The Changing, Definition of Workplace Diversity

By Shackelford, William G. | Diversity Employers, February 2003 | Go to article overview

The Changing, Definition of Workplace Diversity


Shackelford, William G., Diversity Employers


It has been nearly 20 years since the early pioneering companies like Digital Equipment and Procter & Gamble augmented their affirmative action programs with new initiatives designed to build a more inclusive workplace. They called their new efforts "Diversity Recruiting" or "Diversity Management." In those early days, diversity programs primarily focused on hiring and promoting African Americans.

Recent studies, however, highlight the fact that our nation's demographic shift is not from White to Black but to a rainbow. Therefore, employers have broadened their concept of what diversity is, how it will impact their organization and what they need to do to prepare for the inevitable future. In fact, the broader definition of diversity goes far beyond race.

The case for broadening the definition is built on the changing labor force demographics. The statistics (as compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and others) are compelling

* By 2010, the Hispanic labor force is projected to be larger than the African-American labor force (13.3% verses 12.7%).

* Asians will continue to be the fastest growing group in the labor force (projected to increase by nearly 45% this decade).

* Women currently comprise nearly half of the labor force.

* The majority of workers entering the workforce this decade will be women, minorities and foreign nationals.

* The labor shortage that began in the 1990's will continue to grow and is projected to reach 10 million workers by 2010.

This shift in demographics is clearly understood by employers. Many of them are scrambling to develop new strategies for reaching out to and successfully competing for individuals in the growing diversity markets. You can take advantage of this trend by helping employers identify you as a diverse candidate.

New Definition Of Diversity

Because of the legal attacks on race-based affirmative action programs, employers have had to rethink the strategies used to achieve their diversity goals. In response, a new definition of diversity has emerged--one that includes race and other characteristics. In its broadest context, diversity candidates are being defined as "individuals who bring unique perspectives or outlooks to the organization."

The new definition of diversity includes the traditional categories of race and gender. In addition, it includes people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, and other non-traditional categories. One of the most interesting categories being used by some employers is "diversity of thought"--which they say can be obtained by hiring individuals with different degrees, college affiliations, education or social economic backgrounds from their current employees. What this means is that if you grew up in the inner city (or rural area, etc.) or attended a HBCU/HACU school, yon may be able to bring diversity of thought to an organization that traditionally recruited from Ivy League schools.

Even though the definition of diversity has been expanded, racial minorities need not be concerned that they will lose opportunities. Employers clearly understand that they cannot relax their focus on racial diversity. In fact, by re-defining diversity they can dedicate more resources to diversity recruiting while avoiding concerns about reverse discrimination.

The new definition of diversity allows organizations to develop diversity recruiting strategies that are not race-based, (which is required in order to pass current legal tests) but still include seeking racial diversity. It is a sly and crafty way of getting around the law.

Who's Looking For Diversity?

Amidst the bad news about the slumping economy, major companies going bankrupt, downsizing and slow hiring, there is good news for diversity candidates. Public and private sector employers will both be looking for entry and management level diverse employees for the next several years. …

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