Companies Smart to Embrace Diversity – Affects Bottom Line, Experts Say

Johanna and her academic advisor are talking about Johanna’s future. As the end of fall term approaches, the senior transgender accounting student, born as “John,” is starting to look for a good internship with a company that embraces diversity.

“How can I really learn what a company really does, versus what a company says they do, with respect to diversity,” she asks her advisor.”Especially, when reality is that diversity hasn’t really happened in most companies, and progress remains slow?”

Johanna’s advisor understands her student’s apprehension, and adds her own perception, that by not developing a diverse workforce from the top down African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans are too often relegated to lower-skilled, lower-pay positions and are not able to fulfill their true potential. A poor economy has made this situation worse, she adds.

“But some businesses are finally recognizing that diversity contributes to the bottom line in so many ways. They are finally understanding how diversity actually makes it easier to retain good employees or lower costs by developing skills in-house, and developing a reputation that helps attract new employees.

“This is especially important as the economy starts to recover and the demand for skilled labor slowly starts to increase,” the advisor states.

As a sexual minority group member, Johanna knows that to advance her career, working for a corporation that values workplace gender diversity is critical.

“Working for someone that really understands and adopts diversity means I will have more opportunities; it’s a good indication of whether my employer will value my contributions, encourage my promotion, and provide training that will help me take on more responsibility, and pay me accordingly,” she says.

The accounting student and her advisor decide to make a diversity checklist that Johanna and perhaps other students can use when talking to recruiters. Here are some key indicators they believe will help determine if a company is really committed to managing and valuing diversity:

*Diversity at the Officer, Board of Director, and Senior management levels

*Diversity among the highest salaried employees in the company

*Diversity among the company’s workforce as a whole

*Recruiting for new hires in diversity-related publications

*Recruiting at cultural or professional events

*Membership in professional organizations that represent diversity and multiculturalism

*Charitable contributions to diversity-related organizations

“This is a good start,” Johanna enthuses over the checklist. “And believe me, when I go looking for work, I won’t leave home without it!”

While the list gives Johanna a sound framework for her job hunt, others may feel the list would be strengthened if it more clearly defined significant differences among people.

While many who are concerned with diversity, such as Johanna and her advisor, concentrate on such differences as ethnicity (a term that defines a group of people whose members identify with each other through a common heritage such as a common language), culture, gender, and sexual orientation, diversity issues in the workplace also embrace an even wider range — from race, age and physical abilities, nation of origin or class, to religion, learning and communication styles, place of origin or where people “come from,” and even education and occupation.

All are aspects of diversity.

With such broad definitions, a group of white male systems analysis can still represent a diverse group; we are all individuals with differences. When managers truly understand diversity they can get the most out of any group, by appreciating and using their differences.

Diversity has its best potential, and its biggest challenge, however, in recognizing and using deeper differences, says one well known social scientist.

In today’s workforce, the deep difference can mean substantial benefits for organization, as diversity brings differences in styles and in ways of looking at and doing things which can help organizations move beyond the status quo. When organizations know how to manage and value employees like Johanna, and others with unique differences, they “..better meet the needs of customers and clients, and do more for the community [they] are part of and serve,” states diversity expert, William Sonnenschein in his functional work on the topic,The Diversity Toolkit (1997).

Diversity means differences, and differences create challenges, but differences also open avenues of opportunities, according to Sonnenschein. Diversity enables a wide range of views to be present in an organization, including views that might challenge the status quo from all sides.

“It focuses and strengthens an organization’s core values, and is instrumental in organizational change. Diversity has the ability to stimulate social, economic, intellectual, and emotional growth,” Sonnenschein tells us, and it “helps an organization understand its place in the global community.”

Numerous social scientists have documented diversity’s benefits, besides Sonnenschein, who notes that “IBM, as one example, believes the diversity of its workforce means understanding and appealing to its customer base. As the company has downsized, it has assigned a special workforce diversity staff to assure that its workplace diversity remains intact.”

While today’s workplace is not nearly as diverse as it could and should be, Johanna and others would do well to make their diversity checklists and follow them as closely as possible when choosing a future employer.

By doing so, they are sending a clear message to future companies and their managers to work harder than ever in creating positive, inclusive workplace environments and thus improving productivity in their businesses and organizations.

Embracing diversity in the workplace is the right thing to do – and it is definitely good business, Johanna, her advisor and a host of others would agree.