Diversity in the Workplace. (Mini-Forum: Improving Human Capital Management)

By Wilson, Trevor | The Public Manager, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Diversity in the Workplace. (Mini-Forum: Improving Human Capital Management)


Wilson, Trevor, The Public Manager


A leading global expert on diversity describes a five-phase approach currently being used by industry and government to integrate and sustain equity in the workplace.

In my most recent book, Diversity at Work: The Business Case for Equity, I tell a story about a conversation between a high school principal and his superintendent back in the mid-sixties. They were struggling with a major capacity issue--there were not enough desks to accommodate the number of incoming high school students. At one point the principal asked the superintendent, "Why didn't someone see this coming? Obviously we could have counted the number of children in kindergarten and projected forward to where we are today. Shouldn't it be that simple?"

The answer is categorically "yes!" Demographics offer powerful and underutilized tools to help us understand the past and foretell the future. Whether it is the classroom or the workplace, a look at demographic trends can provide profound insights into what challenges lie ahead.

Future Impact of the Baby Boom

For many organizations, a look through the demographic crystal ball presents a troubling picture. The supply of 3544-year-olds in North America will decline 15 percent between 2000 and 2015. For over 20 years, demographers have been telling us that these "baby boomers" will eventually get old and retire. What a lot of people did not realize is just how large the boomer group is and the impact it will have when it leaves the workforce.

The baby boom phenomenon is not global but rather unique to four Western countries--the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The US boom started in 1946 and peaked in 1957. At that time, Americans were producing an impressive 3.7 children per family. Today the number is less than 1.6. With reduced fertility rates, immigration will continue to be a source for talent; but, unfortunately, declining birthrates appear to be common in other parts of the world, particularly in countries with stronger economic bases. Add all that up and you get a new reality-talent will be scarce just at the time when the boomers are retiring and organizations need it most.

Demographic Cliff

I describe this new organizational reality as the "demographic cliff" and caution it will have major consequences for many employers, particularly those in the public sector.

Consider this example. An internal report of a large US government agency warns that the greatest number of retirement-eligible employees are in management positions. Over one-half of this organization's management population will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. This agency is quickly approaching "the demographic cliff."

Interestingly, while the demographic cliff represents a significant danger, it also presents a significant opportunity. Think about the potential for rejuvenating the public service with an influx of the best and brightest diverse talent. But for many government departments, it has been decades since they hired in large numbers and their image as employers of choice has been tarnished through years of constraints.

Would You Want Your Child to Work Here?

Consider another government department example. In this case, the department chose to include a question in its employee attitude survey, asking: "would you recommend your child work here?" The percentage that said "yes"--a meager 10 percent. Imagine the challenge this department faces in attempting to hire a lot of people in a very short period of time in a very competitive marketplace.

What can organizations do to overcome the dangers and leverage the opportunities presented by the demographic cliff?

Total Equity Solution (TES)

One strategy is to remake the government into an employer of choice. My company has developed a unique approach, known as the Total Equity Solution (TES), to assist organizations achieve this goal. …

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