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How to Manage Diversity in the Workplace

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Diversity is no longer just a buzzword. It's become an essential ingredient for any organization that wants to build happier, more productive, and more effective workplaces.

In fact, diversity is one of the criteria job seekers use to evaluate potential employers. A survey by Glassdoor found that 67% of active and passive job seekers consider diversity when considering job offers and employers.

Attracting better employees is only one of the benefits of a diverse workplace, as this infographic shows:

Benefits of Workplace Diversity
This graphic shows the top 10 benefits of workplace diversity (Source: TalentLyft)

Increasing workplace diversity is a challenge for everyone, especially managers and business owners. We’re all still figuring things out and it’s going to be a work in progress. According to Gallup, 45% of their respondents experienced discrimination and/or harassment at work. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

Below, we share some strategies on how to manage diversity in the workplace.

10 Strategies for Business Owners and Managers

If you're responsible for managing an organization or team, you'll want to make sure that you've got an effective diversity program. Here are some strategies for managing diversity and inclusion:

1. Get Leadership on Board

As with any initiative, it’s easier when you get the leadership on board with increasing diversity. Make sure your company executives are fully behind your diversity efforts. That way, the other people in the organization are more likely to embrace diversity, too. Leadership sets the tone for the rest of the company.

Inclusive leadership team
Get your leadership team on board with your diversity efforts. (Image source: Envato Elements)

They’re also critical to your success. With the backing of leadership, you’ll find it easier to get the budget, time, and other resources you need. Ensure also that you've got the mandate to pursue diversity in the organization. It needs to be officially set in the company’s policies, so that efforts to increase diversity continue even when key people leave.

How easily you get the leadership to buy into diversity depends on where they currently stand. At best, your leaders have initiated efforts to increase diversity. In this case, you won’t have to convince them. If not all members of the executive team believe diversity is important, then you’ll have to carry out specific strategies to get their support. Either way, take the necessary steps to ensure that diversity remains a core business value, even with a change in leadership. 

Another key area to look at is the diversity within the leadership team. In a Harvard Business Review study, 78% of employees who responded said their workplaces lack diversity in leadership positions.

2. Remember the Many Dimensions of Diversity

Workplace diversity definition
Diversity has many dimensions, including physical abilities. (Image source: Envato Elements

Check yourself and your leadership on how you define diversity. Diversity isn’t just about race, which is one of the most common things that come to people’s minds when they hear the word “diversity.” 

Gender is another well-known dimension of diversity. Although society has made a lot of progress in this area, much remains to be done. One-third of female survey respondents in an inclusion survey from Culture Amp still feel that expressing a contrary opinion has negative consequences for them in the workplace. 

Race and gender continue to be important domains of diversity. But it should encompass all the ways that human beings can be different from each other. Diversity must also recognize our differences in culture, religion, income, education levels, physical abilities, and other domains.

Another emerging area, for example, is generational diversity. This refers to the balance of workers having different ages or belonging to different generations.

As you look at all the possible dimensions of diversity, it’s easy to see how increasing diversity also increases the richness of a workplace!

3. Recruit for Maximum Diversity

Recruitment for more diversity
Make the effort to reach more diverse job candidates. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Review and redesign your recruitment process to ensure that you’re attracting a more diverse set of applicants and recruits. 

There are many things to look at in your recruitment process. Here are a few:

  • the job description itself
  • how you present and publish the job posting
  • ways to involve employees to reach more diverse applicants
  • how and where you hold interviews
  • how you ensure non-biased assessment of candidates

Managing diversity in recruitment is developing rapidly in the human resources space. You’ll find an array of reference materials, courses, and experts to help you in this area.

4. Enforce Workplace Policies That Support Diverse Groups

Onsite daycare
On-site daycare facilities make employees with children feel included in the workplace. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Next, it’s time to look at all your workplace policies to see if they support diverse groups of employees. For example, providing benefits like flexible work schedules and on-site daycare facilities makes your organization more appealing to employees with different interests and needs. The absence of benefits like these marginalizes workers who have young children. Also consider access to benefits like health coverage. Does it place certain groups at a disadvantage?

Aside from benefits, also examine other areas of how you get things done at work. This may include auditing employee forms and how communication takes place. Walk through your physical workspace to look for ways that the environment may be prejudicial to groups of people.

All areas of your organization have the potential to exclude specific types of people. So, you must examine every inch of your workplace—both literally and figuratively.

5. Conduct Diversity Training

Diversity training
Diversity training is one of the strategies for managing diversity in the workplace. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Even though an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the importance of diversity, it doesn’t always come naturally. Even the most outwardly inclusive individual can have unconscious biases. This is why it’s a good idea to provide training on how to achieve and maintain a diverse workplace

You can provide several types of training. The most basic is awareness training, which covers the importance and benefits of diversity in the workplace. The other type of training is skills training, or how to reduce prejudice and be more inclusive of others at work. 

Diversity training isn’t as simple as it sounds. Even though most people may say they support diversity, they may have unconscious biases or simply not know how to live it out. Some training approaches can even backfire, especially if workers feel they’re being forced to take the classes or brainwashed in them.

This article goes into more detail about diversity and inclusion training:

6. Uncover and Overcome Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias
There are different ways to overcome unconscious bias in the workplace. (Image source: Envato Elements)

As mentioned before, most people have unconscious bias. As the name implies, an unconscious or implicit bias is a prejudice against specific groups of people that you’re not aware of. Yet, unconscious bias still affects your behavior and decision making.

Unconscious biases stem from associations your mind forms about a certain gender, race, age group, or other classification. These associations and stereotypes may be based on a single, isolated incident, experiences that took place in childhood, or even something you heard somebody else say in passing. You may never know. But their effects linger.

Your job as the manager of diversity is to help people discover and acknowledge their unconscious biases so they can work towards removing them. This can be part of the diversity training in the workplace. This article discusses other ways to counteract unconscious bias:

7. Remember Retention

Retention of diversity employees
How well you retain a diverse workforce is a barometer for workplace diversity. (Image source: Envato Elements)

We’ve talked about recruiting a diverse group of job candidates. That’s only part of the story. Once you’ve hired them, you want to keep them.

And so, one of the strategies for managing diversity in the workplace is to look at how employee attrition or turnover is affecting your workplace diversity. This is a good barometer of how inclusive your organization is. You may be hiring people with a variety of backgrounds but if they’re leaving, that may be a sign that they don’t feel included after all.

Conduct an exit interview with minority employees to find out why they’re leaving the company. Use what you learn to make your policies and practices more inclusive.

8. Create a Diverse Organizational or Corporate Culture

Diverse organizational culture
Create a corporate culture that embraces diversity. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Aim to build an organizational culture that supports and promotes diversity. BusinessDictionary defines organizational culture as “the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.

It further says that organization culture, also known as corporate culture, is expressed in:

(1) the ways the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers, and the wider community,
(2) the extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas, and personal expression,
(3) how power and information flow through its hierarchy, and
(4) how committed employees are towards collective objectives.

This definition gives you a starting point for identifying which parts of your corporate culture need to be examined and possibly improved.  

An employee network may be something you'd like to introduce to your corporate culture.

9. Keep the Work Environment Positive

Positive work environment
Happy employees are more likely to get along. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Discussion and activities around diversity can become contentious, yet it doesn’t have to be. If you promote a positive environment at work, then employees are more likely to feel happier. That also means they'll be more likely to get along well with each other.

As you’ll learn from this article, creating a positive work environment also covers the physical environment and facilities, training, and communication in the workplace, among others:

10. Include Diversity in Your Performance Reports

Diversity in performance reports
Every member of an organization has a role to play in increasing diversity in the workplace. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Finally, approach diversity quantitatively to increase your chance of success. Make diversity one of performance indicators, not just for human resources, but for all managers, team leaders, and members of the C-suite. Make diversity efforts measurable, track progress, and report on them regularly. 

This makes you and other office leaders accountable for managing diversity in your organization. Given the complexity and depth of diversity, it can't be the responsibility of only one department, let alone one person in a company. In the final analysis, increasing diversity is the job of every single employee, from the lowest intern to the CEO.

Managing Diversity: Examples From Best Employers for Diversity

Every year, Forbes partners with Statistica to find America’s Best Employers for Diversity among organizations with more than 1,000 employees. Based on a survey of 50,000 Americans in 2019, the best employers for diversity are:

#3. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

With about 6,000 employees, BlueCross is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's in the insurance industry.

#2. Nielsen

This provider of professional services has 46,000 employees across the United States, but has headquarters in New York, New York. 

#1. Ball

Known for its containers and packaging products, Ball has 17,500 employees. It's based in Broomfield, Colorado. Ball’s leadership exemplifies how the highest levels of an organization can embrace diversity. They've got a Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion who reports to the chief executive.

Final Thoughts on How to Manage Diversity in the Workplace

These strategies for managing diversity in the workplace make the job easier. But realize that it’s an ongoing task for everyone in the company. 

Since you’re reading this, it’s possible that you’re responsible for implementing strategies to increase workplace diversity and inclusiveness. As you may have concluded from this article, the work of increasing diversity belongs to every member of the organization.

Diversity is complex and nuanced. It’s an ongoing job that needs the support and commitment of leadership, as well as the cooperation of staff members. It’s a huge job, but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. It's also simply the right thing to do.

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