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How Companies Take a Systematic Approach to Managing Workplace Diversity

In today’s global environment companies must manage workplace diversity effectively in order to compete and retain the best employees. Even organizations that are smaller will have to manage workplace diversity – they will have clients who are diverse, employees who are diverse, suppliers and vendors who are diverse. Managing workplace diversity is much more than just following laws and staying compliant. Managing workplace diversity takes a systematic approach that includes more than just training. It means creating policies, processes and procedures that are inclusionary and ensuring that workplace diversity is tied to organizational long term strategic goals.

There are four layers of diversity (Diverse Teams at Work, Anita Rowe and Lee Gardenswartz, Irwin, 1995). Internal (primary) dimensions and external (secondary) dimensions (which were developed by Marilyn Loden) and organization dimensions and personality (added on by Anita Rowe and Lee Gardenswartz). At the center – the first layer – is personality. This is unique to each and every individual. The other dimensions include:

Internal Dimensions

External Dimensions

Organizational Dimensions

  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Physical ability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Recreational habits
  • Personal habits
  • Income
  • Religion
  • Education background
  • Work experience
  • Marital status
  • Parental status
  • Appearance
  • Functional level/classification
  • Work content/field
  • Seniority
  • Division/department/ unit/group
  • Work location
  • Union affiliation
  • Management status

When a company takes a systematic approach to managing diversity in the workplace they consider every aspect of diversity and incorporate diversity practices and processes into all aspects of work and the organization (Opportunities and Challenges of Workplace Diversity: Theory, Cases and Exercises, 2nd Edition, Kathryn Canas and Harris Sondak, Prentice Hall, 2011):

Executive leadership commitment: The CEO and other members of the executive team and the Board of Directors are committed and involved in diversity discussions, planning and implementation efforts. They see the value of diversity in the workplace and represent diversity themselves in the make-up of the leadership team and the Board of Directors. The organization likely has a diversity council that includes all levels of employees from throughout the organization and diversity is represented on the leadership team and is an executive level position (e.g., Chief Diversity Officer).

Communications: The organization communicates frequently about diversity – what it means to the organization, the importance of diversity to the organization (benefits and value), and alignment to the organizational strategy. This communication is both internal and external and is delineated on marketing components and the website.

Recruitment /talent retention: There is a strategy around recruiting for diversity. For employees, there is diversity training mapped to measurable training goals, mentoring programs to enable for success in the workplace, and a variety of benefits such as flexible time, domestic partner benefits, enabling for time off for childbirth and adoption, and regular, open honest communications around diversity and its value and importance within the workplace.  Organizations who want to recruit for diversity look to a variety of sources for talent – universities, colleges and partnerships with community-based organizations.

Organizational commitment: Diversity is incorporated into the fabric of the organization through ensuring there are employee resource groups focused on diversity and diversity is represented in the employees who serve on major initiatives and who are in positions of authority – decision-making roles and roles that develop and implement policies and procedures with the company. Diversity strategy is tied to business results and there are metrics used to measure the effect of diversity on the bottom line. Diversity practices are evaluated regularly and updated as the organization changes and grows.

External relationships: Partnerships are developed with organizations that also value diversity – this includes recruiting firms, distributors, suppliers and vendors. The organization is committed to diversity through community outreach and philanthropy and enables for employee participation.

What are you doing in your organization to commit to diversity and how are you managing diversity?