Businesses big and small have employees and customers from all walks of life. College campuses are populated with students and instructors from different cities, states and countries. How can businesses continue to harness all the different talents, qualities, and needs to make better products, services and offices?
Diversity & Inclusion
In 2011, the US Federal Reserve Board (FRB) announced the creation of over a dozen diversity and inclusion offices. By its own account, the offices not only will continue the FRB's efforts to champion equal employment opportunity and diversity, but will increase efforts to help minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
The FRB's stated goals go to the heart of the overall diversity and inclusion mission. When dealing with a group made up of all people from all walks of life - different races, religions, ages, genders and life experiences - the idea is to help everyone interact and function with each other. You draw strength from each person's unique qualities and skills, and the group as a whole is made better.
In Action, In Practice
The theory may sound utopian on paper, and maybe even a bit vague. It becomes clearer when you see it in action:
- The FRB is striving to make sure minority-owned and women-owned businesses get the help they need to start-up and grow, with the net effect of job creation and overall economic growth and stability
- For most employers, a diverse workforce means the ability to cater to a variety of customers and their needs, and inclusion means workers who are happy and excited about their jobs and work environment – that means productivity and stability
- College and university students learn about different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds from fellow students, not necessarily from text books. That's one of the main functions of higher education, after all
The Need for Diversity is Real
Diversity and inclusion efforts can have positive impacts in practically any setting, from religious organizations to social clubs. But nowhere is the need and benefit more clear than in the work place. For example, one report finds that female workers aren't being hired or re-hired as quickly as male workers as the US economy continues its recovery.
And, in 2010, the White House described the unemployment rate for minorities as "shocking."
Are There Pitfalls?
Certainly, diversity in the workplace can have some ill-effects, or at least side-effects. Try as we might, we simply don't always get along. It's not always a good thing for employers. For instance, employers don't fare too well in lawsuits involving sex-, pregnancy- and age-based discrimination.
Of course, this is where inclusion is supposed to come into play. A work environment where everyone's differences are accepted and respected should make discrimination lawsuits rare.
What's It Like for You?
How do you feel when you go to work each day? Employees and employers alike can make it more enjoyable for everyone:
- Employers might include a diversity and inclusion policy in their employee handbooks, showing current and prospective workers that it's serious about creating a respectful work environment
- It's important for employers to have an anti-discrimination policy and to make their employees aware of it, regardless of any diversity and inclusion efforts
- Employees can be given space or an area to share their talents and uniqueness. The space can be real, like a break room, or virtual, like a space on the company's intranet
- Workers can take it upon themselves to treat coworkers with respect
- A mechanism or procedure should be created where workers can report problems and conflicts so they can be resolved before they fester into lawsuits, loss of productivity and job losses or resignations
Employers, workers, customers - everyone can win from diversity and inclusion. The keys are making the effort to reach out to and welcome people from all walks of life, and taking it a step further by making sure each person's unique characteristics, qualities and experiences are respected and valued.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What should I do if I think my employer purposely isn't hiring minorities?
- How can I increase the number of women or minorities in my workforce without facing reverse discrimination claims from male and Caucasian job applicants?
- Does a written diversity and inclusion policy in an employee handbook lessen my ability to fire workers as I see fit?