What is America’s greatest virtue? When digging deep and really meditating on this question, the most honest and sincere answer often is diversity. A reminder to some, that the main threat to freedom and democracy in America does not reside in hostile foreign powers but rather in domestic prejudices such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.
History of Workforce Diversity:
A spark of interest on the issues of diversity and diversity management began to materialize in the US in the late 1980s, when a report known as the “Workforce 2000 Report” created and crafted by William Johnston and Arnold Packer in 1987, highlighted that the white male population in the workforce was declining (Schoenfeld, 2015). Two decades prior, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Affirmative Action (AA) legislation was established and was aimed at ending employment-based discrimination by way of race, origin and gender. As a result, programs and initiatives began to flourish; targeting people of disadvantaged groups and offering individuals legal advocacy for holding organizations accountable in regard to workplace discrimination and/or treatment (Walsh, 2005). Additionally, organizations created grievance systems, screened their hiring and promotion practices, and started EEO training and AA plans with specific employment goals to aid in complying to the new regulation and eliminating discrimination in the workplace (Haire, & Moyer, 2015).
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Fast forward to 2018 and the concept of diversity in the workplace is still a priority for human resource managers and public relation specialists. Go on to any corporation’s website or read their mission statement and you will find language distinctively tied to diversity initiatives. Despite the large scale of research and efforts extended to diversity practices many of the problems related to diversity from three decades ago still exist today. White men still control high status jobs and substantial pay gaps continue to run rampant between men and women, white Americans and minorities, and upper and lower classes (Burton, 2017).
The complexities of a diverse workforce seem to be beyond the comprehension of corporate America. Historical systems and the rationale behind racism, bigotry, and classism have left distaste in the mouth of millennials and next generation workers. Yet systems intertwined off of these prejudices remain intact leaving even the most educated professionals and business executives scratching their heads. To better understand many of the components surrounding diversity discourse in the workplace, it is essential to be cognizant of the core concepts and contradictions waged in the diversity discussion. The main categories addressed in research traditionally are race, class, and gender. Of those categories are subgroups which most often include: age, physical abilities (ableism), religion, and sexual orientation. Research analysis in terms of organizations and labor markets on diversity is primarily based by studying minority and majority groups (Knotter, 2011). Therefore, diversity is studied and measured in a variety of ways in determining if certain groups/workers have a voice in the workplace.
Common examples of what diversity is and what it is not, is most evident by looking beyond what is being depicted and seeing what actually exists. For example, a poultry business might claim to be diverse because a majority of its workforce are Latino, and half its workforce is female. But if all the managers and executives of the company are white men, then it would appear that the company is just taking advantage of inexpensive, unskilled individuals in their local communities. A hospital claims to be diverse due to the international background of their physicians. However, the janitors are all African American women and the nursing staff are mostly white, then it is obvious that the hospital does not comprehend diversity at its very basic level (Johnson, 2011). When diversity is innately understood by organizations and their HR experts, they recognize that job segregation, wage gaps, and job marginalization, are not just workforce issues to combat, but rather that these elements reveal true integrity and ethical principles of the organization as a whole.
Sexual Orientation, Physical Ability, Age & Religion
Some of the bigger diversity problems facing companies and organizations in the US today are primarily related to sexual orientation, physical ability, age, and religion complexities. Sexual orientation may be toward the opposite sex (heterosexuality), same sex (homosexuality), both sexes (bisexuality), and neither (asexuality). Some scientist believe sexuality to be genetic, while others label all types of sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, as socially constructed (Green, 2016). Physical ability is also a category to be considered in diversity. Traditionally, disabilities have been used to discriminate against certain types of workers. Impairment is a socially constructed concept that extends beyond the actual limitations of the individual. Ableism is a bias against people with disabilities (Beaudry, 2016). The four categories of sexual orientation, physical ability, age, and religion appear less often in corporate diversity mission statements.
Anytime there is a difference in compensation between one group versus another for doing the same work, a wage gap will exist. Economist, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and now president of The Wage Project, Evelyn Murphy, estimates that over a lifetime (47 years of full-time work) the loss of wages for women amounts to $700,000 for a high school graduate; $1.2 million for a college graduate; $2 million for a professional school graduate (Murphy, 2007). Based on its research, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimated in 2015 that women won’t receive equal pay until 2059. The National Committee on Pay Equity reports that the wage gap between men and women has been closing at a rate of half a cent per year since 1963 when the Equal Pay Act was enacted as law (“Wage Gap over Time,” 2013).
Source: Women in the Workplace 2017 – Business Insider
But wage gaps don’t just exist between men and women, the biggest wage gaps can be found in women groups themselves. For example, the wage gap between Hispanic women and white women is greater than the wage gap between white men and white women (Murphy, 2007). The rise of service industries and the demise of manufacturing have benefited white women but not all women. Though a wage gap for like work does exist between men and women as well as white Americans and minorities in America, the primary reason for the overall wage gap lies in job segregation and job marginalization.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Highlights of women’s earning in 2016 – Business Insider
The Workplace: Compliance and Regulation – What laws would apply
Specifically, in addressing diversity and the wage gap: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 offers protection to worker rights for adequate compensation. This is a law sparked by President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier Program that fanned the flame of The Equal Pay Act of 1963 becoming a United States labor law (EEOC, 2018). The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mended the Fair Labor Standards Act and was enacted to aid in abolishing wage discrimination based on sex. Through establishing this legislation congress affirmed that sex discrimination exists when any of the following occur (AAUW, 2018):
- depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;
- prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources;
- tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;
- burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and constitutes an unfair method of competition.
What’s being done to resolve the problem:
A form of activism has invaded corporate America and it is proving t to be effective. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were all compelled to adopt domestic partner benefits and reduce their carbon footprints. Nike decided to terminate their relationship with Bangladesh suppliers when employees lobbied against the unsafe working conditions (Robson, 2014). A true David and Goliath story is captured in the same way when employees at Google decided to publicly challenge this corporate giant. Liz Fong-Jones, a Google site reliability engineer, says she and a group of employees felt they had no choice but to take the unusual step of speaking out at the shareholder meeting after efforts to get management to address concerns proved unsuccessful. She hopes protest votes from concerned investors will motivate executives to make diversity a priority. “We had exhausted our resources internally, and we felt that, No. 1, we are legally able to do this without getting fired and, No. 2, it was the right tool to apply to this issue. We are frustrated that executives don’t really seem to have a clear strategy here. They don’t seem to have the right set of incentives and they, as a result, tend to pursue their other business objectives first and foremost and treat diversity and inclusion as an afterthought.” Two former software engineers at Google, Erica Baker and Kelly Ellis, spoke up in lengthy posts and on social media about the company’s treatment of minorities and women and James Damore, former engineer of Google spoke out after being fired when his internal memo was leaked that suggested gender differences might explain why most of Google’s engineers and leaders are men, and filed a lawsuit that it discriminates against white men and conservatives (Guynn, 2018).
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“What we are seeing with Google employees is that they are acting in line with their values, and they are demanding that their company be consistent with that,” said Chris White, co-author of Changing Your Company From the Inside Out. White adds that “Google employees are part of a broader trend, the emergence of vocal — and frequently influential — activists who are agitating for change from inside their own companies” (Guynn, 2018).
Corporate activism is being amplified by employees who are taking initiatives and tearing down strong holds within the infrastructure of corporate America; but why are employees now grabbing hold of their influence and making their presence known? A growing disparity and a disproportionate gap in business decisions, is at the root of this form of activism; along with the belief that internal channels in offering feedback is no longer impactful, and the increase of Millennials in the workforce serves as the icing on the cake. Real pressure is being applied and employers are responding by offering jobs and products that are more aligned with employee values.
How you would handle the issue if you were in charge of the problem:
Before one can offer a solution to a problem, one has to understand the problem is. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there is one key ingredient that seems to be missing…. human dignity, a complex and complicated problem that is does not come with “one size fits all” solutions. At the onset, an organization would first need to establish a specific goal to achieve, from there a strategic plan and initiatives will be hammered out. In the broadest of cases, a strategic goal for incorporating diversity and inclusion must start with organization’s culture. The plan below encompasses the construction and design of a corporate culture where diversity and inclusion flourish (Lim, 2008):
Define the Identity of the Organization:
The culture of an organization is most reflected in the mission and/or vision declarations. Cultivating and crafting the cultural mindset of the organization with an intricate thread of ethics and values on diversity issues such as gender, sexual harassment, disabilities, race and religion is where cultural change can begin. With goals aimed at creating a culture that values, respects and leverages similarities as well as differences and fosters equal opportunity for everyone, executive leaders and upper-management will be innately aware of the specific policy changes and trainings needed to achieve this initiative. Such policies might include a policy to offer gender-neutral bathrooms or restructure the application process to avoid asking an individual’s age during interviews and/or hiring exercises (Kipper, 2017). Another opportunity to reinforce the organizational culture when it comes to inclusion is to embrace differences through celebration, recognition and appreciation as an organization. This accentuates the organization’s strategy on the topic of diversity, in that diversity is not only about legal protections or written policies; it is a genuine invition by co-workers to highlight personal uniqueness and to promote acceptance that strengthens team collaboration.
Once the culture change of the organization has been clarified and diversity policies are conceived, incorporating them into employee handbooks, training and development resources, onboarding documents and organizational references is the next step. Communication is captured in many ways, in order to understand policy changes, the changes will need to be available and accessible to everyone to review and acknowledge. Requiring employees to read and sign employee handbooks or any amendments to the handbook is one way of expressing such changes. Providing examples of common situations where diversity benefits prove to be a positive win such as best and brightest in the talent pool to pick from and/or new innovative techniques is another way to gain buy in from the workforce (Johnson, 2011). Some managers may decide to host one-on-one meetings with team members to embrace unique traits and quality contributions. Training and development can advance effective communication for establishing the core initiatives on diversity and inclusion. An open-door philosophy in communicating concerns to management when feeling attacked, discriminated against or unsafe is another method that can be reiterated through practice and training. Practice what you preach – and reap the benefits of proactive measures that keep hostile work environments to a minimum (Frey, 2015). When a leader has been consistent in their approach to diversity and inclusion, it will not take long for trust to be established and with trust comes followers. Another suggestion is for leaders to budget time for encouraging communication. This doesn’t have to be a big expense—and it can take many forms: regular company-wide meetings, offsite or recreation events, cross-training or employee rotation and education opportunities are a few that have worked for some employers.
Benefits and Consequences
A good way to cut through the static and confusion that workplace diversity sometimes causes is to reward clearly-defined performance. This not only encourages productivity, but it also builds the belief in employees that they’ll be judged by merit and not by appearance. Discourage stereotypes; Joseph Powers, author of “Changing Environments by Changing Individuals: The Emergent Effects of Psychological Intervention”, says that “changing the psychological processes of just a few individuals can transform the larger group in ways that benefit everyone” (Powers, 2015). Being mindful, as an employer, to resist wide assumptions and generalizations is not only smart but contagious. Give recognition, a fair and equitable way to instill commitment in a diverse work force is to recognize a mix of employees with attention and, when appropriate, promotion. Emphasize the practical benefits that accompany work-place diversity. All policies need to include ramifications, meaning disciplinary action for failure to follow the cultural guidelines around diversity and inclusion, natural consequences must be part of such policies. Give victims a process to report abuse and develop a protocol to address them. The protocol usually includes speaking with both parties before giving a written warning and perhaps coaching to the guilty party (Frost, 2014). If the inappropriate behavior continues, suspension or permanent dismissal is usually the final disciplinary action. Some companies have levels of discipline depending on how egregious the action is.
Continue to Evolve
Diversity is not just about a positive corporate culture and enjoyable workplace. Diversity continues to evolve through legislation and human resource rules and laws. It is important for employers to understand changes, adjust existing policies to meet the evolving laws, and continue to work with employees on new diversity issues and resolutions.
Expect some friction, people gravitate toward groups and groups sometimes collide. A diverse workplace will struggle with inclusion from time to time. Plan to get out in front of any potential issues, establish policies and equip managers for resolving intramural conflicts as quickly and peacefully as possible (Stanford, 2017). Continuing to stay committed to the bigger picture and goals established will make it clear to employees, vendors and business associates that echo the diversity and inclusion initiatives are important and not to be taken lightly. Assessing and reassessing the organizations initiatives on a continuous basis and/or permitting to diversity audits performed by outside consultants might prove to be helpful but not always necessary, however, getting feedback from employees is (Walsh, 2005). Implementing feedback surveys that are voluntary and/or anonymous often provide the most valuable information. Lastly, give employees options; many diversity disputes turn critical because employees feel trapped in a hierarchy. If it’s feasible, identify uninvolved managers or employees trained on diversity conflict issues who can act to offer impartial solutions.
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