Cultural Diversity In The Workplace

.. anded. Today, diversity is a serious corporate initiative that is seen as helping those at a disadvantage. Through their commitment and involvement of diversity issues, Xerox was awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge quality award in 1989 for its three decade campaign to hire and promote women as well as minorities (Managing diversity: Lessons from the private sector, AOL Electric Library). The company has been a leader in the development of diversity initiatives which include programs designed to improve employee motivation, and teamwork through helping people to understand differences in gender and race as well as disabilities.

Although some of these programs go back over thirty years to the height of the Civil Rights Movement, today’s diversity initiatives refer to a much wider range of programs designed to create a well running, cooperative workforce. Many initiatives start with benchmarking and company-wide goal setting. This then results in various recruitment, promotional and employee retention programs. These retention programs can include everything from educational grants to multilevel training programs. Another valuable retention program can be the redesign of performance review processes.

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One thing is for sure, and that is that in order for it to work, diversity training must be able to incorporate ALL the demographic trends that are taking place in the country. In recent years, women have become a growing presence in the labor force. As Gary Powell point out, “The proportion of women, which was 42 percent in 1980 and 45 percent in 1990, is expected to be 47 percent in the year 2000” (Powell, P.36). Elderly workers are another major demographic group that has begun to be included in the workforce due to diversity initiatives and sensitivity training programs. This presents a number of different challenges for businesses today.

Older employees may prefer more time off instead of other benefits that the younger employees might prefer. There is stronger resentment against elderly people as compared to women and minorities however, because those individuals are generally expensive to keep. Most elderly people have high salaries along with good and expensive benefit packages, including pensions. This creates a situation where many large companies feel that it is better to downsize these employees and pay severance packages rather than allowing these employees to stay on and collect top dollar on their benefit packages. Others seem to think otherwise, The American Association of Retired Persons believes “that an age-diverse workforce can benefit business organizations in the long run, and has embarked on research, education, and advocacy programs to promote age diversity.” (Employment Relations Today, Winter 1997). Nonetheless, diversity initiative programs have put some pressure on corporations and especially large conglomerates, to include elderly employees into their hiring and promoting practices.

Even when there is a sincere commitment to strive for a diverse workforce, many times it takes work to change deeply rooted prejudices and stereotypes. The desire to make it happen must come from the top down if subordinates are to truly get the message of importance. Unfortunately, many top-level managers are reluctant to change or alter the very system in which their careers prospered. Backlash by white males is too often the byproduct of diversity initiatives. In recent years, many white males have taken a stance against Affirmative Action programs and diversity initiatives claiming reverse discrimination. But there has been no evidence to support the notion that Affirmative Action plans are pushing the traditional white male out the door.

A study done by the Department of Labor in 1995 found that 3,000 cases of reverse discrimination were filed that year alone, but fewer than 100 had sufficient evidence to support the claim (Kangas P.2) . In efforts to avoid the “division” that can occur within organizations that implement diversity initiatives, advocates of organizational cohesiveness go beyond efforts to hire individuals simply on the basis of difference. Instead, they focus on hiring those with the skills, and abilities most suitable for the vacancy, regardless of race, age, gender, or ethnicity. Other’s recruit people who represent the company’s underlying core values and otherwise demonstrate a high degree of compatibility. However, it should be noted that when the recruiting and selection process does not achieve “person-organization fit”, the organization may be left with a weak culture that sends unclear messages about values and provides employees no clear direction. Proponents of a strong organizational culture believe that a high level of person-organization fit is advantageous for all parties; employers, new and current employees, and job seekers.

A study of eight large public accounting firms, for example, looked at compatibility between what new staff accountants valued most in an organization and what their employers valued most. Researchers found that high compatibility on the part of employees led to quicker adjustments, higher job satisfaction, and lower turnover. It should be pointed out that it is estimated that by the year 2000,thirty percent of the workforce will be 55 or older. This essentially means that corporations will be forced into incorporating an ever larger portion of the elderly work force into their sites. Diversity training and sensitivity classes will undoubtedly make this process a smoother one.

Elderly employees will have to continually be trained and re-trained so that they become more compatible with the person-organization fit that so many corporations are now stressing and will stress in the future. Unfortunately, people with disabilities have been excluded from the workforce in the past. As a result, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act in which the key provisions began to take place in 1992, has prompted thousands of U.S. workers to file discrimination complaints against their employers which over time could bring profound changes to the workplace.

Many of thee complaints are bringing new issues to the table with regards to how far an organization must go to accommodate every type of disabled person. Through the efforts of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, many restaurants, movie theatres, libraries, malls, and many other public places are being scoured to find possible infractions of ADA non-compliance. Nearly 80,000 complaints are being filed annually with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination, far surpassing the number of complaints filed by women and minorities in the first year after those groups were extended civil rights protection in 1964. The litigation efforts undertaken by the EEOC has been able to recover over 50 million dollars for victims of discrimination and rose to an all time high in 1997 when it reached 111 million (www.eeoc.gov).

Maybe it’s human nature not to do anything until you get caught short. But the increasing number of violations should be enough to initiate change that will accommodate the disabled. The last group to be examined is foreign workers. Unfortunately, have an unjustifiable history of being scapegoated for any economic problems that this country has faced. Because of this, America has culminated a staunch tradition of immigration stretching back to the first white settlers that set foot here. Survey after survey suggests that Americans do not think of Immigration as a good thing.

The recent Immigration reform act only serves to advocate how they feel. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), “Naturalization applications jumped from 110,000 in the first quarter of 1994 to 180,000 for the same quarter of this year”; and the numbers keep increasing (Legislative Update, www.visalaw.com/95may/6may.html). A congressman by the name of Lamar Smith authored the initiation of what later became part of the Immigration Reform Act of 1996 (www.house.gov/lamarsmith/pr-013098.htm). The bill, appropriately called the Smith Bill, only staunches the advancement of immigrants into this country and simultaneously haults the flow of creativity and new skill. Like all other Immigration reform acts, this bill creates more barriers of entry for foreigners.

The entire Immigration reform act of 1996 can be viewed at (www.visalaw.com/docs/2202.html). In conclusion, minorities, women, elderly workers, people with disabilities and foreign workers are all groups that have been excluded from the workplace in the past. Some Federal legislations acknowledge this history and are making substantial effort to assimilate all people regardless of difference. Yet there is still much work to be done and it is only through collective effort that we can acknowledge the disadvantaged past and disadvantaged present of certain groups of people. Embracing Diversity must truly be embraced as our living spaces and working spaces become ever more unified. Business.