Understanding Workplace Diversity

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Workplace diversity is a term that is used to define the differences between people of a workplace. It is thought of as a people issue (Woods, Bormann, Schmidle 2009) and includes the differences as well as similarities that employees bring to the organization they work in.

Understanding Workplace Diversity

Workplace diversity is the core reason why people in an organization carry out work in a particular manner. Diversity enables everyone within the organization to learn from each other. It instigates a feeling of respect for different kinds of people and helps in creating workplace environments where diverse perspectives are welcomed. It proves to be extremely beneficial if accepted in the right manner. Diversity in the workplace encourages non-discriminatory practices thus helping people from diverse backgrounds. It is generally inclusive of all the employees of the workplace.

Diversity includes not only the perceptions people have of themselves but also those of their fellow workers. These perceptions give way to their interactions. There is a growing need for dealing with adaptability and communication issues as diversity undoubtedly will increase in the near future. Such issues need to be adhered to in order to gain the maximum benefits out of the employees. Organizations that are extremely successful have incorporated practices dealing with these issues and are utilizing a lot of resources in order to successfully manage the diversity in their workplace (Greenberg 2004).

A theory that makes the understanding of workplace diversity simpler to students is the Three-Tiered Structure for Understanding (Canas, Sondak 2007). It has three stages. The first involves the understanding of complexities of the workplace diversity. The second stage involves “managing and mismanaging” where the successes and failures of American businesses are discussed. The third and final stage is the development of three important skills; self analyzing, understanding differences and assessing organizations.

Dimensions of Workplace Diversity

Understanding the dimensions of workplace diversity is highly necessary. Paying attention to different employees from all the possible dimensions of workplace diversity leads to building up of effective strategies that prove to be advantageous for the company on the whole. Such diversity strategies enable organizations to grow and develop. This ultimately leads to the company attaining a solid position in the marketplace.

There are a number of dimensions of workplace diversity. These may include gender, age, religion, ethnicity, race, education, background, styles of thinking, work experience, marital status, nationality, skills, languages, etc (Campbell 2007).

The above mentioned dimensions of diversity are actually what cause employees to act in the way they do and carry out operations in their own way. Each employee as an individual has his or her way of carrying out tasks and expects to be appreciated in their doings. Their thoughts need to be acknowledged and incorporated into the development of the company’s product or service as the marketplace is also becoming increasingly diverse.

The embedded inter-group theory is an academic theory that states that people’s behavior and emotions are generally shaped due to their group membership. These groups may be both organizational and identity. This theory holds true in cases where biasness might creep in. For instance, preferring white employees for certain job tasks over blacks.

The management structures these days make it critical to put in place processes that deal with the encouragement of new ideas and rewards that need to be given out to such employees. There is a dire need for training programs that educate the higher management levels of the importance of diversity in accordance with the human resource management department.

Implementation methods would be different for different organizations. Some would prefer a one-on-one meeting with various employees in order to explore their thoughts and perspectives. Other ways can include a series of meetings and social events. Management and the employees need to understand each other’s views.

Biasness and religious factors arise as a result of not tackling the diversity issues. Bringing together all the individuals and human resources of the organization in close contact with the higher management will eliminate biasness. Individuals from various dimensions of workplace diversity may as a result help in making the workplace more efficient due to an increased level of satisfaction.

Hence, understanding and studying closely the various dimensions of workplace diversity is becoming necessary for organizations that strive to become leaders in the marketplace. Not being able to achieve this goal may lead to dissatisfaction of employees and the organization may suffer as a result.

Business Benefits of Workplace Diversity

The success of an organization undoubtedly depends on the way it understands the dimensions of the workplace. In doing so, the company reaps numerous benefits.

Increased adaptability: It has been observed that managing workplace diversity increases adaptability of employees. Employees working for the organization are seen to be more enthusiastic about providing ideas about the product development. Diversity in companies brings about various thoughts and talents that prove to be solutions of problems and help understand the diverse marketplace better.

Attracting talent: If the organization has strong workplace diversity, it would definitely attract the best available talent which again would contribute immensely to the business. This talent can be located far away from the workplace forming virtual groups. They will work in closer contact with other markets and this would give the business a chance to market their product with greater ease. This would ensure the growth of the business (McLauren 2009).

A pool of viewpoints: An efficient and diverse workforce would be able to communicate their ideas, knowledge and share their experiences. This enables the organization to determine the various needs and wants to customers in the global market.

Enhanced efficiency: Because of diversity in problem solving teams, more diverse ideas are contributed to the cause of solving a problem. Brainstorming sessions lead to efficient ideas and solutions.

Conflicts minimized: Due to the recognition of each individual’s ideas, conflicts may be avoided to a great extent. With the support of their ideas, people tend to become less frustrated and feel like they belong.

Globally competitive employees: The workforce due to its numerous skills such as language and culture enable them in becoming a globally competitive workforce. The business can expand worldwide.

Effective business strategies: With the help of the pool of ideas, knowledge and experiences organizations may be able to come up with numerous effective business strategies in order to grow and expand on a global scale.

High profits: Due to the various skills of the workplace contributing to the growth of the business, high profits and return on investments would result.

Increased creativity: People develop ways of looking at things differently when their work environment encourages them to do so. As more and more ideas pool in, even more new ideas would be born in order to find solutions to problems. The more the ideas, the closer you get to finding solutions. In other words it encourages creativity in ideas (Green, López, Wysocki, Kepner 2002).

Increased productivity: It is believed that productivity may increase exponentially as people from diverse backgrounds work together towards attaining a single goal. One of the theories suggest that executives from around the world do extremely well in the U.S. Chinese and Indian thrive with their quantitative skills, whereas British and French are successful in high-level jobs in the U.S. (Lee 2009).

Increase in newer attitudes: Employees of an organization belonging to different cultures bring about new attitudes and introduce unique ways of looking at problems. Different perspectives are observed. It is believed that Americans equate time with money, whereas this does not hold true with most nations around the globe. Other nations believe time is for the purpose of building relationships. Understanding these differences enables businesses to collaborate and work together efficiently when required.

Understanding languages: Having a workforce that is proficient in language skills may enable business to understand better when building relationships with foreign businesses. It is important to speak the language of that nation. Workplace diversity provides businesses with this benefit.

Introduction of new processes: New ideas trigger the birth of new processes and newer ways of carrying out tasks and day-to-day operations.

Challenges of Workplace Diversity

Even though workplace diversity reaps many benefits, there are numerous challenges it faces that can in no way be overlooked:

Resistance of employees to change: Change is not always welcomed. Certain workers may not be willing to accept the workforce makeup change.

Communication problems: There may be certain cultural and language barriers that organizations face. Difficulties in communication may result in confusion and hence decreased motivation levels of the workforce

Diversity implementation: An effective strategy to ensure successful workplace diversity needs to be created.

Managing diversity successfully: Every department of the business must be involved in managing diversity successfully.

Assessment of organizations defining diversity and implementing a diversity policy

There are various ways by which an organization defines its workplace diversity. It focuses broadly on being able to accomplish individuals’ as well as organizational needs by using diversity. However, certain organizations define diversity narrowly to fit their own needs. The way the implementation of the diversity policies take place may also differ. This could be assessed by taking into consideration a real life example.

The model I will talk about is that of American Public Transportation Association (APTA) which has a strong diversity plan. Their definition of diversity and their way of implementing diversity policies through the Diversity Plan would be looked at. Furthermore, an in-depth study of their goals and objectives would be talked about.

American Public Transportation Association (APTA)

The APTA defines diversity as the similarities and differences of the organization members. It spans over areas such as the age, gender, size of transit property, disability if any, etc. All these areas add to APTA’s mission (APTA Board of Directors 2003).

Goals of APTA

The goals of APTA are as follows:

  • It believes that diversity is extremely important and values it.
  • It promotes the idea of making strong the quality of life of the diverse groups that are served by public transportation.
  • It lays importance on the organization’s diversity policies which encourage diversity within all the departments and levels of the organization
  • The organization on the whole and the board of directors and executive committee work towards promoting and sustaining the diversity of APTA members by implementing and adopting numerous policies
  • The actual implementation of these policies is in the hands of the president of APTA.

Diversity Council

The Executive Committee of APTA is responsible for establishing the Diversity Council as well as the Diversity Plan. The Diversity Council includes 17 positions in total; 10 Designated and 7 Appointee.

Role of the Diversity Council

Diversity Council plans an important role in APTA. Its role revolves around the following:

  • Evaluating and monitoring the processes and programs of APTA in order to ensure that the diversity policies of the organization are correctly being implemented and supported by all levels of APTA.
  • Monitoring of the Diversity Plan and its progress as well as suggesting and evaluating any changes
  • Providing suggestions and recommendations to the higher authorities, mainly the Executive Committee, on the various diversity issues being brought up by APTA.
  • Providing constant support to the other members of the Council
  • Providing annual reports to the board of directors of APTA on the status of the Diversity Plan

Goals and Objectives of the Diversity Plan

There are a number of goals and objectives that the Diversity Plan has:

Goal 1: The first and foremost goal revolves around the idea of promoting diversity and mainly on the implementation of its diversity policies throughout different levels of APTA.

It believes it can do so by adhering to diversity issues and incorporating them into workshops, meetings, and conferences for the staff. It would hold an orientation annually to welcome new committee members and chairs on its Diversity Plan. It would provide the best possible practices to members, as well as give them a chance to come in contact with industry experts and a number of other resources by giving them access to Workforce Development Clearinghouse on the organization’s website. This goal may also be achieved through their scholarship program which would encourage people from diverse backgrounds to come towards public transportation careers. This plan also incorporates minority and women into their operations and further motivates them by giving out achievement awards. It would constantly support the industry partners and work in close collaboration with them. Finally, it would achieve the goal by providing an annual report of the plan with recommendations on improving the policies of diversity to the board of directors.

Goal 2: The second goal of the Diversity Plan is to portray diversity in its publications as having a transit industry value. It would do so by publishing diversity policies of APTA, the annual report of the plan, achievements of minorities and women, at least three articles annually by the HR committee, at least two articles annually on minority owned business issues in its publications.

Goal 3: The third goal is to seek opportunities in order to achieve contributions to its transit industry and members from diverse backgrounds to participate in leadership roles. This can be achieved by having orientation sessions for new members, having a 30% participation of minorities and women speakers in some of the conferences, seeking opportunities in order to encourage development of minorities, women and those with disabilities in order get them involved in various programs and activities of the organization.

Goal 4: The fourth goal states that those leaders that are committed to diversity should be developed. This goal can be achieved by ensuring a display of commitment to diversity and training must be provided for these leaders.

Goal 5: The fifth goal of the Diversity Plan is to come up with diversity policies for the staff of APTA. This goal can be achieved by meeting the procurement goal of 20%, considering the Diversity Plan by the committee in its performance review annually, satisfying diversity requirements.

Goal 6:The final goal revolves around the idea of increasing opportunities in business for the minorities and women. In order to achieve this goal, the plan aims at increasing minorities and women owned businesses by about 10%, identify DBE firms, and providing networking opportunities.

Workplace Diversity and Good Management Practice

Undoubtedly, workplace diversity is linked with good management practice. Certain successful managers realize the fact that good management practices are required in order to create an efficient diverse workforce.

Managers need to understand the effects that discriminatory actions might have in the work environment. There is a need for managers to understand their biases (Koonce 2001).

Good management practices include the fact that managers know that diversity is just not about differences of groups, in fact it revolves around differences among individuals, as every person is unique and no particular group can define him completely. Also, managers must be willing to accept change in their organization when it is necessary. Change may be slow, yet it must be encouraged. Incorporating good management practices will be a key to success of an organization in the future (Flagg 2002).

One cannot define a single path to success. It all really depends on the manager’s understanding of the organization based on the characteristics of the diversity in the workplace. There is a need for constant personal awareness.

Another good practice might include the encouragement of communication. This can be done through social events and meetings where each individual may be given a chance to share his or her views. Training programs that educate people on the importance of workplace diversity must also be encouraged by the management in accordance with the human resource department.

Good management practices enable companies to gain competitive advantages and create a stronger position in the market. Diversity management creates a safe and healthy environment where everyone feels secure and has enough opportunities. Therefore, there is a strong link between diversity and management in an organization.


The marketplace is dynamic. For this reason, a diverse workforce is necessary to meet the demands of the market. Diversity adds value to the organization. By understanding differences, the company can gain competitive advantages and would maximize productivity. Incorporating good management practices in a diverse workplace would take the organization to heights. The organization can be educated about the issues in diversity and how they can be overcome. We need to realize that most organizations comprise of diverse individuals belonging to diverse cultures, so adaptation to diversity is important for success.


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Kathryn Canas, Harris Sondak (2007). Opportunities and Challenges of Workplace Diversity: Theory, Cases and Exercises. Univeristy of Utah. Prentice Hall.

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