Embracing Diversity and Preventing Workplace Discrimination

By Davis, Elmer, Jr. | Mortgage Banking, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Embracing Diversity and Preventing Workplace Discrimination


Davis, Elmer, Jr., Mortgage Banking


Today's rapidly changing workplace is far removed from the traditional environment of earlier years, and the mortgage industry is no exception. The current work force is made up of individuals of different sexes, races, ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs. There are as many women in the workplace as men. And today's workplace has opened up to people with disabilities, while many workers older than 50 are still actively engaged in their jobs.

As a result, organizations more than ever need to understand the issues of workplace diversity to foster a positive work environment, avoid discrimination and harassment, and prevent potential complaints and lawsuits.

The word "diversity" literally means "variety, assortment, range." It does not merely mean "differences." Human beings tend to naturally gravitate toward those like them, and tend to categorize or stereotype those who are different. Most of us have developed preferences or biases over time, but we can't allow them to interfere with our professional judgment and management decisions.

Organizations need the benefits of diversity in order to leverage our similarities and appreciate our differences.

Recognizing and accepting workplace diversity helps people to respond to the fact that our society (and our workplace) has changed, and that we must change along with it. No longer a homogeneous group of mostly young, white males (only 38 percent of the total work force today is comprised of white males), the rest is a combination of women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and others.

Most of us are aware that there continue to be ongoing challenges when we are confronted with embracing change. For example, incidents of ethnic and racial slurs in the workplace have not declined over the past four years; in fact, 29 percent of employees have overheard an inappropriate racial or ethnic-based comment, according to an annual survey conducted in 2005 by Boston-based Novations Group Inc.

Employers are required by law to avoid discriminatory hiring practices. Management also needs to understand that diversity can be a plus that can improve and benefit their companies and employees by making the workplace more productive and more profitable. It is simply in the best interest of all concerned to value and respect other people regardless of their background.

Financial Dimensions Inc. (FDI), Pittsburgh, has taken aggressive action in order to ensure that diversity is a continuing priority of the organization, and it has been nationally recognized as a result.

In October 2004, the board of directors of DiversityBusiness.com, a comprehensive online resource center for small businesses, women- and minority-owned businesses, and large procurement organizations, recognized FDI as a national top-50 small business for outstanding leadership, community service and comprehensive commitment to achieving diversity and economic parity.

And in August 2005, Pittsburgh Business Times recognized FDI as one of its top-50 best places to work in western Pennsylvania.

One of the cornerstones of FDI's business mission and vision is inclusiveness. In fact, the FDI executive committee that sets forth policy and procedures for the organization is comprised of one African-American male, three women and the owner of the firm. This committee established the FDI Regional Diversity Outreach Initiative, an interdisciplinary collaboration made up of several key elements that have a beneficial impact on the organization, the region and the industry.

The initiative's components include:

* Mentoring and coalition-building with The National Urban League, New York;

* Developing activation, educational and mobilization programs with the Pittsburgh-based Community Empowerment Association Inc.;

* Promoting advocacy for business access, educational forums and workshops, and mentoring with the Pittsburgh chapter of the African American Chamber of Commerce;

* Developing affordable housing with Pittsburgh's Local Housing Authority; and

* Conducting a series of workshops with local universities in the Pittsburgh area to foster a sense of belonging, and raise social and academic consciousness so that participants become proactive members of the university community. …

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