A major issue that many companies face today is how to promote diversity in the workplace. While federal laws and company policies give protection to diversity on the workplace, there still stand certain barriers that inhibit its growth. In effect, the purposes of these efforts are defeated. Therefore, it is important for firms to address how to overcome these barriers.
Having been a longstanding issue, many studies have been devoted to defining and managing diversity, identifying obstacles to diversity, and ways in which these hurdles can be won. In all these studies, experts agreed that diversity is not an easy task.
Moreover, promoting diversity in the workplace requires proponents to face the issues of fear, lack of cooperation from the workgroup, mistakes in planning, and problems with funding and training schedules, among other dilemmas. Diversity at Work—How to Make it Work? presents and explores these barriers that impede the expansion of diversity in workplaces, as identified by experts. In turn, the paper will also attempt to raise suggestions as to how these barriers can be overcome as well as how diversity can be promoted more effectively. Barriers to Diversity There is never any fool-proof plan.
Companies most especially, regardless of size or industry, are fragile to facing challenges when they introduce plans that can adversely affect its operations and employees. However, companies should not be hindered by these challenges, and thus continue with plans that can contribute to the growth of the firm and its workforce. This applies essentially when a company decides to take a step in making theirs a diverse workplace. Diversity, being a sensitive issue that it is, can be filled with difficulties that many companies who subscribe to it end up unsuccessful.
While it is impressive for a company to put efforts in promoting diversity in their firm, it is equally important for it to know that there are hurdles to their efforts to promote diversity in their workplaces. It is also necessary for them to identify and address these obstacles to allow for diversity to be effective. In doing so, the time, money, and effort that the company will put in to promoting diversity will not be put to waste. Here are some of the things that experts identified as barriers to making diversity flourish in organizations:
Wrong leaders. Diversity is a sensitive initiative, and because it involves the employees it is normal for companies to create committees to lead the program, or appoint the human resources people to do the job. However, the sensitive nature of promoting diversity can make employees defenseless against other employees, even if they are human resources heads. (Simmons, 2003) Fear. According to Thiederman (2003), many companies who decide to face diversity tend to be afraid with the things attached to it.
In many cases, diversity committees take considerable time planning the diversity initiatives because of their many fears such as to offend a minor group, or to make a mistake in the policies that they are making. Defective objectives. Companies may become unrealistic with their goals and either create objectives which are not applicable to their workplace, or too ideal that it can never be executed at all. (Thiederman, 2003) Simmons (2003) seconds this by saying that often, companies create diversity objectives that are not in line with the vision and mission of the company, to which everything should be based.
Lack of cooperation from employees. The mere promotion of diversity introduces the fact that differences exist in the organization, and in fact further proves the existence of such. Despite the fact that diversity aims to equalize and create inclusiveness with all members of the workforce, there are instances when employees see loopholes and will not want to cooperate. (Thiederman, 2003) By promoting diversity, the dominant party or majority may also feel that they are receiving less opportunities in the company’s effort to promote equality and inclusion.
These employees may feel that in the company’s efforts t please the minority, they are being left out and thus it will be difficult for them to cooperate. (Common barriers to diversity, 2000) Stereotypes. It is human nature to stereotype people. Often, people make assumptions of others consciously or not without considering how it can affect others and the environment in which they are in. Stereotyping affects companies in such a way that when employees judge each other, they are already working against diversity. (Common barriers to diversity, 2000)
Co-membership Syndrome. It is not surprising that employees will likely group themselves according to their similarities. Thus commonly, white males will most likely group together in the same way that employees in their mid-20s will group together. However, this is one defect in companies that prevent diversity from happening. When employees group themselves, they unconsciously form factions that tend to be exclusive to them based on their similarities. A negative effect of this scenario is the tendency for these factions to create biases within their groups.
For instance, when a member of the group has to be evaluated by a co-member fair and true judgment may not be given. (Common barriers to diversity, 2000) Insider Dynamics. In the creation of informal splinter groups in the workplace, it is inevitable for employees to feel either included or excluded in the factions. This highly affects the performance of the employees. When an employee is a member of a group, he considers himself an insider and can get the support of her co-members in any corporate initiative.
On the other hand, employees who are different and thus does not enjoy the membership to a group (the outsiders to a group) do not get the backing they need in corporate initiatives. This damages their confidence and self-esteem. On a larger scale, it denies them the right to influence others, make decisions for themselves, their positions, and their departments, and may give them less access to vital information that can help them play their professional roles. (Common barriers to diversity, 2000) Cues and gestures.
With the differences in race, gender, culture, education, age, and other aspects, people may have different cues and gestures that may mean differently to others. While this is normal, it greatly affects diversity efforts and can even create communication chaos. (Common barriers to diversity, 2000) Generalities in diversity training. Because diversity involves the inclusion of all employees regardless of differences, diversity trainings also tend to be diverse in nature and given on a whim without consideration on the different levels of understanding and acceptance that employees have as well as roles that they play.
This makes most diversity trainings ineffective and wasteful. (Simmons, 2003) Lack of professional trainers. The demand for diversity trainings is on the rise, and it attracted non-professionals to join the bandwagon of diversity trainers despite lack of training and expertise on the subject. This creates more problem than solution, as non-skilled trainers can give unnecessary or wrong ideas to employees who can end up confused and frustrated. (Bennet, n. d. ) Time and cost.
Promoting diversity and using diversity seminars is a mean feat. It can cost thousands of dollars to hire a diversity speaker, additional expenses to set up the training with all the requirements of it, and additional money for formulating policies and implementing them. Apart from this, it will also take time from employees and corporate heads alike, and in business time is also commensurate to money. When a company decides to promote diversity, both top-level executives and employees need to allot and spend time in cooperating.
Company officials need to take the time to plan the initiative, create policies, assign executors, and monitor the progress of the plan first-hand to ensure that efforts are not put in vain. Employees will likewise need the time to meet with company officials and executors to discuss the plan for diversity, as well as allot a notch in their schedules to attend trainings and seminars. Thereafter, every member of the company must take time every single day at work to see that diversity is being practiced.
Thus, time and cost are also barriers for many companies who are willing to promote diversity in their firms. (Bennet, n. d. ) Overcoming Barriers After identifying the barriers that companies experience in promoting diversity at work, it is essential for solutions to be classified as well. To begin with, Simmons (2003) states that diversity initiatives should be lead by the chief executive officers and top-level executives. This will make the plan appear to be of primary importance, as what it already is.
The involvement of the higher ranks will also induce cooperation among employees. Fear is yet another obstacle in achieving corporate diversity and to aid this, Thiederman (2003) says that it will be helpful for the proponents and leaders of the initiative to speak with their people and find out exactly what their thoughts and views are to bring about the actual necessities in the issue and avoid mistakes, especially in the area of policy making. Matching the goals of diversity with the goals, mission, and vision of the company will also set the goals of the initiative straight.
(Simmons, 2003) It is important for companies to create realistic objectives that are consistent with the beliefs that their companies subscribe into. Likewise, companies that are just starting with their diversity plans should study and learn from companies who have already succeeded in managing diversity in their firms. (Thiederman, 2003) However, it is inevitable to have employees who are not willing to cooperate with diversity efforts regardless of attempts in the part of the company.
According Thiederman (2003), involving everyone is the key to soliciting cooperation. Because diversity plans often put importance to the members of the minority in the workplace, dominant parties can feel left out and refuse to collaborate. Likewise, members of minor parties may feel that diversity highlights their difference all the more, especially when companies overdo the use of political correctness to the point of pretentiousness. Thus, companies should strive to make everyone a part of the effort in diversifying.
The proponents should also refrain from adjusting and minimizing the company standards just to accommodate the minority as this will not be agreeable to all employees, dominant or not, and can cause them to think twice about cooperating. Heathfield (2007) agrees, saying that to promote diversity the company must keep itself on the winning court. Simmons (2003) also stressed that any complaint on reverse discrimination should be readily addressed. Trainings and information dissemination may also address most concerns related to diversity such as stereotyping, co-membership, insider dynamics, and cues and gesture differences.
Companies who invest on and effectively carry out such trainings encourage and inform their employees that holding and sharing assumptions and judgments about other people, especially their co-employees, can adversely affect them, their relationships, and their workplace. Efficient trainings and seminars on diversity can also eliminate the formation of factions and, ultimately, avoid the existence of insider and outsider dynamics within the organization. Differences in cues and gestures and the multiplicity of their interpretations may also be addressed by proper training and information.
When employees understand that their cues and gestures may mean differently with others, they will become more sensitive with their actions and strive to act more appropriately in a manner that is appropriately understandable to others according to what they really mean. However, diversity trainings must be executed efficiently. One problem on diversity training is the use of generalities, often to address the need for diversity information of all employees at one time. This leaves a part of the audience informed, and a part of the audience misinformed or uninformed.
Diversity trainings should therefore consider that every employee hold positions that require them to play different roles. Thus, every employee will need to learn how to inject diversity according to the tasks that they do on a daily basis and the responsibilities that they handle. (Simmons, 2003) Interestingly, however, Simmons (2003) suggests that in defining diversity, one should be as broad as possible and attempt to cover the different aspects in which an organization should be diverse. This allows diversity to cover a global scope, as compared to merely promoting race or gender equality.
These explain that while diversity training should be as specific as possible according to the skills and roles of each employee, discussing diversity per se should be generalized and cover as much difference as one company can cover based on the cases within the organization. Lack of professional trainers also poses a problem in many diversity efforts. While the number of companies who are willing to subscribe to diversity is on a steep rise, the number of diversity trainers is also on the fast track up. However, the number of professional trainers—the experts—, which is an entirely different thing, is on a forward drag.
While the solution to this problem may not be on the hands of companies, it is important that firms trying to start diversity trainings in their workplaces do not hire just any available trainer around. Professional trainers provide high-quality trainings and give expert consultation that no low-cost, readily available trainer can offer. If financially feasible, companies may also outsource the training to third-party consulting firms if professional trainers are not available. Time is also an essential consideration that hinders diversity programs from becoming effective.
As shown, diversity can take a lot of precious time; and as mentioned above time in business equals money. It is therefore important that every minute spent on diversity is used efficiently. Monitoring and consistent evaluation can help companies achieve this and avoid wastage. Costs may also be a hurdle for companies to provide diversity plans for their employees. To get by, companies must assess how much actual money they are willing to spend on their diversity initiative. It is also important to allot the money properly according to the priorities of the plan so that each aspect of the plan is funded accordingly.
Similar as the time barrier, monitoring and evaluation should be done to ensure that the money being allotted for the diversity plan is properly spent. Apart from these means in overcoming the barriers identified, it is worthy to consider several other suggestions from experts in managing and promoting diversity at work. According to Bennet (n. d. ), storytelling is one of the experts’ ways to promote variety because by sharing stories of both discrimination and diversity, listeners tend to think and feel.
This allows for emotions to be tapped, a powerful way to convince people to support diversity and do away with discrimination. Heathfield (2007), on the other hand, presents an interesting key in unlocking diversity. While it has been mentioned a while ago that a barrier to diversity is the co-membership syndrome where employees tend to bond with others who are like them, Heathfield suggests that similarities be used to promote diversity saying that by highlighting the things where the employees are alike diversity can be promoted.
One common ground to begin with is the goal set that employees may have for working in the firm. Most importantly, diversity initiatives must respect and value people, specifically employees, and their contributions. It is important for companies to understand that diversity does not aim to widen the privilege entitlement of minority groups. By doing so, the workplace will be a more interesting and enjoyable place to be in.
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