Supporting Workplace Diversity: Emerging Roles for Employment Counselors

Article excerpt

Employment counselors generally understand the benefits of workplace diversity; most are actively engaged in supporting diverse clients to attach to the workforce. However, they are less likely to be involved in supporting organizations to create workplaces where diverse workers are welcomed, appreciated, and fully engaged. In this article, results from a Canadian project to develop the Supporting Employers Embracing Diversity (S.E.E.D.) tool kit are presented and 10 emerging roles that employment counselors can play are introduced.

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Employment counselors have traditionally assisted individuals who are unemployed to find work. Although that is still a key role, employment counselors now also work with others, including those who are underemployed or unhappily employed (i.e., people who are disengaged, underutilized, or at high risk of leaving their organizations). In an economy that is affected concurrently by high unemployment rates (i.e., countless people looking for work) and skill shortages (i.e., many employers searching for the right people), there is an abundance of opportunity for employment counselors to assume new responsibilities and to expand their roles. One potential new role is to support employers in creating workplaees where diverse workers are welcomed, appreciated, and encouraged to contribute.

In the following sections of this article, the challenge in defining diversity, an everyday term that has a multitude of meanings, is discussed. Next, specific issues related to workplace diversity (or in many cases an absence of diversity, which can also be problematic) are examined. Strategies for supporting workplace diversity are then introduced, including free access to a comprehensive, web-based tool kit. Finally, using research that underpins the diversity tool kit, the article concludes with an overview of 10 roles that employment counselors can play as they support employers and human resource professionals to create workplaees that welcome and fully include diverse employees.

DEFINING DIVERSITY

Diversity is a term that is used widely, but often without a shared understanding. Sometimes diversity initiatives focus on obvious gender, racial, or physical differences (e.g., employment equity programs that target women, minorities, or persons with disabilities). However, within the counseling literature, it is increasingly common to find a much broader definition of diversity amidst a discussion of what constitutes personal identity (Sue & Sue, 2003) or how to conduct culture-infused counseling (Arthur & Collins, 2010).

Sue and Sue (2003), in their tripartite model of personal identity, acknowledged distinct individual, group, and universal levels. At the individual level are such characteristics as genetic endowment and unique, nonshared life experiences. At the group level are similarities and differences in race, sexual orientation, marital status, religious preference, culture, ability, ethnicity, geographic location, age, socioeconomic status, and gender. Finally, at the universal level, all people share some biological and physical similarities, common life experiences, self-awareness, and the ability to use symbols. Similarly, McGrath (as cited in Mannix & Neale, 2005) identified five components of diversity: demographic attributes; task-related knowledge, skill, and abilities; values, beliefs, and attitudes; personality, cognitive, and behavior styles; and status in the work group's organization. A comprehensive definition of diversity, therefore, needs to go far beyond some of the legislated equity targets that have been the traditional focus of diversity initiatives.

WORKPLACE DIVERSITY

In a workplace where diversity is celebrated rather than merely tolerated, all individuals can be open about all aspects of their culture and individual characteristics; employees will not have to attempt to hide their spirituality, political affiliations, sexual orientation, disabilities, gender, ethnic background, age, socioeconomic status, or any other characteristic that could potentially lead to discrimination or bullying. …