Four Steps to Putting Diversity to Work in the Workplace

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TribecaMany laws have been enacted to provide equality in the workplace. Laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 were meant to enforce employer compliance to ensure that all employees are treated fairly, without fear of discrimination. Since such laws were put in place years ago, the workplace has seen a marked increase in diversity.

However, ensuring that the workplace remains at all times a comfortable and productive environment for employees of every gender, race and ethnic background requires a diligent effort. Putting diversity to work in the workplace should be a common goal of employers and employees.

Step 1: That may be a joke, but it’s no laughing matter
Teamwork is extremely important in any work environment.  Depending on the formality of the workplace, many employees tend to develop a sense of camaraderie. Unfortunately, there may be times when the atmosphere becomes so relaxed that jokes may get out of hand. Lighthearted teasing suddenly turns into jokes about a colleague’s race, gender, or country of origin. This is where humor ceases and discrimination issues begin. Encouraging a warm and friendly atmosphere is appropriate but caution employees to use good judgment and to respect differences.

Step 2: Concentrate on diversity in team building
Special projects and committees are an excellent time to engage and encourage diversity in the workplace. Workers from different backgrounds have a wealth of perspectives and knowledge. By concentrate on building diverse teams, management will not only demonstrate its support of diversity in the workplace, but also will be able to take advantage of unique knowledge, skills and points of view. If project teams are not an option, create dialogue groups so that people can get to know others with different backgrounds. 

Step 3: Be honest when dealing with diversity or issues of bias

It’s all too easy to sweep issues of race or ethnicity under the carpet because it may cause supervisors to be uncomfortable. Management may try to skirt tough issues and ignore the reality of a situation. Misunderstandings and confusion form rapidly and the effort to create a diverse environment can quickly become derailed. It is important for management to deal with diversity and bias issues in an upfront, honest and timely manner. Doing so won’t always be easy, but it will result in progress toward a diverse environment.

Step 4: Diversity is everyone’s responsibility, not just management’s
Diversity is not just the responsibility of management, even though management may play a key role in how a team or individual perceives bias and discrimination.  Employees perceive that managers and supervisors have a powerful impact on their career within the organization. The truth of the matter is that front-line employees, middle managers and CEOs can have individual biases that affect their ability to work and how they interact with others within the organization. Personal introspection and diversity training may help to solve some of the issues. Reducing bias and developing an atmosphere of diversity must rest on the shoulders of everyone in the organization.