “yes” to this question. There are multiple benefits to organizations with diverse workforce who promote a culture of inclusion in their workplaces. Employee diversity provides various benefits to organizations, including increased organizational effectiveness and increased innovation. It has also been demonstrated that companies with more diverse teams financially outperform those with more homogeneous workforce. Companies that lack diversity are also increasingly more likely to be called out on it, negatively affecting the brand and company image, as well as potentially costing the business customers.

However, achieving diversity is not a quick and straightforward process and is often found to be quite challenging. If the goal of achieving diversity is not correctly initiated and completed, it can lead to negative consequences in the workplace, such as conflict and even loss of employees. This post will provide some recommendations to organizations on how to achieve diversity, as well as to develop a culture in the workplace that supports diversity. This should help maximize the positives of attaining diversity while minimizing the potential negative outcomes.

The first step is ensuring the hiring processes utilized by the organization support diversity. It can be a challenge for hiring managers to ensure that the tests and measures the organization is using to evaluate applicants accurately measure future job performance, while at the same time making sure these tests do not lead to adverse impact. Although there are currently no proven practices for eliminating adverse impact in personnel selection processes, there are some strategies that can help reduce it. One of these strategies is to utilize selection tools that measure more realistic aspects of an open position. An example of this is using an assessment center as a selection tool, which places the job candidate in realistic scenarios, such as role plays, and then evaluating their responses based on various performance dimensions determined to be critical to the position. Assessment centers have historically been shown to have a less adverse impact than the traditional written cognitive examination so commonly used in the hiring process.

A second strategy, primarily if a written cognitive examination is utilized in the hiring process, is to use a combination of tests or measurements to evaluate each job candidate. A company could use a combination of a cognitive test, an assessment center, and a personality test to evaluate each job candidate, instead of solely a written examination. This allows the organization to look at multiple competencies of each, as opposed to solely cognitive measures, for example. In looking at a full range of competencies that are relevant to the job in the hiring process, overall group differences are reduced.

Once an organization has achieved the goal of attaining a diverse workplace, they have not reached the finish line! The only way to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce is to create a culture of inclusion. This is more than just creating a diversity training program, which is a good start, but not enough. The critical component to creating this inclusive culture is to ensure processes that support inclusion and diversity are incorporated into every function of the organization. All employees should be required to complete a comprehensive diversity training program which provides them with the knowledge and skills to effectively collaborate with others who may be different from them in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The performance management system in organizations should also be examined to ensure that managers are aware of biases they could be used in judging performance (judging women less favorably than their male peers for a stereotypical male task) to provide a more objective, performance-related tool for rating performance. 

The message of organizational support for diversity must be clear to every member of the organization and not just included in the company mission and values and then forgotten. It should be an ongoing initiative to create conditions that promote inclusion among the employees, such as making all individuals aware of potential unconscious biases, acknowledging holidays of all cultures, and mixing up work teams to ensure diverse groups. 

If an organization wants to achieve a high-functioning diverse workplace truly, the goal is for everyone in the organization to feel respected, supported, and safe contributing in his/her unique way, regardless of his/her race, gender, age, sexual orientation or other differences. It is the organization’s responsibility to provide an honest assessment of whether this objective is being attained and when it is not, to do the necessary work to change that. Only then will the benefits of an inclusive and diverse organization be possible.