Creating and Valuing Diversity in the Workplace

Over 30 percent of the population identifies itself as non-Caucasian. This number will increase to almost 50 percent by the year 2050 and will have a large impact on both your workforce and your clients. It’s critical that managers and others are in tune with diversity issues.

It is important to have a clear definition of what diversity is and what it is not. Traditionally, diversity has meant one’s race, gender, ethnicity, and age. Today, a more inclusive view considers religion, educational level, personality style, marital status, and socioeconomic background. Blended, all of these elements define the total person and influence their decision-making and communication methods. To “value” diversity is to consider, appreciate, and even celebrate these differences among people.

Valuing diversity is not to be confused with affirmative action, which refers to regulations and related programs designed to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

When planning any new initiative, a leader must evaluate return on investment. Valuing diversity in your organization is not only a positive influence in the workplace; it also makes good business sense.

One of the fastest growing segments in the mortgage industry is emerging markets. In this decade, the Census Bureau projects non-Caucasians will account for almost 80 percent of the total population increase. Companies are dedicating valuable resources to tap into this growing segment of the population. It is critical that companies have a workforce that is representative of their clients. This includes staff members who can understand not only their clients’ language but their cultural norms as well.
Most people agree that a company’s greatest resource is its people. One way to become an employer of choice is to develop and maintain a proactive diversity program, including hiring employees of different races, genders, and age groups. Talent acquisition is easier and employee turnover rates are lower when people feel valued and appreciated. This is a powerful tool during job fairs or college recruiting.

Another reason to promote diversity in the workplace is the inclusion of different perspectives when tackling business challenges. Through their experiences, people develop their own lens, so to speak. Viewing differences as an asset instead of a liability can foster creativity and help ensure all viewpoints are taken into consideration. This increases the likelihood that the best solution will be developed.

Companies can take several proactive steps to facilitate a successful diversity program rollout. A program with executive commitment and grass roots support is more likely to succeed than one without these components. It is also critical to obtain the support of senior managers. Employees must believe there is a true commitment from management via employee meetings, articles in company publications, and other strategies. Otherwise, the program could become or be seen as a “flavor-of-the-month” initiative.

Communicate diversity program goals to employees frequently. Obtaining early input provides employees with a sense of buy-in and strengthens their commitment to the success of the program. Clearly establish the benefits of the program to the employees, as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

Here is a partial list of what some companies are doing to promote their diversity efforts:

  • Ensure that senior management actively supports and champions the diversity cause.
  • Create a vision or strategy statement discussing the company’s diversity goals. Cascade this information down to all levels of the organization and post to the corporate Web site.
  • Ensure all written policies and employee handbooks include the diversity strategy.
  • Develop a comprehensive diversity training curriculum for managers, supervisors, and employees.
  • Build a mentoring program to provide people with the tools for advancement within the company.
  • Utilize focus groups or employee surveys to obtain feedback on how well the diversity program is performing.
  • Create employee networks to represent different groups within the company. This enables various groups to elevate any concerns and support the company’s efforts.

Promoting and valuing diversity is not just the right thing to do. It is a way to differentiate your organization from the competition. By attracting and retaining the best people for your company, you ensure the long-term success of your business.