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When you glance around your office, what do you see? I hope you recognize co-workers who don’t look like you, talk like you, or even think like you do. I hope you see differences. Those differences and diversity within your workplace are important and the benefits can be astronomical. Diversity stimulates growth, challenges your perspective, and builds stronger relationships at work. Our nation is recognized for diversity; our work force should be, too.
The United States—the “great melting pot”—where a variety of people come together as one. Our history shows through challenges and adversity we’ve learned the importance of inclusion. Our country’s courts have carved out legal definitions for the terms: “diversity,” “diversity in the workplace,” and “diverse workforce.” However, for the everyday person—like myself—a firm definition of these terms shift and change depending on the situation and circumstance.
Let’s dive right in. My personal definition of diversity is an even representation of people of different races, social and cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs—to name a few.
Diversity in the workplace today means living in a global world, and having a workforce that is representative of the seven billion people living around the world. It means taking in the world around you.
Millennials – and I’m one – came of age at a time when integration and globalization were a natural part of our existence. Our lives, our experiences, our existence is diversity. It’s our makeup. It’s who we are.
The Challenges of Creating a Diverse Workplace
Building a diverse workplace takes effort and means there could be plenty of obstacles along the way. It’s about changing the mindset of your employer or your employees and coming to a decision that inclusion is beneficial for all.
A Narrow View
Corporate industry leaders have a tendency to recruit employees from our nation’s elite colleges and universities. The issue? There’s a major gap between the number of white elite college graduates that land the job versus black elite college graduates. So it’s a no-brainer that the employee make-up of these companies will be mostly white.
Unless there is a concerted effort to broaden the recruitment process to include prospective employees from colleges and graduates all across the country; these companies will likely end up with a largely segregated workforce.
Ignoring Potential Employees
Thankfully we have laws put into place that protect individuals from job discrimination, preventing bias based on age, pregnancy, national origin, race, ethnic background, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. Even though these individuals are protected under law, we face the sad reality that some employers won’t even give them a chance in the first place.
A diverse workplace should not only be inclusive but tolerant of people who not only believe and live differently than they do, but of people who have different needs—like an employee who requires paid parental leave in preparation for a newborn (yes, this includes men too).
Diversity Is a Choice
I choose to work for a corporation with a diverse workforce. No monolithic companies with little or no diversity for me. No corporations with so-called diverse workforces where there’s some diversity at the bottom, but none at the top. Nope. Unless I’m starving (at this point in my life I am, but…), I choose to follow the wave of the future—with multicultural organizations. For me, a workplace should be a place of comfort, individuality, mutual respect, productivity, and inclusion. And diversity is number one on my list toward that goal.
A diverse workplace is beneficial for everyone—the corporation and employees alike. It makes sense to have a diverse body of talented employees armed with fresh ideas, perspectives, and abilities. The guidance an employee with different life experiences could offer to the workforce ensures the smooth and efficient operation of a business, and secures its longevity – a benefit to co-workers and management.
On a Corporate Level
Each corporation holds the key to their own success. Recruiting the very best employees, despite their differences, ensures the company’s ability to control the market, greatly minimizes job turnover, and sends a message to its competitors.
Companies that are inclusive have a greater chance of reaching out to customers of different sexes, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. Our general population is becoming more diverse. In less than 35 years, the United States won’t have a well-defined ethnic majority. With diverse employees, a diverse company can tap into markets and better target consumers.
A company that doesn’t welcome diversity can lose employees quickly. Individuals may not feel like they belong; plus, a high-turnover rate ultimately hurts the finances and reputation of a business. It can cost a business $5,000 to $10,000 per employee.
A successful business closes the gap all while acknowledging that there are differences. It is essential to a company’s long-term success. Each company to make Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” includes non discriminatory policies. They’ve sent a clear message that they protect their employees and know the importance of embracing differences.
On a Team Level
When people are brought together their ideas, backgrounds, and personal experiences come with them. Those experiences are unique skills that offer different angles and perspectives to tackle a necessary task. Diversity breeds creativity. Working on a diverse team opens your eyes to different possibilities to reach an outcome.
Additionally, diversity and differences foster a stronger group mentality. Knowing you’re able to take each other’s weaknesses and strengths, combine them, and use them to your advantage makes you more productive and efficient.
On an Individual Level
Working in a diverse environment promotes personal growth. Your diverse co-workers will expose you to new ideas and cultures. It will help remove many of the biases you may have (even subconsciously) held on to throughout the years.
Diversity allows you to feel valued. It means you’re engulfed in a diverse environment where you feel included, respected, and able to simply be yourself. You’d know you were chosen to be part of the workforce because of your accomplishments and your talents, and not because you fit into some idea of what someone should look, be, or act like in their company.
What We Can Do About It
We talented, tech-savvy millennials must send a message to corporate leaders: We want diversity in the workplace. Just as Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley tycoons got the message, millennials need to get the message out to other employers. Just as employees have demanded benefits like health insurance, paid vacations, sick days, retirement programs; we must now demand a workplace that reflects our experiences, our lifestyles, our existence.
We must demand diversity in the workplace; and be consistent with our demands until our voices are heard, and workplaces reflect the diverse world we live in.