Workforce Diversity: The Times They are A-Changin'

Workforce Diversity Today: The Times They Are A-Changin’?

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What is workforce diversity? What does it look like? How is it defined? Before we get to the answers, let’s look at where diversity fits today in the business world. LinkedIn just released its 2018 Global Recruiting Trends report revealing four big hiring trends. The #1 trend in LinkedIn’s report is Diversity in Hiring.

According to LinkedIn:

“Diversity is the new global mindset. Diversity used to be little more than a box that companies checked off. But today diversity is directly tied to company culture and financial performance. The study found that 78 percent of companies prioritize diversity to improve culture and 62 percent do so to boost financial performance. Key forces are at play: Changing demographics are diversifying our communities, and shrinking talent pools for companies that fail to adapt, said the report. Growing evidence that diverse teams are more productive, more innovative and more engaged also makes it hard to ignore. When it comes to fostering diversity, however, few organizations have cracked the code. Despite all of the buzz, most companies still fall short of their workforce diversity goals and the public’s expectations.”

However, what exactly does diversity mean today, especially in the workplacce?

Rethinking How We Define and Track Workforce Diversity

According to a January 31, 2018 SmartBrief article entitled, “Rethinking How We Define and Track Workforce Diversity:”

“Traditional definitions of diversity stem from the civil rights movement’s benefits of a workforce with diverse external characteristics like race, ethnicity and binary gender expression.”

Newer ways of examining the workforce diversity question, however, still reference these demographic categorizations but are more motivated by the demands for employee populations to be innovative in order to keep up with the speed of disruption. This has given birth to new definitions of diversity itself, including experiential, age and cognitive (or thought) diversity.

New voices (especially millennials) in the diversity discussion have noticed that groupthink and undynamic work cultures can persist even in externally diverse groups, potentially dampening an organization’s’ potential to respond creatively and quickly to external market changes.

Thus the question has been raised, regardless of what the people around the table look like on the outside, is a team’s potential to respond in innovative ways more affected by what each participant carries on the inside? And does the company culture invite these inner strengths forward or shut them down (i.e., force people to “cover” aspects of themselves)?”

How does diversity affect the workplace?

As businesses rethink and re-examine the meaning of diversity, perils will still exist, according to the SmartBrief article. Although research conclusively shows that diverse workplaces, boards of directors, and C-suites result in more productive employees which help generate more profitable businesses, many companies continue to struggle with their own embrace of workforce diversity. Consequently, they may experience lower profits, less productivity and more hostile work environment claims than competitors who foster diverse and inclusive workplaces.

For example, in January 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that “…companies with diverse executive teams posted bigger profit margins than their rivals, compared with companies with relatively little diversity in their upper echelons.”

How can we define diversity?

William Hyter is a managing partner of the Korn Ferry located in Washington, D.C. and the head of the Diversity and Inclusion division. According to Hyter, the peril of redefining diversity prematurely is essentially that before we give diversity a new meaning and look for new, sleek metrics to define it, we need to first master diversity now, using the current definition to reflect what data and analysis tell us about the irrefutable business case for continuing to build tolerant, diverse workforces, not just because it is “the right thing to do, but also because it’s “good for business.”

“I am concerned that such an evolution has the potential to water down, if not shut down, efforts to pursue the social justice that is inherently buoyed within genuinely multicultural and gender-equal groups. I worry that by shifting the conversation to what we carry inside that makes us diverse, we may decide we no longer need to measure and strive for a workforce that looks diverse on the outside.

In redefining what a diverse workforce looks like, I worry that it will give the leaders who’ve made the least progress, and who are unwilling to be introspective, an excuse not to take unconscious bias and workplace discrimination head-on.”

In short, I am afraid that headlines like “demographic diversity isn’t the whole picture” could be read by some as a reason to step away from efforts toward workplaces that aspire to simple civil rights for their employees.

Hyter agrees.

“Representation of women and people of color in the C-suite is embarrassingly low. No executive gets a pass on race and gender diversity in favor of abstract ideas of diversity such as cognitive or personality differences. We can’t let core definitions of diversity become collateral roadkill in our pursuit of truly diverse business cultures.”

It’s far too early to allow such collateral damage to be done to traditional metrics of diversity. For one thing, our access to data even in these basic race/gender categories is seriously lagging. In addition, says Hyter, “Even these basic categorical differences can be enlightening when you look at more granular data than number of people interviewed or employed…

Looking Forward

As we reframe the workforce diversity we seek, we must be vigilant and ensure that the discussion is an expansion, instead of an excuse to leapfrog, the harder cultural problems that obscure unconscious bias, racism, sexism and discrimination against all kinds of people in our workplaces today.”

Before looking for new diversity twists and turns, perhaps focusing on getting the current diversity model right is a better priority. Tinkering and adjusting come much easier after diversity, inclusion, and tolerance are in place and enabled to foster a better workforce and more profitable business bottom lines.

**Read some of  Bruce Adelson’s other blog posts to learn about more developments in language access law, and be sure to contact us if you’re interested in a consultation about your own organization’s compliance with federal language access law.

© Bruce L. Adelson, special for Bromberg.  2017 All Rights Reserved The material herein is educational and informational only.  No legal advice is intended or conveyed.

Bruce L. Adelson, Esq, CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise concerning many federal laws.  Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Senior Trial Attorney.

Mr. Adelson teaches cultural and civil rights awareness at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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