As the American workforce continues to become more and more diverse, it is becoming even more important for organizations to recognize the diversity of their employees and adopt policies surrounding diversity issues. The US Department of Labor estimates that more than 75% of workers currently entering the workforce are women, immigrants, or people of color (Clayton, 2010). Today’s organizations are facing a more diverse workforce, and customer base, than they did even as short as five years ago and, as the American economy continues to become increasingly intertwined with the those of other countries, there is a increasing need to American organizations to understand what works, and doesn’t work, when addressing diversity (National Urban League, 2009). In a national survey of American workers conducted by the National Urban League in 2009, studies found the largest decline in American workers who felt that their company effectively measured diversity efforts since 2004, with only 27% of the American workforce believing their company measured the effectiveness and impact of their diversity measures, and only 44% believing that their leadership was committed to diversity (National Urban League, 2009). Although most larger companies today boast at least some sort of diversity policy or program, it seems that, at least in the eyes of the American worker, there is still progress to be made.
First, it is important to determine what, exactly, diversity in the workplace is and why it is necessary. There seems to be an overriding misconception that diversity is equated with affirmative action and, for this reason, diversity policies within organizations often get lumped in with affirmative action and employment equity plans (Haw, 2003). However, affirmative action and diversity are fundamentally different. While affirmative action relied on legal implications and numerical measures designed to increase the representation of previously under-represented groups in the workplace, diversity requires, “changing the way people think about each other and how they interact” (Haw, 2003). The University of Oregon defines diversity as the following:
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical disabilities, religious beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within an individual (University of Oregon, 2011).
However, diversity goes beyond just pointing out and embracing differences; as Canas and Sondak (2011) point out, diversity is also about understanding similarities. By defining...