Diversity in the Workplace: Why We Should Care

Article excerpt

Canada's diversity is a source of strength and a powerful key to our success. Here is why and how diversity issues will have profound strategic significance on the way your organization must run its business as we move into the next millennium.

Diversity may be one of the most misunderstood terms of the '90s. In the past, many have considered diversity issues to be the domain of politicians and social engineers who have focused on legal and regulatory solutions to ensure workplace diversity and enhance social welfare. Diversity heightens the focus on an organization's people as a strategic resource, and the importance of those people in achieving business objectives.

With world-wide free wade, if our firms and the Canadian economy are to achieve sustainable commercial advantage domestically and globally, we must understand how diversity, as one of our intellectual assets, can contribute to long-term organizational health and survival.

Valuing and managing intangible diversity can contribute to the organization's tangible long-term wealth by the multiple impacts diversity has on the bottom line:

* Making it a viable supplier of goods and services to others who recognize and value diversity (globally and domestically);

* Providing opportunities to capture nontraditional, emerging, ethno-specific markets;

* Creating value-added customer/client relationships by providing products and services that are "the best in the world;"

* Establishing a business environment that fosters flexibility and innovation;

* Bringing the synergy of differing perspectives to problem solving, new product development, and new market opportunities;

* Attracting and retaining the "brightest and the best" workforce;

* Attracting capital investment and shareholders.

Diversity is about mere than race and gender - the old paradigm

Diversity is about all differences and dissimilarities in people - a new paradigm. Diversity is inherent in customers, key constituents, and competitors in the external business environment and employees inside the organization. Diversity management focuses on the internal management of a work force made diverse or distinct by the presence of many religions, cultures or skin colors, both sexes (in non-stereotypical roles), differing sexual orientations, differing styles, differing capabilities and, usually, differing backgrounds. Valuing diversity focuses on the importance of recognizing and acknowledging individual differences, and accommodating differing needs and expectations. Those differences and needs are based on any characteristic that helps shape a person's attitudes, behaviors, and perspective, such as age, ethno-cultural background, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religion, education, marital status, etc., and acknowledges those differences with both internal and external stakeholders. Valuing diversity and effective diversity management must work in tandem, and are included in the use of the word diversity in this article.

The objective of diversity is what R. Buckminster Fuller called "Synergetics," or a quantum leap in creativity, innovation and production. In the information age, wealth will be distributed as value is added. Central to adding value and sustainable commercial advantage is innovation, the extent to which new ideas, methods, and ways of doing things are fostered. This links directly to people. If organizations cannot motivate people to innovate at the needed rate, competitive position and sustainable growth are in jeopardy.

The changing business environment and diversity

Three change factors are of particular note with respect to diversity:

* The global economic paradigm shift.

* The new worker.

* The diversity of the marketplace/customers/clients.

The global economic paradigm shift

The highly competitive global economy has created an interdependence for both domestic and foreign firms with respect to markets, sourcing and manufacturing, and customers. …