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When you hear the word, “diversity,” what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Race? Ethnicity? Gender? Age? These are usually the most popular terms that come to many people’s mind,s and diversity certainly includes these things. However, diversity is more than these categories that most of us are familiar with.

The changing demographics of the United States as well as the rise of emerging markets on the international stage has led to great changes in the workplace as we know it. Chances are, diversity is part of the mission, or seen as an integral part of the values of the company that you work in. Perhaps you received diversity training in your workplace. Perhaps your company pries itself on being a promoter of diversity. And thus in the workplace, “diversity” has become almost a required aspect of business. But, what exactly is diversity?

Merriam-Webster defines as, “the condition of having or being composed of different elements.” Thus we take diversity to essentially mean difference. And difference is often vetted as an important thing in the current status quo of the workplace. However, something that I learned from my graduate program in Multicultural and Organizational communication is that “diversity” as we know it is both poorly implemented, and doesn’t always yield desirable results.

In my Spring quarter earlier this year, I took a “Diversity and Teams” class and it was very surprising to find out that in most aspects of diversity, where teams were concerned, diversity was only useful to a point. Of course what was being measured was important in each case. But as I recall in much of the literature, homogeneity of teams in the workplace was only just surpassed by slight diversity in teams. Revealing that “some” diversity in teams is a good thing but “too much” would often have negative results. This, however was mostly the case where productivity and team performance were being measured. Where “satisfaction” was being measured, diverse teams tended to be more satisfied than homogeneous teams.

I think diversity must be discussed with respect to the aspect of diversity. Where race ethnicity, and gender are often discussed, there are also legal and historical issues that must be considered. This is also true with gender. One aspect of diversity that people often fail to pay attention to, however, is functional diversity. How teams and corporations bring together people and how the different departments work together as well as how the different people within those departments function. Because the reality is functional diversity is both very important for productivity and satisfaction.

What does diversity in your workplace look like?

I, personally believe that a lot of companies fall short in their implementation of diversity, and diversity training and programs. I think many companies’ aspirations and their day-to-day activities are often contrary when it comes to diversity. In our modern world, it is very important to understand the many forms of diversity that people are made up of – both in their identity, as well as in their working capabilities. And it would do companies good to ponder how they want diversity implemented in their workplace and who would benefit from it.

Here are a few suggestions in the form of questions for reviewing diversity in your workplace:

  • Review your current mission statement and policies. What does it say about diversity? And can you tie diversity initiatives to a specific daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly activity?
  • Do employees know the importance of diversity in their workplace? Can they point to specific areas on their task performance that require diversity knowledge?
  • How does your company compare to its competitors in terms of diversity? Does your company reflect the industry in demographic diversity? If not, how can your company improve its diversity representations?
  • Is diversity only something that involves top-down requirements or are there bottom-up and lateral initiatives?
  • How can your company benefit from a more diverse workplace?

Diversity has always been the workplace. How we define diversity will be very important for defining how we deal with it in the workplace. If difference is a good thing, then it needs to be reflected positively for business. But without the proper initiatives in place, diversity becomes yet another meaningless term in the workplace.

“Diversity in the workplace.” What does it mean to you?

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