Many companies are focusing their energy, time and budgets to learn about diversity because they understand the close connection between the people they hire and serve and the organization’s growth and profits. Maximizing the diversity of the workforce and customer base is every company’s challenge.

Here are some recommendations to help companies establish initiatives that support the diversity of each member and customer and enhance the careers of its employees while increasing opportunities in the marketplace.

1. Focus on the Business Benefits of Diversity
Increasing the diversity of management and personnel offers the organization greater perspectives on business issues and opportunities, as well as a wider range of ideas and solutions. Initiatives on diversity need to focus on the influence of different cultures, educational levels, ages, gender, regional backgrounds, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. on customer service, quality, product development, sales and other core business issues.
2. Diversity Needs to Include Everyone
Many companies use the term “diversity” to describe women and people of color. This limited type of labeling can actually create stereotyping and implies that white men have no uniqueness among their own group. Move beyond race and gender when discussing diversity and emphasize the unique talents, experience, knowledge, skills and insights employees bring to their jobs.
3. Draw Distinctions Between Diversity, Affirmative Action and EEO Laws
Some companies label their Affirmative Action efforts “diversity” programs. Disguising Affirmative Action with a “diversity” title masks its purpose: that of hiring and promoting representatives from certain groups of people who have traditionally been denied entrance and opportunities in the workplace. Diversity programs should draw distinctions between the legal mandate of Affirmative Action and the dramatic changes in the social, political and economic fabric of this country that gave rise to our diversity. Also, programs should distinguish between the influence of diversity on work relations and the behavioral concerns that spur Equal Employment Opportunity complaints of bias harassment and discrimination.
4. Take a Pulse of the Organization
Assess the current climate of the company before beginning a diversity initiative. The goal of the assessment would be to:
  • measure employee satisfaction and performance in relation to the changing workforce and customer base,
  • analyze the effectiveness of leaders to train, coach, discipline and promote a wide range of employees, and
  • identify issues and opportunities regarding the changing workforce and customer base.

Assessments can be initiated through surveys, focus groups or one-on-one interviews, or by analyzing current performance reviews, turnover rates, promotional activities and the like.

5. Seek Commitment From All Levels of the Organization
Many Human Resources departments encourage commitment from their top management before beginning a diversity initiative. But support from management must be more than a financial contribution: leaders need to model the way. It is also important to involve representatives of different levels and functions of the organization in the planning, implementation and evaluation of diversity efforts through diversity councils or advisory committees. Council members will also require leadership support, as well as training in skills needed to full contribute in their role.
6. Challenge Existing Organizational Norms and Policies
Building diversity requires that business practices embraced in the past undergo assessment of their current value or liability. How have policies and procedures been adapted to meet a changing workforce? Are similar personnel issues emerging that continually challenge a current policy or procedure? Through this process, organizations may affirm practices that genuinely contribute to business goals and identify barriers that compromise workplace performance and cohesion.
7. Communicate the Roles and Responsibilities of Managers to Diversity
Managers need to understand clearly what is expected of them and how diversity influences business practices and goals. Without this understanding, managers may consider diversity a fad, a “touchy, feely” human relations issue, or a threat. Diversity initiatives must communicate the roles and responsibilities of leaders to diversity, and must assist leaders in tapping the benefits of their diverse workforce and customer base.
8. Education and Training
Aspects of diversity should be integrated in all leadership and employee relations training programs, and not be segregated to just special “diversity” programs. Training also needs to focus on skills rather than just awareness and should include experiential exercises that are involving, relevant, practical and enjoyable.

Goals for leadership training should include learning to create climates that promote cohesion, build quality performance and prevent discrimination and harassment. Similarly, employee programs may focus on building skills to foster quality work relations and customer service with a wide range of people.

Caution should be taken when determining training exercises for these classes, since several used in diversity training have been known to create divisiveness and stress rather than appreciation and learning. It is also strongly recommended that instructors for these classes be highly experienced in conducting diversity programs.

9. Benchmark and Use Resources

Diversity in the workplace is a fairly new challenge to most companies. As such, there are several internal and external resources that may assist management in understanding the influence of diversity on business objectives. Benchmarking successes and failures in the diversity initiatives of other companies. These resources serve as information bases, sounding boards and architects to help companies determine their own diversity initiative’s strategies, direction and goals.