What is Diversity in the Workplace?
The Oxford Dictionary defines cultural diversity as “the existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.” Culture is considered to be the underlying values that direct how people behave. Cultural diversity in the workplace is a result of practices, values, traditions, or beliefs of employees based on race, age, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
Economic globalisation is the major motivating force behind cultural diversity in the workplace. The modern Australian workforce is made up of people of different genders, ages, ethnicity, religions, and nationalities. Employers recognise that workforce diversity provides both concrete and intangible benefits. In order for employees to properly understand the rationale and impetus behind the concepts of diversity in the workplace, employers must accurately communicate their commitment to addressing the challenges of a diverse workforce. Employers should be seen by word and deed to be celebrating their employees’ diversity to avoid workplace issues.
How it Works in Practice
In its best interpretation, observing and respecting diversity in the workplace offers everyone an opportunity to celebrate difference, to learn, and to enhance respect for all. Employees with different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds and experiences will bring together a variety of perspectives, thereby suggesting alternative solutions and approaches when dealing with a topic or issue. If managed well, the strengths and best insights of all participants will be leveraged to increase productivity and deliver better results. It’s a win-win for all.
Issues That Arise That Prove We Need Guidance
Every company now practices a robust policy regarding diversity in the workplace will have tackled issues in relation to facilitating people from different groups to work together cohesively. The most common concerns tend to be:
Conflict – This can happen when discrimination, prejudice, lack of respect, and even racism are allowed to breed in the workplace. Intolerant attitudes can quickly turn into open verbal conflict if companies do not take quick and decisive steps to show that any type of discrimination will not be tolerated.
Harassment – This issue can quickly become out of control within a diverse workplace where leaders fail to recognise the signs and deal swiftly with perpetrators. Training should be provided as to what constitutes harassment. Employees who harass others should be dealt with according to company procedures and legislation. Like all issues arising from diversity in the workplace, harassment can and does have a devastating effect on employees and the company as a whole.
Disregarding needs – Some companies, for example, ignore the needs of disabled employees by failing to provide them with the necessary equipment to access all facilities and to undertake their jobs. Employers need to lead the way in creating a comfortable workplace for all of its employees, irrespective of whether they have a disability. This rationale extends to gender issues, certain religious requirements and educational disabilities.
What Your Employer Should Be Offering
When looking for the right company to reflect your concerns about diversity in the workplace, consider their policies and attitudes. Things to look out for include:
Leadership that acts on policies – As the primary point of employee connection between leadership and frontline workers, managers need to be aware of and understand how to support all employees to foster a diverse workforce. Scheduling cultural and other sensitivity training is a great first step.
Diversity-friendly policies – At the interview stage, ask whether they offer on-site day-care, or extend an option for flexible work hours, or recognise non-standard religious holidays (even as an unpaid option).
Mentorship programs – mentorship programs are a key component of workplace diversity programs to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to advance. Employees with high potential should be offered mentors regardless of their age, race, sex, or other factors.
The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace cannot be understated. Companies that have a clear diversity and inclusion policy (and are seen to enforce this policy) benefit from happier and more productive employees and a great reputation. This is the sort of company you should be targeting.
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