Diversity is getting a bad reputation. On Thursday, August 18, 2011 President Obama issued an executive order for diversity promotion. On August 22, 2011, the Washington Times newspaper issued the following articles “Obama Federal Workforce Diversity Initative Equals “Whites Need Not Apply” The article sited numbers based on race. So perpetuated is the misconception that diversity is only about race and gender. Not so. But what is diversity is really about!
Some people tend to think that diversity is a new name for Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) – groups that are protected from discrimination under U.S. civil rights legislation. For many, the term diversity is a synonym
for affirmative action – about the numbers as in the article. Diversity is way beyond race and gender or
just numbers. I believe for some people in the United States that they cannot get beyond race and gender. But the workforce, where we are now in a global society says we must progress further than race and gender.
First, let us examine the differences between the terms. Understand that EEO are federal laws designed to combat racism and prejudice in employment practices on the basis of race, gender, age, color, national origin,
disability, religion and retaliation. All are based on social concerns based on past discriminatory practices within the U.S. In the Federal employment system, discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, political affiliation, and genetic information are prohibited employment practices under Merit System Principles.
Affirmative Action (AA) also was created out of social concerns. AA is a program designed to overcome the present effects of past employment discrimination. The focus is on removing barriers to the employment of women, minorities and people with disabilities (usually excludes white males but not always). It applies to the government and to private
sector organizations that contract with the federal government or that receive federal financial assistance. The controversy about AA is about quotas. Over the past 50 years, through Supreme Court decisions, it has been made clear that AA programs cannot involve quotas.
Diversity is derived out of business necessity – a philosophy and process designed to increase productivity and profitability in businesses and organizations. Diversity is an organizational decision based on the concept that a respectful and inclusive workplace is a more productive and effective workplace. Diversity is not dictated by any laws or a program to correct imbalances. Unlike EEO and AA it is fueled by economic concerns rather than primarily legal or moral concerns. Diversity focuses on the collective mixture (people, concepts, concrete items, or abstractions), not just pieces of it. Diversity supports innovation, creativity and individuality as the means for achieving the organization’s
mission goals and realizing business success.
As defined by Dr. R Roosevelt diversity is the mixture of similarities, differences and tensions in a pluralistic group. Diversity management suggests that success is based less on assimilation and more on inclusion of differences and
similarities. The objective is to seek out and encourage the new perspectives and approaches to situations that
different employees bring to work. According to Dr. Roosevelt, “Diversity effectiveness, like driving expertise, requires both maturity and skills.” I would like to add that adopting and adapting attitudes and habits that leverage diversity will support effective leadership and team development, ultimately resulting in dynamic
The private sector has understood this philosophy for quite some time. President Obama realizes that creating an environment that supports and appreciates diversity effectiveness is a business necessity. Learning to leverage diversity is the key in leadership to increase productivity and profitability in organizations because diversity embraces the talents of ALL.
Diversity in the workplace is an umbrella term that encompasses the similarities and differences of all employees. Diversity includes clients/customers, employees, and contractors/suppliers. It can refer to social, cultural, functional and historical dimensions such as:
- mental/physical capabilities
- procession of indormation
- function in organization
- veteran/civilian status
- geographic location
- marital status
- socio/economic status
Thus managing diversity in the Federal sector will mean creating and maintaining an environment that naturally enables all people to contribute to their full potential in pursuit of organizational objectives. Creating a
climate in which the potential advantages for organizational or group performance are maximized while the potential disadvantages are minimized. It is a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees. It means organizations make all necessary changes in their systems, structures and management practices to eliminate any subtle barriers that might keep people from reaching their full potential. It means approaching diversity at three levels simultaneously: individual, interpersonal and organizational. The traditional focus has been on individual and interpersonal aspects alone. What is new is seeing diversity as an issue for the entire organization, involving the very way organizations are structured and do business.