Diversity means opportunity
Diversity in the workplace means opportunity. Diversity is more than a moral or legal issue – it is also an economic, political and a competitive advantage issue. First and foremost, however, it is an opportunity issue.
Some organizations dread diversity as something mandated by law and to be tolerated. Many more, however, recognize the business and competitive advantages and opportunities of diversity. Each and every employee in an organization represents diversity. We are all unique individuals with inherent differences that make us valuable.
Diversity goes well beyond cultural, racial and religious differences. It goes beyond physical disabilities or gender. It derives from our individual and unique backgrounds and experiences. Diversity may be represented by our generational differences, our differing political views or our ethnic and cultural differences. We are all different from one another, and we all represent value to our organizations because of those differences. A wide breadth of differences in an organization can be its greatest strength and asset. A broad array of ideas, beliefs, capabilities, talents and skills will make an organization stronger competitively in any business sector.
Viewing diversity as a nuisance to be tolerated in the workplace is the wrong view. Instead, we should embrace and welcome diversity to our organizations. Diversity makes us stronger, more competitive and better equipped to understand our customers or constituency. A failure to recognize the value of diversity is a missed opportunity. Diversity in the workplace makes good sense and means good business.
Diversity means hiring without discrimination or prejudice on the basis of gender, age, race, religion, cultural background, disability, or any other difference. Establishing a diverse workforce is just the beginning; it is of little or no value unless the organization fully accepts, utilizes and assimilates that diversity. Only then can we start to see the value and reap the benefits and opportunities that come with true diversity.
Some organizations today may be under a legal mandate or legislation that forces them to recognize diversity in hiring practices or to have a diversity program in place. Laws may direct an organization’s employment practices and may even cause fines or punitive damages for noncompliance. Instead of fighting it or simply tolerating it, those employers should embrace the concept of employee difference. If all organizations welcomed the opportunities that diversity offers, there would be no need for legal sanctions.
Diversity is a moral issue if employers knowingly use discrimination and prejudice in their hiring practices. To intentionally deny any person employment because he or she is different in some way is immoral. We are all entitled to fair and equitable treatment by potential employers. If employers were all open-minded and fair in their hiring practices, diversity would also cease to be a moral issue.
The sad fact is, however, that we do not live in a perfect world. All employers do not recognize the opportunities to be gained from diversity and do not feel the moral compunction to hire fairly and accept employee differences.
Maintaining a diverse workforce means having a balanced and well-rounded group of employees that offers a breadth of ideas and experiences. A balanced and diverse workforce also better reflects the diverse population we serve and can come closer to understanding the needs of our constituents.
More than anything, diversity is an issue of opportunity. It can be an opportunity gained or opportunity lost depending on the attitudes and hiring practices of the employer. Maintaining and nurturing a truly diverse workforce deals naturally and automatically with the moral and legal issues and takes full advantage of the opportunities to be gained.
We should make it our practice to always hire based on skill, experience, talent, enthusiasm and attitude without regard to gender, age, religion, race, physical ability, nationality or any other difference. We will then have a naturally diverse workforce that can deliver the goods, provide the services, offer new ideas and talents, and keep our organization open-minded and fair in its dealings. Diversity then becomes part of our business culture, and we become an employer of choice who recognizes diversity as opportunity.
About the author
John M. Mahin, CPPO, CPPB, CPCP, is purchasing manager of Johnson County, Kan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is based on the 2010 NIGP Diversity Essay Contest.